It's not personal, it's strictly business.
If anybody should be able to separate the two, it should be Italians. There's a hint of Luis Aragones vs. Raul about this entire affair between Marcello Lippi and Antonio Cassano, and all signs thus far are pointing to this saga reaching a similar conclusion.
For better or for worse, the coach will win. He is the boss - of that there should be no question - but at some point should it not compel him to make the decision that is best for the fortunes of the football team?
Aragones was infamously vindicated when he clinched EURO 2008 sans Raul last summer. But then, he has since gone on to manage Fenerbahce and make a mess of much of Zico's previous work with the Turkish giants.
What we can surmise from this is that Aragones isn't the best or brightest coach in the world. He's not even close. Spain were so dominant purely because they had the perfect midfield - which really did pick itself - and they were all close enough to the peak of their powers. The defence was rarely tested and the forwards, while the best at the tournament, hardly lit up the competition in comparison with their controcampista compatriots.
It's highly unlikely Raul's inclusion at the expense of, for example, the nevertheless impressive Sergio Garcia, would have made much of a difference to the fortunes of La Furia.
Cassano's case, as it stands, is a far greater injustice on the part of the coach. This time, not only is Fantantonio one of Italy's four best strikers, he is the best.
He may not be the record-breaking role model that is Raul, but he has even cleaned up his act in this regard since the beginning of the season. There has been no cursing at the coach, no refusal to train (or being suspended and thus denied the privilege), no throwing of his shirt at the match officials followed by another stream of curses (he does like to curse) and no red cards. None. He has only been booked once all season.
No doubt, you run a risk when calling up a hot-head bubbling under the surface like Cassano - one substitution or criticism could set him off - but Diego Maradona wasn't exactly an angel. Zinedine Zidane liked to headbutt people. These players had fulfilling, world-beating careers. Even those who had ups and downs such as Ronaldinho, Garrincha and about 50 more Brazilians - liable to explode while they were - who wouldn't pick them when they were at their peak? No one.
Cassano is peaking and just as France did with Eric Cantona and Argentina with Fernando Redondo, Lippi looks like letting Italy lose out on another exceptional talent. Substandard at EURO 2008 Cassano may have been, but the formation was not suited to him (nor anyone else for that matter... not that this fact stopped Roberto Donadoni using it for almost the entirety of the tournament). Many of the Azzurri's problems would be solved by first drop-kicking 4-3-3 off a cliff once and for all.
Having Cassano as one of two strikers would far better suit his strengths. Having Giuseppe Rossi in place of Luca Toni as the other striker, while removing the penalty box presence, adds far more mobility, which has long been lacking in the Azzurri ranks. This would better complement Cassano and finally, would reward Rossi - as well as 'Il Talentino' - for being in far better form than Toni. That's what should count.
There is no better Italian player than Cassano on current form, and only Zlatan Ibrahimovic can match him in the whole of Serie A. There is little more he can do - it seems as though not even playing for one of the bigger clubs would do him any favours at this point. Lippi's mind has long been made up - Cassano is Cassano, and does not belong in his any team of his.
Footballers are forced to set aside their differences all the time. Whether he's the boss or not, why can't the coach? It is only natural that not one and all waving the Tricolore are hand-in-hand with each other, but do we not all want the same thing?
We want great teams, and a truly great coach should be able to put aside personal differences to ensure the team comes first. Even a man whose image doesn't necessarily scream 'team player', when playing as Cassano is, would only do good for the Azzurri, if Lippi would let him.
This is not club football and Lippi is not Sir Alex Ferguson; he can't sell David Beckham and buy Cristiano Ronaldo. There is no one in Cassano's class and the fact he is still being written off due to mistakes made in years gone by, while understandable up to a point, is wholly detrimental to Italian football.
Do people change? Rarely, but it is possible.
Does Lippi pay any mind to the wishes of the romantics, idealists and the mass media? Not even for a second.
Should we trust Lippi, a World Cup winner and one of the most successful coaches in domestic Italian football of all time? You'd think so, but everybody makes mistakes. Drawing attention to them should not be forbidden. It shouldn't take until 2010 for Azzurri fans to draw a great sigh and wonder what might have been.
The world is going to miss out on seeing this majestic maestro at full swing, Italy, going the way they are, will miss out not only on retaining their World Cup but also providing any kind of awe-inspiring spectacle in the process. Lippi will miss out on a fairytale ending, and Cassano will miss out on his big break.
Where is the good?
Sulmaan Ahmad, Goal.com