No Totti, No Party
4th December 2016, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome was bubbling with a familiar energy on a day that, through the course of history, has come to be known as the Derby della Capitale. Roma vs. Lazio, the derby of gladiators from the capital of Italia.
The derby ended in a much-expected 2-0 win for Roma (who have also come to dominate over their historic rivals in the recent years), but there was a lingering expectation from the Roma side of the supporters who were, perhaps, awaiting an appearance from their battle-hardened gladiator to grace the pitch for a record Derby cap.
Although he didn’t make it to the field from the substitute’s bench, Il Gladiatore, Francesco Totti, looked on, making his 42nd derby appearance as a spectator.
There is not a shred of doubt in the minds of any Roma fan that Francesco Totti is the greatest player their club has ever produced.
Rolling back the decades and criticisms
The time for one-club players is nearing an end. Steven Gerrard and Xavi, departed from Liverpool and Barcelona respectively last year for less competitive leagues abroad to see out their remaining years, effectively ending their single club status. And though Totti’s dedication and love for Roma is unquestionable, many of his even most ardent supporters feel that maybe it’s time for their Capitano to hang up his boots.
Yet, Totti has remained unfazed. His brace against Lazio last year in January, followed by his famed selfie-celebration, is a testament to a player who has never failed to deliver. Even as recently as September against Sampdoria, when Roma was trailing by 2-1, Totti came from the bench to provide the assist for Dzeko to tie the game and then scored the winning penalty, deep into injury time. He would celebrate his 40th birthday less than 3 weeks later.
It’s no wonder that Alessandro Nesta, the legendary ex-Lazio and Milan defender of Italy, recently heaped praise on his biggest old-time rival, calling Totti a player with “extraordinary capabilities”.
Coming into 2016-17, the supposed twilight season of his career, Totti was expected to get only an occasional cap from the bench, a guidance for the younglings, ever-eager to learn from an age-old master of the game. Fast forward 4 months and 10 appearances later, (Europe and League) he had directly contributed to 9 goals. (2 goals, 7 assists) The old familiar feeling seemed to be coming back for the players and the fans; Il Capitano still had it in him.
As a child, he rejected Milan to join Roma, igniting a romance with the capital club for whom he would go on to play 25 straight seasons. The loyalty and the passion with which he has played for his boyhood club probably rubbed off on the other local players. Daniel De Rossi, a veteran midfielder in his own right, is now in his 17th season for Roma.
A genius in every position
Totti’s abilities have never been in question, at least not by a global media.
No normal player can hope to survive in the top-most tier of Italian football for 25 years without having a spark of genius, and Totti is no exception to that rule. He has thrived in nearly all attacking positions, starting out as classic no. 10. Then, he blossomed at left-wing under Zdenak Zeman’s extreme attacking 4-3-3 formation and was able to perfect his playmaking abilities under Capello as a proper attacking mid.
But it was under Luciano Spalletti’s first stint, when he was deployed as an out-and-out striker, that his attacking genius was finally polished. With Totti improvising more as a trequartista, Spalletti’s team resembled almost a 4-6-0 formation.
This kind of versatility and adaptability has been an indispensable component which has prolonged his capabilities as a player. When one also considers his speciality on dead ball situations and the uncanny repertoire of his ‘cucchiaio’ goals, his talent places him as one of the most gifted Italian players of his generation.
And this writer here has not even mentioned the fact that he is a World Cup winner.
The Icon of the Eternal City
People talk about players or managers who give so much to a club that they become bigger than the club itself. The image of that person is the identity on which a club carries itself, seemingly unknowingly; an organic structure on the shoulders of that player.
Il Re di Roma, The King of Rome, might be an improvised adulation, but nothing else strikes the depth of emotion which bleeds through the hearts of the Roma fans for their humbled King, Francesco Totti.