Football in Italy is a religion, and its home is Rome. This, much to the dismay of Lazio fans, makes Francesco Totti a God amongst men. The Italian is one of the finest players of his generation, which makes his loyalty to Roma all the more remarkable. Serie A is something of a Lazarus Pit for its many legends, and Totti is no exception, however at the ripe old age of 39, this could well be his last season. Therefore now would seem an appropriate time to pay tribute to a player whom the British scarcely know about.
Totti is a voguish number 10, and a luxury, that, at times, Roma have not been able to afford. He is still by far and away the club’s biggest commodity. Despite this, Totti has always resisted the temptation to earn more money with another team. Totti is Roman through and through, the King of Rome in the eyes of many.
His love for Roma is only second to his hate for Lazio; Totti is the self-proclaimed persecutor of Lazio, with the strength of a soldier and the strut of a prince. Many players have come and gone for Lazio over the years, but each one, when faced with the prospect of the Rome derby, must first conquer the imposing figure of Totti. The derby is the fiercest fixture in Italian football; it’s so much more than a football match, it is a territorial battle, divided by politics and tradition.
It is very easy to reminisce in a romantic fashion the narrative of Totti’s career. His solitary Scudetto was a Hollywood triumph against the odds, which was only eclipsed by his World Cup success in 2006. He took the lead role on both occasions, playing a pivotal part for club and country.
Despite this, many will argue that Totti’s trophy cabinet is far too bare for the Italian to be considered a true legend of the game. However Totti’s refusal to be bought or sold for more success makes him greater in my eyes.
His exceptional ability on the field comes at a price. Totti plays on the edge, with a tendency to cross the line. Like the time he spat at Denmark’s Christian Poulsen in EURO 2004, or the time he booted Mario Balotelli from behind, in an attempt to teach the young Italian some manners.
However one can’t help but feel that if Totti had moved to Real Madrid, then his disciplinarily record would have improved as a result, because the matches would have mattered to him much less. Maybe his temper is a consequence of his ego getting the better of him; maybe Il Gladiatore truly believes he is a gladiator. This is the difference between a player like Totti and a player like Diego Costa. The Chelsea striker is a journeyman, for both club and country, who squabbles and fights because he doesn’t know any better, sometimes against his former teams. Totti on the other hand is a leader, who honours the fans of Roma every time he receives a red card.
Like many lotharios of the past in the world of football, Totti has occasionally suffered from the high life. Rightly or wrongly his penchant for love affairs makes him something of an anti-hero, an Italian James Bond with a license to thrill. Despite his weakness for temptation, Totti has never felt compelled to cheat on Roma with a more attractive club. In football we glorify adultery far too much, although Totti’s hero worship is justified, because after all the partying he always returns home to his beloved Roma. If men and women were as loyal to each other as Totti is to Roma, then the world would be far more civilised.
Of course English football can point to its own one-club heroes, although players like Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and John Terry were fortunate to play for teams that had infinite financial resources and truly great managers. When Totti graduated from the youth ranks at Roma he was not afforded such privileges. Many people might compare him to Steven Gerrard, and, like Totti, Gerrard received lucrative offers to play elsewhere in his career, but opted to stay with his boyhood club. Despite this people seem to have forgotten Gerrard has become a two-club man since joining LA Galaxy. The only worthy comparison I can think of, off the top of my head, is Matt Le Tissier at Southampton. He stayed loyal to the Saints despite the constant threat of relegation, and arguably jeopardised his England career in the process.
Nonetheless Totti stands alone for me, he was born in the heart of Rome and propelled straight into battle as soon as he was old enough. Totti is the kind of maverick we don’t get in England anymore, not since the likes of George Best and Paul Gascoigne has English football had a truly captivating personality to watch in awe and wonder. The Italian is a rebel without a cause who has lived to tell the tale. He is a nonconformist, who defied the Galacticos and their cash. Now Totti can leave his career behind and enjoy a healthy and fruitful life in the Italian capital. He is the greatest player of his generation, a true one-club man and an icon for Roma and his country.