Antonio Cassano: "Messi just scores when he wants to"
Just like in the first part, the Italian pulls no punches in the second instalment of our interview with him, discussing growing up in Italy, Messi and playing Spain.
Do you enjoy the role of a rebel footballer?
Maybe… I was a complete disaster for the first 16 years of my life. Call it being a rebel, being mad. Then I found it impossible to change when I became a professional footballer. I’m happy like this…
How did being born in Bari, in the South, affect your football?
Most of us in the south of Italy have a little bit of a son of a bitch in them… I mean, we are very sharp. I’m from a place where the only thing there is to do is play with a ball. The people around me didn’t like working, didn’t like going to school… They only like playing.
Where did you start to play?
In the market in the city, we’d play going round people and stalls. From two to nine, 10 or 11. I never stopped playing.
You had good time.
If you’re lucky, like me… I made my debut against Inter and scored quickly, and that fixed my life.
Where would you have ended up if you hadn’t scored that goal?
Who knows… a lot of the folk around me ended up in jail, but…
But my character has given me a lot of problems. In Rome, in Madrid…
Do you find it difficult to accept authority?
When I was young I did stuff without thinking. I’m from the streets, and I’ve got a strong personality. I thought football was like it is in the street, but it’s not.
But you realised…
I’m aware of it now, but when you’re 22 or 23… Imagine it. Then when you start to have children, it changes your life.
Talking of changes, how did it affect you when you had heart surgery in 2011?
Before I didn’t believe in God, not in him or anything. When I had that problem I believe someone divine touched me with their hand. Before I cursed a lot. Now if someone else does it, I get pretty angry.
I think someone put their hand on my head and kept me alive. I believe that.
You were saved from above?
I think so, yes.
What do you remember?
Everything. When I finished the game against Roma I was dizzy coming back on the plane. I told Thiago Silva to call the doctor, who was up front. Coming down the steps I told the doctor.
He did the old thing with following the finger with my gaze. I would have bet you all my money that my eyes were following that finger. But the doctor said: “Antonio, we’re going to hospital”.
They weren’t following the finger…
No. But I thought they were. They did all the tests, except one and everything was fine. But they wanted to do a scan of the heart, and that’s when they saw the malformation.
What did you think?
I shat myself. Back then I only had one son. I thought: “If there’s someone up there, please let me come back to see my four month old son again…” That’s why I say someone up there saved me. I believe it.
Has it changed your life a lot?
First my children changed it, then the operation.
Madrid are taking on Roma, your first major team. How do you remember your time at the club?
I’ve got good memories. When I was little I wanted to play with Totti.
How many years older was he?
Six! I was 18 and he was 24. Zidane was also playing at Juve back then…
Who was your big hero?
Maradona, because he played in the South… But now, for me, football is just one player, the number 10 for Barcelona. Nobody else. He’s first and then there’s no second. You have to go straight to third, fourth. And I’m talking about in the whole history of the game, eh!
Messi better than Maradona?
Yes, come on, five Ballon d’Ors and 26 or 28 trophies. Football is tougher now, and above all more physical than in Maradona’s time. These days they play against Messi and it’s bam, bam, bam… They batter him! And it changes nothing for him. He scores when he wants to.
And between Cristiano and Messi?
Look, Cristiano is like Nadal and Messi like Federer. Nadal is a phenomenon, but when his physique lets him down he can’t win it all. Federer is 35 and with the quality he’s got he’s always at the top. Right now Cristiano is up there with Messi, but in two or three years he’ll fall away. Messi will play to 35, 36, 37…
Totti is a little bit like you, a local lad
Yes, he made a lot of sacrifices; he’s a fantastic person. I spent six months living in his house when I signed for Roma. My dream was to play there, because of people like him. At my time Roma and Juve were the big sides and I didn’t see myself at Juve.
Because I’m very latino, and at Juve they’re like soldiers. And I couldn’t. They are professionals, who win, true. But I need to be overweight, eat what I like, tell people to piss off.
Or a coach?
Or lots of coaches, almost all of them…
How long did you say you spent with Totti?
Six months until my mother and my cousin came to live with me.
You and Totti completely fell out, what happened?
Nothing, I was 19 and he said something to me… I disrespected him and I stopped talking to him for two years.
Do you admire the Spanish football side?
Yes…In the Euro 2012 final it was impossible to beat them. We started the match, lost the ball after 10 seconds and they started: tun-tun-tun. Two and a half minutes passing. I thought: “We’re done for”. When you play against a side like that you take your hat off to them and that’s that.
What Spanish players do you like most?
Iniesta and Xavi. I always say: I was lucky enough to coincide with Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. They are three out of my five favourites.
Are you hoping to go to the European Championships?
I’m dreaming of it, but I think I’ve got a one in a million chance. Conte hasn’t called me in two years. The team is working. But this year I’ve pushed myself as hard as I can. I’m back to my fighting weight.