Francesco Totti: Roma's loyal gladiator battles on
In an era when football is increasingly becoming synonymous with footballers swapping clubs with consummate ease, leading ‘plastic’ celebrity lives and being part of exorbitantly pricey transfer deals, Francesco Totti sticks out oddly being one of the last men standing in the line of one-club footballers, a man who has dedicated his life to the value called ‘loyalty’ and the club called Roma, choosing to courageously fight the hard battles and silverware heartbreaks that are part and parcel of being a one-club man. A true gladiator who has consistently fought to defy odds, Totti started his glittering career at AS Roma when he was just sixteen, after his mother had refused a lucrative contract from Calcio giants AC Milan, and went on to write one of the most glorious chapters in the history of his club and Italian football. Totti’s rise to become the pillar of the ‘Eternal City’ giants, the national team and become regarded as one of the finest playmakers of all time is a story that will stand the test of time.
Before the millennium, AS Roma had last won the Scudetto in 1983, the Italian league was being swept off its feet by the dominance of Milan and Juventus in the ‘90s and the capital city club was experiencing one of the most sub-par decades in its history. However, just like Julius Caesar for Rome, a saviour would arise for Roma in the form of ‘Er Pupone’ as Totti, under the able stewardship of Fabio Capello came of age to inspire his team, flourishing in the position of ‘trequartista’, to the 2001 Scudetto, a watershed moment in the club’s history and a precursor to a glorious decade that also saw Roma win back-to-back Coppa Italia trophies and finish second in the league six times. Il Gladiatore proved Roma’s critics wrong as he ushered in a glorious era for the club in the Italian league.
“They called me a fool when I said this side could challenge for the title. Now they can think again”.
Post the 2001 Scudetto, a lull followed as Capello exited, Roma slipped in the league and Italy endured a debacle in the 2002 World cup but Totti raged on, fighting for his team’s cause through his goal scoring exploits. Then came Luciano Spalletti in 2005-06 to give birth to a formation that would make sweeping changes in the game’s tactics and Totti would undergo a transformation. Having flourished as a ‘trequartista’ behind strikers before the Spalletti era, Totti was pushed up front as a striker by the new manager in a 4-6-0 formation that saw ‘Er Pupone’ drop in to collect the ball instead of waiting for crosses, thus creating space for runners from midfield, apart from banging in dozens of goals, to leave central defenders and opposition managers perplexed about the concept of man-marking, creating Roma into one of the best counter-attacking teams of the decade feared by all. With Totti leading from the front by scoring and creating freely, Roma won back-to-back Coppa Italia titles in 2007 and 2008 against the Nerazzurris, most notably demolishing them 6-2 in the 2007 final and Totti won the 2007 European Golden boot.
“My personality means I never give up. People can say what they like, but I keep on going.”
It is this never-say-die attitude of Totti that saw him travel to Germany for the 2006 World Cup despite being unfit and having been on the sidelines for a long time prior to the tournament, and still end up with serving the maximum number of assists in the competition as Italy lifted the World Cup. It is this never-say-die spirit that is so typical of gladiators that sees Roma’s favourite son committed to the Montella resurrection project despite the Giallorossi not being the team that breathed down the neck of Inter Milan for the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia last season.
Now 34 years old, the Roman Gladiator’s powers are waning and he has increasingly become an impact substitute rather than a regular starter, having been left out of key matches. Yet his unbridled love affair with Roma lives on and the fire continues to grow in his belly as displayed in the braces against Lazio in the ‘Derby della Capitale’, and Fiorentina when he notched up his 200th Serie A goal, thus placing him 6th in the list of all time goal scorers in the history of the Serie A, 4 behind the legendary Roberto Baggio and 15 behind Guiseppe Meazza.
As right said by Marcello Lippi, Totti is a monumental player in the history of Italian football whose legacy can never be surpassed. “It is clear that Totti is one of the few players who doesn’t have a substitute because there is nobody around who plays like him. No one else could play Totti’s position.” One of the game’s most gifted playmakers and strikers very good at doing this, the void left by the absence of the creative genius is a colossal one to fill, as was evident in Italy’s shambolic performance in the 2010 World Cup.
In modern football, loyalty is a priceless yet highly under-valued virtue. For having dedicated his career to a single club despite knowing that suitors from top clubs around the world better placed at winning major trophies would pay top dollar to have him, Totti is a true living legend. “I’ll remain forever in Rome, I can’t see me with a different jersey”. Roma’s season might be faltering but Totti, when he plays, will not go down without a fight.
They say “What we do in life echoes in eternity”. When this Roman gladiator calls it a day, his name would continue to be sung and his achievements will echo for eternity in the history of AS Roma and Italian football.