It isn’t easy to begin an article about Francesco Totti without drowning the reader in a flash-flood of superlatives, so after a thorough work out of one’s thesaurus, this writer will impose upon you just one – absolute. With an unrivaled on-pitch arrogance to match his effortless footballing grace, Roma’s talisman, is well-deserving of his place at Italian football’s top table.
In today’s ever-evolving game it is rare to find players who are able to stay at the top of their game for such a sustained period of time and Totti is one of a very select few who have proved that pure class is simply irreplaceable. However, in this respect he is simply elevated (albeit to a very exclusive podium) but not unique. What honestly defines the Italian playmaker’s true stature is not simply his deific ability but is his devotion of it to his home club, Roma. In a footballing culture where players change their clubs more often than their underwear, Totti’s dedication to the Giallorossi will see his name firmly etched into the club’s history and remembered long after the two-season superstars have been forgotten.
The fact that Totti made his full debut at the tender age of 16 will not come as a shock to anybody familiar with his talents. In fact, having toiled for three years in Roma’s youth set-up, perhaps the real surprise is that it took the coaching staff that long before turning him loose. On March 28, 1993 Francesco Totti made his senior team debut in a 2-0 victory away at Brescia, in what would be the first of just a couple of appearances that season, but the start of an illustrious career with i Lupi that has so far spanned over 17 years. The following season saw Totti grow in confidence and begin to fine-tune the raw talent responsible for his rising profile within Italy’s top flight. Making five times as many appearances than the previous season, the home-grown wunderkid was starting to make his presence felt and whilst that all-important first goal remained elusive, Totti was making people take note.
Eventually Totti was rewarded with the goal he had worked so hard to achieve, scoring Roma’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Foggia. Granted, in hindsight the circumstances under which he opened his professional account are not quite as glamourous as would be befitting of the man’s talent, yet as a signal of intent it was patently clear. Come the 1995/96 season, the flamboyant forward had firmly established himself as part of the Stadio Olimpico’s furniture, netting 20 times over the next three seasons, playing in a variety of positions. In 1997 he was appointed Roma’s captain under Zdenek Zeman’s managerial watch. By this time, Totti was starting to come into his own, scoring 25 league goals in 60 appearances during Zeman’s reign, and, although narrowly missing out on a place in Italy’s 1998 World Cup squad, he was still named Serie A Young Footballer of the Year for the 1998/99 season. Francesco Totti had introduced himself to Italian football, and what’s more, Italian football liked it.
It’s not very often that a Coach builds a team around one player but such was the limitless potential of Roma’s most valuable asset, that’s exactly what Fabio Capello did. Having made the trequartista position his own by the time the 2000/01 season swung into action, Totti was showing the whole of Serie A he was all but a necessity for the Giallorossi. Scoring 13 valuable goals, the legendary No. 10 guided La Magica to lo Scudetto as well leading his team to a decisive 3-0 victory over Fiorentina in the SuperCoppa Italia. He was subsequently named Italian Footballer of the Year for that season and received a nomination for the prestigious Ballon d’Or. In the following seasons Totti regained his title as the Italian Footballer of the Year after a successful season in 2003/04 in which he scored a career high twenty league goals before becoming Roma’s leading all-time goalscorer as he netted for the 107th time against Parma, breaking the record of Roberto Pruzzo that had stood since 1988. He has gone on to become the club’s record goalscorer and appearance holder with a tally of 217 goals across all competitions in 535 games and is the leading Serie A goalscorer still active with a haul of 175 goals that has taken him into the top ten all-time scorers in the league’s history. The player has won the Italian Footballer of the Year award a record five times in total (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007).
The arrival of Luciano Spalletti as head Coach saw the former striker adopt a deeper role for the 2005/06 season playing as part of a three-man offensive midfield behind a lone striker. This allowed Totti to be more involved in the construction of attacking moves, making full use of his uncanny ability to pick holes in the opposition’s defence. What’s more, despite attacking from deeper positions than before, his strike-rate actually increased as he netted 15 times in just 23 appearances. Yet Totti was far from reaching his full potential that season, as he proved the season after. Scoring 26 times in the 2006/07 season, Francesco Totti, was Serie A’s top goalscorer for the season and despite coming second to Inter in the league, the Giallorossi talisman led a resurgent Roma to victory as they sought out revenge over the same opposition in the Coppa Italia. It was beyond doubt, Totti had not only become an ambassador for his club, but a national icon for Italian football. Despite his goals, some of the player’s biggest contributions have come in his range of passing and the unique ability to see the impossible pass.
Still, as with almost every great player, Totti is not without his flaws. Volatile and arrogant, the fact that perhaps two of his greatest attributes are at the same time his most evident shortcomings is an irony that must simply be acknowledged, and in turn, accepted. Of course, his actions at the 2004 European Championships cannot be condoned. It would be wonderful to say that the incident in which he spat at Denmark’s Christian Poulsen were the one-off, out-of-character actions of an otherwise upstanding member of the footballing community, but this would be untrue. It seems one of Italy’s greatest players is destined to fall short of the recognition a footballer of such immeasurable talent should at international level, despite winning the World Cup in 2006. Plagued by injury in the build-up to the tournament he was never fully-fit enough to show his true class and instead is likely to remembered for his previous exploits on the world stage that can do nothing but damage for his reputation. Whilst undoubtedly the Italian will have learnt from his actions, it is the perfect example of the sort of petulance that seems to go hand-in-hand with sporting genius and even the greats of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and Eric Cantona have fallen foul of a moment of temporary madness. It is something the majority of us cannot comprehend, but unfortunately there is no escaping the fact that his brilliance is inextricably linked to his belligerence and without both we would have neither – a far more desolate place to be.
It is hard to summarize a player like Totti. Blessed with the ability of a god and dogged by the temperament of the devil, the Italian maestro may never win an award for fair play – he has been sent off seven times in Serie A – but he should be rightfully remembered for his ability to pick a pass ahead of his ability to pick a fight. Of course Roma’s pride and joy will not be without his critics but as wise man once said; “to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing,” and if there is one thing Totti is not, it’s nothing.
Past Lessons in Calcio