A “Cassanata” and the Language of Football

Sometimes we don’t have the necessary words, so football steps in.

By Nick Boffa

Football, truly the world game, and this is evident in just about every language. Calcio, le foot, futbol, fußball, voetbal, jalkapallo – the beautiful list goes on like a love song. Different cultures have produced idiosyncratic terminology from their languages to give meaning to every conceivable element of the game. Take, for example, the elegant wizardry of a perfectly executed rabona. So fond of using this piece of trickery (supposedly then known as an incrociata from the Italian meaning “crossed leg”) was Argentinian striker Ricardo Infante, that it quickly became synonymous with him. A football magazine decided that Infante was to be their cover story along with the headline El Infante que se hizo la rabona in Spanish, meaning “the child who plays truant”. Well, so the story goes, anyway.

Football is full of these explanations, often with counter-explanations touted just as widely, shrouded in mystique and innuendo, obscuring any hope of uncovering the truth. It’s rare to be able to pinpoint the exact time, place and scenario in which these terms are coined and the exact meaning behind them. However, one such case revolves around a man who often left those around him lost for words – the inimitable Antonio Cassano.

Now, to be fair, it was probably only a matter of time before the antics of Cassano were immortalised in the world game’s lexicon. The striker possessed an incredible mix of speed, skill and creativity as he burst on to the scene with his hometown club Bari and was even labelled by some excited journalists in Italy as the “heir to Roberto Baggio”. In 2001, at the age of 19, he arrived at Roma for a then record fee for a teenager, said to be around €30 million. It was here in the Eternal City that Cassano, unruly and wild, landed under the management of Fabio Capello, already known to be somewhat of a stickler for the rules.

The enigmatic Antonio Cassano, pictured here for hometown club Bari

What transpired exactly is not in itself crucial. Although during their time together the pair came to blows in the locker room, Cassano fell out with local demi-god Francesco Totti, survived several managerial changes, bounced back from frequent demotions for a range of offences before acrimoniously departing for Real Madrid in 2006 for a fraction of the fee. Such was the chaos and anarchy wreaked by Cassano that Capello, not usually lost for words, coined an expression that quickly took hold. Today, a cassanata is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of football transgressions from petulance to downright insubordination.

And what of the two protagonists in this story? Well, it’s safe to say the cassanate (plural) continued to plague Capello as he and Cassano were reunited at Real Madrid. For the record, the enigmatic forward went on to publicly describe his coach as “faker than Monopoly money”, boast of his amorous exploits in the team hotel (which always required multiple croissants afterwards) and be both fined and then omitted for unacceptable weight gain.

History buffs are left to speculate as to the cause of these extra pounds.

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