The Last Word: Lean years may lie ahead unless Wayne Rooney learns to think thin

Miccoli, and Cassano have – at various stages, and in varying degrees – seemed to absorb obsolete bulk

On 12 February 2003, at 17 years and 111 days, Wayne Rooney became the youngest player ever capped by England.

It was not a terribly auspicious beginning: a 3-1 defeat by Australia at Upton Park. That same night, in Genoa, another short, bustling forward made a rather better start to his international career. Fabrizio Miccoli was able to claim an assist for the only goal after his shot was parried by the Portugal keeper. But Miccoli would only make nine more appearances for the Azzurri, who blooded a rookie of similar ilk that November in Warsaw. Antonio Cassano scored Italy’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat, and while Miccoli did come off the bench in the second half, Giovanni Trapattoni only gave them around 20 minutes together before replacing Cassano with the aerial threat of Fabio Bazzani.

During the decade since, Barcelona and Spain have given unprecedented kudos to a diminutive attack. At times, centre- forwards like the 6ft 1in Bazzani have lumbered along the margins like sauropods among the withering vegetation of their apocalypse. In the meantime, Miccoli,and Cassano have – at various stages, and in varying degrees – seemed to absorb some of that obsolete bulk as though in token of their failure to become true Napoleons of this revolution.

There all points of comparison end. Now, for very different reasons, all three of these big little guys find themselves at a crossroads. If Rooney, at 27, feels at all insulted by the comparison – Cassano is 30, and Miccoli 34 – then it is not as if the Italians are yesterday’s men. Only last summer Cassano started the final of the European Championship, less than a year after his career was menaced by a form of stroke. Miccoli, meanwhile, sealed his talismanic status at Palermo by completing a hat-trick against Chievo in September with a volley from beside the centre circle.

Both, however, have grossly misunderstood their privileges and obligations as celebrated athletes. As a result, Cassano now admits that he has long since squandered any chance of true fulfilment – and Miccoli, after six years in Palermo, finds himself banished in disgrace.

This week the Sicilian hill town of Corleone, at pains to shed a notoriety amplified by The Godfather, revoked Miccoli’s honorary citizenship after he was apparently recorded desecrating Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia crusader murdered in 1992, as “filth”. Aside from his association with a Mob family, Miccoli is under investigation for alleged extortion. A few days ago he gave a tearful press conference. “I am a footballer, not a Mafioso,” he insisted. “I am against the beliefs of the Mafia. I ask forgiveness of the city of Palermo.”

The club’s president, Maurizio Zamparini, acknowledges that footballers in the south can form friendships without knowing quite who they are dealing with. (Miccoli’s similarly podgy idol, Maradona, was himself once mixed up with the Neapolitan underworld.) But Zamparini has nonetheless declined to renew Miccoli’s contract with a club relegated after five changes of manager last season.

Cassano’s fall from grace is nothing like so giddy. But this week he was discarded by Internazionale after one season, reflecting bitterly on his treatment by the coaches there – including the incoming Walter Mazzarri, under whom he once blossomed at Sampdoria. Everything will be different at his new club, of course. Cassano hopes to end his career at Parma and, with a World Cup looming, his contract even stipulates a bonus should he be recalled to the Azzurri. Even as he was introduced at Parma, however, he contrived the following rebuke to Inter: “Everyone must be aware that when you have Antonio it is for better or worse. Throughout my career, I have achieved 30 to 40 per cent of what I was capable of.”

The same computation can hardly apply to the 600 to 700 women Cassano claims to have bedded, despite that scrofulous complexion, in his younger days. At Madrid, he paid a bellhop to bring him three pastries after sex: “He would hand me the pastries, I would hand him the girl, and he’d return her into the night. Sex plus pastries – could it be any better?”

Though his professional renaissance coincided with marriage and fatherhood, you wonder how sensible it was of Roberto Donadoni, his new coach, to tell Cassano: “Here you live well and think big.” They should sooner recall Cary Grant’s conversation with his secretary in North By Northwest: “Say, do I look heavyish to you? I feel heavyish. Put a note on my desk in the morning: ‘Think Thin’.”

As he contemplates his next step, a similar memo might yet help Rooney avoid lean years of his own. He presumably views Ryan Giggs’ longevity as being as much a matter of metabolism as professionalism. But while Cassano and Miccoli retain the nimblest of feet, it has always helped when they can actually see them.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...