AC Milan striker Antonio Cassano is to undergo heart surgery after suffering a suspected stroke whilst travelling on a plane with his team-mates.
The team were flying home after their 3-2 win over Roma last Saturday when Cassano complained of sudden vision, speech and movement problems, he has been in hospital since.
The 29-year-old was reportedly joking with team-mates shortly before being taken ill, a club statement said: “The player will undergo a small surgical cardiological intervention in the coming days and the recovery time will be better defined after the surgery, but it will probably be a few months.”
The operation will close a small hole in Cassano’s heart as part of a cerebral problem related to an ischaemic stroke.
The heart anomaly that is due to be corrected, restricted blood flow to his brain, however he is expected to make a full recovery and could return to first team action within six months.
The striker missed the 1-1 draw with BATE Borisov on Tuesday as Milan qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League.
After Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored, team-mate Kevin Prince Boateng celebrated by lifting his shirt to reveal another jersey with Cassano’s name and number 99 on it.
Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said after the draw in Belarus: “The entire squad is thinking about Antonio Cassano. I spoke in the changing room with the players to explain that the situation seems to be evolving positively. He has told me that he’s upset because he had been playing well.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Galliani, the coach Massimiliano Allegri and the Italian federation president, Giancarlo Abete, all visited Cassano at the Policlinico di Milano, where he was being treated on Wednesday.
Words of support have poured in from current and former team-mates and even Maradona sent a letter that was published in the Corriere dello Sport that stated: “I know about the thoughts, worries and torments that are going through your mind.
“I know that feeling of confusion and, why not, even solitude, that makes everything suddenly look black. I know well, and that’s why I feel close to you and Rino Gattuso, who is also experiencing a sad period.”
This refers to a nerve problem affecting Gennero Gattuso’s left eye that could rule him out for the rest of the season and was announced less than a week ago.
Milan have Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Alexandre Pato as other attacking options, but they may still look for back-up, possibly in the form of a loan player until Cassano has recovered.
However it leaves Italy without their current starting forwards ahead of the European Championships next year, as Giuseppe Rossi is out with a knee injury.
During a career that largely flattered to deceive, Cassano seemed to be living up to the promise that surrounded him in the early days.
His performances for Milan were rewarded with a regular national team place and he scored six times in the group stage, after such a checkered past Ukraine and Poland would probably be his last chance to make an impact on a major international tournament.Like what the TT have on offer? Sign up for more notifications!