Marco Cassetti has played for his country, competed in the Champions League and been part of a title-challenging side in the top flight of Italian football for several years. He seemingly has nothing to prove. So at the age of 35, why did he decide to leave his wife and two children to join a team in English football’s second division?
“When I was young I thought the football in England was very good and I thought one day I want to go to England to play,” Cassetti explained when he sat down with the Watford Observer last week.
The veteran spoke with honesty when he was asked why he opted for Watford: “I finished my contract with Roma on June 30 and on July 1 I was a free agent, but nobody asked to sign me. The first team that asked were Watford – so it was easy.”
One thing which was difficult for Cassetti was having to leave his family though. He has a wife, a 13-year-old son and a daughter of five who have remained in Italy – his son not wanting to leave his friends was seemingly a factor in the decision.
The likeable Cassetti admitted: “It is difficult leaving them because my old routine involved living with my family 24 hours a day. This is a big change.
“For me maybe this change is easier than for my wife though, because whilst I’m alone, I come to the training ground and I stay with my friends. For my wife, it’s difficult because she has to bring the guys to school and do everything else like that, so it’s very difficult work for my wife.
“But that is what it is like to be the wife of a football player, she knows the problems.”
His family visit when they can and Cassetti has adjusted to life in England quickly. The Stadio Olympico has been swapped for Vicarage Road and Rome replaced by Watford. But surprisingly, Cassetti stated that has been a positive thing.
“Here there is no pressure. It is a pleasure to go to the stadium to play because after the match you can go outside the stadium alone,” he explained. “The fans and the supporters clap and there is a great atmosphere. At every club in Italy, that is very difficult when it comes to the social life of a football player.”
Cassetti spent the previous six season at Roma; he finished as Serie A runner-up on three occasions, won the Coppa Italia in his first two seasons at the club and played in the Champions League during four of his six years at the club, appearing in the Europa League for the other two.
He has acquired hero-like status at his last two clubs.
In 2009, he came on as a substitute against Lazio to score the winner against Roma’s arch rivals and at Leece, he became the first player in their history to play for Italy.
Cassetti spent most of his time at Roma as either a right-back or centre-half but he started his career as a right midfielder.
After spells at Montichiari and Lumezzane, Cassetti’s career in Serie A began at Verona where he played alongside the likes of Mauro Camoranesi, Adrian Mutu and Alberto Gilardino.
When Verona were relegated, he joined newly-promoted Lecce in 2003 where he spent three years and went on to win five caps for Italy. Cassetti joined Roma when Leece were relegated in 2006.
Cassetti had no issue with swapping Italian giants Roma for Watford, who by his own admission he knew very little about.
He said: “Football is football. For me, I love this sport, I love football and the football is not the problem. If I play in Serie A or I play in the Championship, the ball is the same size in England, in Italy, in Africa – everywhere.”
But he admitted: “The truth is I didn’t know a lot about the Championship. I knew it was a difficult league, physically, and the players have a lot of quality. I arrived in pre-season because I was a free agent and in the first 20 days here it was hard for me, but after that I adapted.”
Cassetti spends much of his free time with Alex Geijo; the pair lived together for the first two months after joining the club and now have apartments in the same building.
Several of the new arrivals at Watford knew each other from their time at Udinese but while Cassetti joined the Italian club before moving to Watford on loan, it was only to reduce the Hornets’ wage bill.
So Cassetti did not know any of the players at Vicarage Road personally but confirmed the whole squad do get on well and believes the relationships in the dressing room have been of huge benefit for Watford.
The 35-year-old did not sign for the Golden Boys until late August so was not included in a match-day squad for the first four games of the season and had to wait until the eighth fixture before he was named in the starting line-up.
He says Italian football is more tactical than the English game, which he believes is more physical and played at a higher tempo. Cassetti seemed to struggled with the pace of the Championship early in his Watford career but he quickly cemented his place on the right of midfield and has impressed this season.
Cassetti has been pleased with his personal performances and is confident the team can continue their impressive form this season; culminating in promotion.
“I think the team this year can go straight to the Premier League because I think the players here have a lot of quality,” he stated. “There are not a lot of teams better than us; this is my opinion because I see training every day.
“We lost some games but this normal. If we play the same as we have in the last seven or eight games then we can dream of second place – I think Cardiff are too far ahead but then nothing is impossible.”
Hornets’ head coach Gianfranco Zola has praised the impact made by Cassetti during his first year in English football.
Zola said: “It has been important to have Marco because he has intelligence, he has experience and charisma. But also, he’s a great guy.
“It’s important to have players with experience. They have been a great help for the club. Marco’s fantastic but so are players like John Eustace.”