The Stadio Olimpico said goodbye to one of the greatest players to ever grace Italian football on Sunday 28 May. Often when player retires and we look back on their careers we look at their vast trophy cabinet and individual achievements. These circumstances are different. This is not to say that Roma’s main man for over 20 years has not had a successful career. It just highlights the nature of the man behind the statistics and what he represents in a sport that is dominated by the pursuit of success and wealth.
It was Sunday the 28 March 1993 when a fresh faced Francesco Totti climbed off the Roma bench for a three minute debut against Brescia. Who would have thought at that moment exactly 290 months later a stadium full of football fans would be crying at the fact that he was retiring. He made one further appearance from the bench that season but he was on the radar. His progression over the next couple of years was steady. His first goal for his beloved club came on the opening day of Roma’s 1994/95 campaign, when he fired his side ahead on the half hour mark.
Totti’s career at Roma was steady; he won the Serie A footballer of year in 2000 and still remains the only Roma player to do that to date. He won it one more time but the award was shared with Pavel Nedved of Juventus. The 2000/2001 season was the most special of his career. Roma achieved the unthinkable and won their first Italian title in 18 years. Totti was involved in 30 of the 34 league games scoring 13 goals. Totti operated in large behind La Maggica’s front two of Gabriel Batistuta and Vincenzo Montella. This front three combined to score 46 of the 68 league goals during the course of this campaign. The next season saw them finish second in the table but lift the Supercoppa Italiana, which is the Italian curtain raiser, similar to our Community Shield.
The next moment of Totti’s fascinating career came with his national team. While he always favoured playing for his club side (highlighted by his decision to retire from international football in 2007) he went to the 2006 World Cup with Italy. Totti scored the single goal in the competition but it was a vital one. In the round of 16 Italy took on Australia and struggled to break them down. In the fifth minute of stoppage time at the end of the game Italy were awarded a penalty. Fabio Grosso was brought down after running at Lucas Neill who committed a clumsy challenge in his penalty area. Penalty given. Totti stepped up and fired the ball beyond the keeper and gave him no chance to make it 1-0 with no time for reply. Totti assisted three goals in the competition as well as this vital goal.
The decision he made to retire from international football was to prolong his Roma career due to a physical problem. The Italian definitely prolonged his career. He would go on to take part in 11 further campaigns for his team. While not capturing anymore league titles he did gain more honours. He was the league’s top scorer in 2006/07 with 26 goals; he won two Italian cups and another Italian super cup. A player of his ability could have won a much more. A host of second and third place finishes in the league must have frustrated the long term captain who wanted the best for his favourite team.
Why did Totti stay at Roma if he could have been successful elsewhere? It’s simple, pure and unconditional love for the club. The Italian stated his love started because he grew up playing for Roma and that he wanted to die playing for them. He even famously said that he had cheated on all of his girlfriends but he would never cheat on Roma. When somebody has so much pride and such strong feelings towards a club even the biggest and most successful teams cannot tempt them away. Real Madrid tried to lure him to Spain multiple times and in 2006 when asked why not he came out with another example of his wisdom;
“They taught us at school that family is the most important thing for a human. Roma is my family, have you ever heard of someone who left his poor parents to live with rich parents?” (Francesco Totti, 2006)
Totti really had a brilliant mentality. His loyalty to a club that helped him develop is one that is hard to find in the modern game. He even went on to criticise Gonzalo Higuain after he left Napoli for Juventus. His argument was that modern players followed money rather than their hearts. Totti very much followed his heart. Nothing would have driven him to leave Roma. This is the reason he will always be seen as the ideal in the eyes of Roma fans and quite possibly fans from every other club in the world.
Thank you Francesco Totti for your wonderful talent and dedication to football, but thank you a great deal more for showing that loyalty and integrity can leave you a legacy that money cannot buy.