The Decline Of Two Legends

Francesco Totti was given a rare start against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night as Roma put in another lacklustre performance and lost at home. Totti’s presence made no difference and it was a surprise he started at all given the fine form of Marco Borriello. Er Pupone is becoming just another player at Roma.
Last weekend in the Derby D’Italia, Juventus earned a credible draw with Inter without having to use their captain Alessandro Del Piero. Could the veteran have made turned the tide in Juve’s favour with such high-profile stakes? Probably not as these days Del Piero seldom impacts the biggest games.
It is a hard truth to acknowledge, and one that few have admitted despite the obvious evidence but Del Piero and Totti are two legends of Italian football whose abilities are on the wane. It seems almost treacherous to admit it but despite the fact that both players are respectively club captains, neither is considered good enough to start every week in Serie A anymore.
Juventus are arguably the finest and most historic club in Italy and Del Piero holds the prestige of being their all-time top scorer with 179 league goals. Equally, nobody has played more games for the Bianconeri than the current incumbent of the No.10 shirt, who broke this latest record when he stepped off the bench last weekend for his 435th league appearance. For these reasons, he deserves to be cherished by not just Juve but the whole of Italy when his career finally ends – it is just sad to see him wither away.
The weekend before last at Cagliari, a fully-fit Del Piero started on the bench while the likes of Matri and Jorge Martinez were selected in attacking positions. Gigi Del Neri, Juve’s coach, preferred to ditch his favoured 4-4-2 formation and field Matri up-front by himself rather than play Del Piero from the start.
The biggest indication of his diminishing influence is the chaotic negotiations regarding a new contract that have been dragged out all season. Del Piero’s current deal ends in the summer and he would then be a free agent – rumours linking him with a move to the MLS are degrading to a player who still feels he can contribute to Juve.
The club’s lack of action over his new deal demonstrate that Del Piero is no longer a priority. He is no longer the most important player at the club. The Juve board know he wants to extend his career for a further season, but from an economic point of view, do they want a highly-paid substitute who isn’t deemed good enough to play regularly? It seems Del Piero will indeed get his wish, but it seems to be more of a willingness to appease Juve’s disgruntled fans than to keep the player’s services.
In the capital city, the man affectionately known as the Roman Emperor is losing his power. There is not a Caesar-style mutiny at Roma but nevertheless the days when Totti led his troops to battle are also coming to an end.
Totti is a naturally more volatile character than Del Piero so it may seem that his downfall is less dignified, as the Roma skipper is clearly unhappy at the moment. But while Del Piero has been a bit-part player (or an ‘impact substitute’ if you prefer) for a few seasons now, Roma are only experiencing Totti’s limitations this campaign.
Giallorossi boss Claudio Ranieri has free-scoring Borriello and the skilful Jeremy Menez in his ranks and when picking a team on current form, Totti simply does not feature. Ranieri infuriated the Roma supporters who justifiably idolise their 34-year-old striker when deciding to only bring him off the bench in stoppage time against Sampdoria last month, despite the fact they were losing 2-1 and needed a goal.
Totti’s pedigree suggests he merits the faith that Roma fans still have in him. He holds a record five Italian Footballer of the Year awards, and his 195 league goals make him the highest goalscorer still active in Serie A. Like Del Piero for Juve, Totti has scored the most goals and played the most games for his club. However, the player at Ranieri’s disposal is not what he once was.
Totti has no contract issues and will be Roma captain for the forseeable future, but if Ranieri remains in charge he may not see much action. It wouldn’t be beyond the club to sack their coach just so Totti can play more. But, Roma may be better off realising their captain is not the same player that led them to the Scudetto in 2001.
Del Piero and Totti, the World Cup winning team-mates, look likely to be sticking around for another season at least. But, if you want to see two supremely talented players show their skills, you’re better off watching highlights from a decade ago rather than their current performances.

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