Antonio Cassano endured a turbulent 2015, but appears to be gaining ground on his inspirational form of old under current Sampdoria coach Vincenzo Montella.
The experienced frontman became disillusioned last year when suffocated by Parma’s financial woes that led to their eventual liquidation.
Cassano claimed that he hadn’t been paid for six months as January 2015 drew to a close, and he brought legal proceedings against the beleaguered club in a bid to recoup those losses.
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When it became abundantly clear that action wasn't going to yield desired results, he rescinded his association with the troubled outfit on January 26 by mutual consent, thus bringing an end to his contract 18 months early.
To highlight his importance to the cause prior to his departure, he still finished as top scorer for the bottom-placed side in Serie A on five goals, despite leaving halfway through the campaign.
Of course, matters worsened at the Emilia-Romagna club without Cassano’s presence to the point where they were declared bankrupt due to a lack of serious buyers, which saw Parma reborn in Serie D last summer.
Bari bad boy Cassano was strongly linked with a move back to his hometown club where it all began in the late 1990s, but to no avail.
A return to his beloved Sampdoria then emerged as the most likely outcome, as eccentric president Massimo Ferrero made his interest publicly known, which delighted the striker.
“I feel very good physically – I just have to get back into the game. The next season will be the best of my life,” stated Cassano during an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa, as reported by Football Italia back in April.
“What team do I want to play for? My team is Sampdoria; they’re the team of my heart, the team that I love.”
The Genoa-based side previously benefitted from Cassano’s 41 goals struck in 130 all-competition appearances during a near three-and-a-half-year stint between 2007 and 2010.
Therefore, a reunion with Samp seemed to make sense, but newly-appointed head coach Walter Zenga wasn’t entirely convinced.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
It was widely suggested that the 33-year-old poacher had been forced upon Zenga by the enthusiastic president; just two league starts in the opening 12 rounds of Serie A fixtures backed up that theory.
Apparently carrying extra weight following a long spell of inactivity, Cassano struggled to get back into shape in order to push his claims for a regular starting slot.
However, after a frustrating start to life under the ex-Italian international goalkeeper, club patron Ferrero took the swift decision to sack Zenga and replace him with Vincenzo Montella in mid-November.
Montella, who is a former Sampdoria team-mate of ‘Fantantonio’, instantly focused his attention on wringing the most he possibly could out of the well-travelled striker.
Cassano was initially selected as a substitute in Montella's first two matches at the helm, but subsequently assumed a starting role thereafter.
Coming deep to receive the ball in dangerous pockets of space during a recent derby with Genoa, a trim-looking veteran set up two goals within a priceless 3-2 victory to underline his enduring talent.
That exceptional performance arrived on the back of having also assisted one of Il Doria’s two strikes during another crucial win over Palermo in his previous outing.
A resumption of his pinnacle form culminated in Cassano notching a Serie A goal for the first time in almost 15 months, as a consolation during an eventual 2-1 home defeat to reigning champions Juventus.
Freedom to roam around the final third of the field has afforded the Azzurri star an opportunity to dictate the rhythm of Sampdoria’s attacking play, which is what he does best from a supporting role behind a central striker.
Coach Montella’s knowledge and intricate understanding of what makes the notoriously difficult forward tick is beginning to pay off handsomely – and could yet see Cassano salvage a spot in Italy’s Euro 2016 squad despite his early-season travails.
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