The Roma stalwart has his critics, and could have won more trophies elsewhere, but his appeal is in his simplicity
27 September ~ Francesco Totti turns 40 today. He is currently in his 25th consecutive season in Serie A, all of them wearing the yellow and red of his beloved Roma. Not everyone loves him, and he is at times a divisive figure. He is often called “The eighth king of Rome”, a recognition of what he represents for the city.
He sometimes gets away with things other players are punished for. An example would be a famous series of expletives directed at referee Nicola Rizzoli in 2008 for which, his detractors say, a normal player would have received a red card. He can be petulant, but it should also be recognised that he has been the recipient of many ugly fouls in his career.
He cannot go on much longer, and so as he reaches an age at which most players are long retired, it is time for a more benign assessment. And that must start with an acknowledgement that in his prime he was a supremely gifted player, and even now in his cameo appearances he produces moments that few other players much younger than him can match.
He has never been a conventional centre-forward and yet, with 250 goals from 605 Serie A games, he is second only to Silvio Piola (274 in 537), who played in an era (1929-54) when defences were less tight. I would argue that the greatness of Totti is that he has been a No 9 and a No 10 and he has excelled in both these roles.
But what really makes Totti stand out is the fact that he has stayed with the serially underachieving Roma throughout his career. He has won one League title in 2001, and twice Roma have won Coppa Italia (2007 and 2008).
Many times early in his career he could have gone to Juventus or Inter or Milan, or one of the big two in Spain, and he would probably have far more medals. But he did not. He chose to stay with the team he loved, the team he supported. And I admire him for that.
There are many players who move simply because they want a better chance of winning something. Gonzalo Higuaín from Napoli to Juventus is the latest example in Italy. Good luck to them, but they cannot complain if people think they are mercenaries.
I suspect that if you asked Totti whether he has any regrets, he would probably reply that one title win with Roma (they have only won it three times in their 90-year history anyway) is worth ten with Juventus. Although he has his faults, as we all do, there is a simplicity about him that is appealing.
Totti, then, is one of the last of a dying breed, one-club players who are also fans of the teams they play for. His team-mate, the irascible Daniele de Rossi, is another, as was Atalanta’s Gianpaolo Bellini, who retired at the end of last season after 18 years in the first-team squad of the nerazzurri. He was no Totti as a player, but his attachment to his hometown club was as strong.
In these times when so many players, often egged on by their agents, hawk themselves to whichever club they think can win them a medal, and who probably have no real feeling for the teams they play for, we should remember with gratitude the Tottis of this world. And we should enjoy what is left of his talent, which seems to be plenty, while we can. Richard Mason