There is no shame in losing a game of football, especially not to a team like Inter. Nor is losing the Coppa Italia to a Champions League finalist any cause for despondency. There is, however, authentic ignominy, in failing to acknowledge defeat, and in losing dignity before losing the game. The indefensible behaviour of Francesco Totti succeeded in doing what seemed impossible – it took the ugliest game played in Italy this season, and made it even uglier.
For the game was far from entertaining. The shots on goal were, for the overwhelming majority, hopeful punts from distance, so much so that only two of Roma’s and five of Inter’s were on target, for a total of seven shots in ninety minutes to engage the keepers. More importantly, the attitude of both teams was little short of repulsive. In the first half, hardly a minute went by without a player writhing on the ground. Listing the amount of times that questionable play was witnessed on the field would take us half the column. Thiago Motta, Mario Balotelli, Marco Materazzi, Douglas Maicon and Samuel Eto’o among the Inter players, and Simone Perrotta, Rodrigo Taddei, Philippe Mexes, Mirko Vucinic and Francesco Totti for Roma, all dived, fouled, whined, bickered and failed to show respect to their adversaries. Other than the excellent goal by Diego Milito, the entire first half was tedious to watch.
The second half of the game improved things a little. Jérémy Menez, a boy among men who looked like a man among boys, gave a little bit of spark to Roma’s manoeuvres. The need to equalise led them to press deep into Nerazzurri territory. Much has been made of Inter’s defence of steel this year, but in fairness, Roma did give it a good shake on several occasions, twice outright breaching it. Juan and Vucinic both had the chance to re-open the game, but the former’s header and the latter’s close shot skimmed the posts. The post-game commentary has been full of common places, from Inter’s defensive prowess to Claudio Ranieri’s loser mentality, but the truth is that football is often decided by episodes, and Wednesday proved it. On this particular night the balance went against the Giallorossi, in the same way that, one month before, it had gone against Inter at the Olimpico. As far as tactics go, the game was quite even.
The refereeing was contested, for a change. Nicola Rizzoli was not appreciated by anyone, not even by Pierluigi Collina, though his task was truly ingrate. There was a penalty by Walter Samuel on Toni which Rizzoli did not see, but then, there should have been a red card on Perrotta, and perhaps one on Nicolas Burdisso as well. It may not have been great refereeing, but it was fair for both sides.
As the game drew towards its close, Roma started losing spirit, and the play went back to its boring antics – diving, insults and ill-feelings all round. Just when it seemed like the tribulation was about to end and things could not have sank any lower, Totti ran after Balotelli, caught him up, and savagely kicked him in the leg with no apparent motivation. The subsequent ‘clunk’ of jaws dropping on desks could be heard even through the microphones. Under the eyes of the nation’s ruling authorities, under the eyes of Marcello Lippi, the symbol and representative of the team from the capital suddenly morphed into a troglodyte. Red card by Rizzoli, and it was sacrosanct.
Totti apologised on his site on the following day. It is not enough. Those who follow football for the joy of it, those who look at it as a game to enjoy with friends and family, have all heard it so often before. Most likely they are tired of Totti spitting, punching, showing thumbs or kicking, then covering his head with ashes on the following day. An entire nation of kids saw the example that Rome and Italy’s best player of the past decade decided to set, and one such kid was Balotelli, who is in desperate need of a guide from the labyrinth of his own rage. If this is how the peers around him behave, if this is how the man who should be his first and foremost model chooses to act, how can we expect any better from the Inter player? It does not matter how badly the junior provoked his elder, the fact that he is a junior makes it all the more serious that the elder descended to his level. To put it simply, Totti has failed his team, his fans and his city. He is a great player, but he is an embarrassment of a captain.
It was a hard night for the Giallorossi, and it is incredible how this dream of a season was spoiled in the last two weeks. Over the year, Roma had succeeded in a comeback which remains unique for humility and determination, then threw it all out of the window as soon as they were on top. Rosella Sensi started the pandemonium and the lack of sportsmanship with her comments after Lazio-Inter, then the Coppa Italia final was degraded to the worst game of the season, and Totti finished the job by behaving like a barbarian at the worst possible time – jeopardising his chances for the World Cup, among other things. Claudio Ranieri seems the only figure from any side who is still behaving like a gentleman, but his voice seems distant and tinny. We can only hope that the last two games in the league show some better behaviour. For the love of the sport, please show some better behaviour.