By 90Min
October 15, 2018

"The best I ever played with..." 

Any guesses who AS Roma and Azzurri icon Francesco Totti called the 'best' player he'd ever played with? 

No, it wasn't Paolo Maldini. 

No, it wasn't Alessandro Del Piero.

No, it wasn't Gianluigi Buffon.

It was Antonio Cassano. 

Yes, the recently retired (for the 300th time this year) Cassano was named by Totti as THE best player he'd played with during his storied career. It's an accolade that a player of Cassano's natural ability is more than deserving of, but the last player you would've thought of when asked the question: 'who was the best player Francesco Totti ever played with?'

That is the tragedy of 'Fantantonio'. A player with seemingly boundless ability, which was ironically bound by his inability to refrain from being 'problematic'. 

Here we take a look at the greatest Italian footballing prodigies who, sadly, flattered to deceive. 


Gianfranco Zigoni

"Without women, wine and pistols I would have been stronger than Pele."

You've probably never heard of him, but there was a time when a young - probably drunk and wearing a white fur coat - Gianfranco Zigoni was considered to be "better than Pele" (Jose Santamaria). 

Albeit, this 'time' was very fleeting. For every time 'Zigogol' would dazzle against the mighty Real Madrid or score a hat trick at the San Siro, there were three or four instances of complete insanity.

Known to have walked around the streets of Rome shooting out the street lamps with a Colt-45 and held Hellas Verona chairman Saverio Garonzi at gunpoint in order to better his contract at the club, it's fair to say Zigoni liked guns more than football; and that was his problem.  


Mario Balotelli

One of the few players on this list that may still have time to resurrect his career. 

After rifling home a brace in the Euro 2012 semi final encounter with Germany, it was envisioned that, at the age of 28, Mario Balotelli would have scored 50 odd goals for Gli Azzurri, been a regular in the Ballon d'Or top three, and just guided Italy to FIFA World Cup glory in Russia.

Instead, at the age of 28, Balo currently plays for OGC Nice, has scored 14 goals for Gli Azzurri, has never even been considered a candidate for Italian player of the year, never mind world player of the year...and reportedly now weighs over 100 kg. 

It's fair to say that Balotelli's career hasn't exactly gone to plan. 


Sebastian Giovinco 

2015: 23 goals in 35 appearances. 

2016: 22 goals in 37 appearances. 

2017: 20 goals in 32 appearances.

2018: 17 goals in 36 appearances. 

Based on these impressive stats, Sebastian Giovinco seems out of place on this list, right? 

Well, he would, if these goals were scored in a league other than the MLS.

The 'Atomic Ant' has enjoyed a fruitful spell at Toronto FC and has been rewarded with an Azzurri call up by Roberto Mancini recently, but this is scant success for a player widely considered to be one of the most naturally gifted of his generation. 

Sadly, what has seemingly curtailed Giovinco's career progression has been his height. Standing at a lowly 1.63m, Formica Atomica sadly never had the physical presence to ever impose himself on games at the highest level. 

Although still playing, it's hard to imagine that the now 31-year-old Giovinco will get a chance to shine at a club like Juventus ever again. 


Giuseppe Rossi 

A lot of players on this list arguably only have themselves to blames for not reaching their potential; Giuseppe Rossi is not one of those players.

In 2011 it seemed that Rossi had the world at his feet. Linked with mega money moves to both Juventus and Barcelona following an incredible campaign at Villarreal - during which the forward scored 32 goals in all competitions -  and was set to be the star man for Gli Azzurri at Euro 2012.


Then, during a Copa del Rey meeting with Real Madrid in October 2011, his right knee gave way.

Six months later, he injured the same knee during rehab.

In January 2014, he re-injured the same knee following a hefty challenge from Leandro Rinaudo.

Eight months later - you guessed it - he re-injured the same knee during a training session.

Due to this horrible run of injuries, Rossi has never been able to hit the heights he once hit at Villarreal and Parma, and has thus - sadly - never become the player he was seemingly destined to become: the greatest Italian forward of the 21st century.


Gigi Meroni 

Undoubtedly the most tragic story on this list, is that of the 'Italian George Best', Gigi Meroni. 

The 'crimson butterfly' was in the midst of re-invigorating a club still in mourning of the Superga disaster, when he was tragically killed in a car accident following Torino's 4-2 win over Sampdoria in Genoa.

Meroni had become both a footballing and cultural icon before he passed away at the tender age of 24, earning of the affection of Italian football fans for his prodigious wide play and his "free and eccentric spirit".

Sadly, rather than being considered one of the greatest Italian footballers of all time, Meroni is yet another tragic story in the history of I Granata.


Antonio Cassano 

"The day has come when I decide that it's really over." 

So it's 'really' over. After flirting with retirement for the past 18 months, it seems that Antonio Cassano has finally hung up his boots. That means, it's time to reminisce on what Fantantonio was, what he wasn't, and what we hoped he would be. 

What we hoped he'd be: The new Roberto Baggio.

What he was: 'A problematic guy', according to himself at least. 

According to calcio fans however, he was everything we love, and hate, about the game. At times, Cassano was genuinely brilliant. His wonder goal against Inter on his Serie A debut, his partnership with Francesco Totti at AS Roma and - perhaps most memorably - his guiding of Sampdoria to the UEFA Champions League, are all instances in which the trequartista proved just how talented he was. 

However, when things were going well, one way or another, Cassano would find a way to mess up. 

He threatened Sampdoria's president Massimo Ferrero, offered to fight a referee, allegedly punched Marcello Lippi's son or - my personal favourite - told Real Madrid manager Fabio Capello that he was "a piece of s***" who was "more fake than Monopoly money." 

Marco Luzzani/GettyImages

The aforementioned moments of madness are probably, above the amazing goals or assists, why calcio fans adore Cassano so much. 


Cassano was flawed but authentic at a time when calcio was becoming increasingly inundated with bland, media trained, generally boring, footballers.


What he wasn't: Despite his flaws, and the fact that he maybe didn't achieve everything he should've in the game, the most important thing that Cassano wasn't, was what he feared he would become: 


"I would have become a thief or worse; either way, a delinquent. A lot of people that I know have become involved in that life...my talent shone, and it took me away from a future of potential s***."

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