Nostalgia beckons as Antonio Cassano prepares for his own “Season With Verona”

Aside from those old enough to remember Hellas Verona’s improbable 1985 Serie A title win, the majority of people will only be aware of the Gialloblu thanks to Tim Parks’ book “A Season With Verona.” In it, the author chronicles his adventures in following the team throughout the 2000/01 campaign, a journey that saw the club narrowly avoid relegation despite a squad that boasted players such as Alberto Gilardino, Adrian Mutu and Mauro Camoranesi.

Parks painted a wonderful portrait of that side and its fans, but sadly i butei – “the boys” in the local Veronese dialect – would drop down a division just twelve months later. They have endured ups and downs ever since, bouncing between the top three tiers of Italian football, but have still experienced some incredible highs, including seeing Luca Toni crowned Serie A’s leading scorer as recently as 2015.

This past summer saw them once again win promotion to the top flight, where another well known name will be featured in their attack. Earlier this week, Hellas announced the signing of former Italy international Antonio Cassano, the striker ending a two-year hiatus from the sport after his relationship with former club Sampdoria collapsed.

Now 34 years old, “FantAntonio” has enjoyed and endured an incredibly tumultuous career of his own, one that began back in 1999 when he shot to prominence with hometown club Bari. He made his debut in December of that year, capturing widespread attention when he scored an incredible solo goal to hand the southern side a memorable victory over Inter.

That strike – shown in the video below – saw Cassano widely lauded, while more observant readers may also notice that the Nerazzurri goalkeeper is none other than Fabrizio Ferron, a player who would subsequently join Hellas Verona and who was lambasted repeatedly throughout Parks’ book for his failings between the posts.

By 2001, Cassano too was on the move, signed by AS Roma in a €30 million deal that made him the most expensive teenager in the world. Yet despite striking up a wonderful rapport with Francesco Totti, he struggled to adapt to the pressure of both that fee and being at a more high profile club.

Constantly at war with a stream of coaches, he would surprisingly swap Italy’s capital city for Spain’s, joining Real Madrid for just €5 million. However, his time at the Bernabeu would be marred by weight problems, Cassano eventually fined for every gram he was deemed to be overweight and after just 29 appearances in two years he would join Sampdoria.

That switch would see things finally click into place for him, forming a wonderful attacking partnership with Giampaolo Pazzini that brought the Genoa-based club to the brink of the Champions League. Scoring goals and creating them with equal aplomb, the Blucerchiati saw him at his very best as the deft touch, incredible vision and immense skill he always possessed were finally allied with a willingness to work for the team.

No longer the selfish prima-donna who once boasted of ignoring tactical instructions and admitted switching flanks in order to play in the shade rather than under a hot sun, Cassano showed why he is often regarded as the most talented Italian player of his generation, laying waste to defences across the peninsula and once again attracting the attention of Serie A’s biggest clubs.

He would join AC Milan and briefly shine only to be sidelined with a mysterious medical condition, going on to spend brief spells with Inter and Parma – leaving the latter as they suffered bankruptcy – before rejoining Sampdoria. That proved another ill-advised move as he fell out with almost everyone at the club and was forced to train with the youth team for almost 18 months before terminating his contract in January this year.

Now on board with Hellas, the club and Coach Fabio Pecchia will hope they get the same Cassano who emerged as a mature dressing room presence during his first stint with Sampdoria. There will be a familiar face too as Pazzini was the star of their promotion campaign, netting a league high 23 times as he rediscovered his own touch in front of goal after a few poor seasons.

During their previous time as team-mates, the two were likened to the Roberto Mancini-Gianluca Vialli pairing that fired Samp to the only Scudetto win in the club’s history, and while that is certainly impossible, Hellas would settle for surviving a top flight campaign this time around. But don’t expect the returning Cassano to be quite so humble.

“I’m still the best in Italy, that’s reason enough to sign me,” he told Sky Italia last month. “Everyone remembers the tantrums, but I have improved. Alright, I’m not a saint, at times I can get things wrong, but I am convinced that I can still make a difference.” Now, as he prepares to spend “a season with Verona,” Antonio Cassano has a chance to prove he can do just that.