The legendary forward can easily be proclaimed the most famous king who ruled Roman hearts after a certain Julius Caesar. . .
The European football season is almost done for the year as we await the titanic clash between Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League to decide who is Europe’s top dog this season. But more than anything, football gave a tearful farewell to one of the game’s greatest ever talents, Francesco Totti as he made his last bow for his beloved AS Roma in a thrilling 3-2 win over Genoa in a fixture that saw Luciano Spalletti’s side take 2nd spot and qualify for the Champions’ League group stages.
It was only fitting that Totti’s best chance at goal resulted in him missing it and falling to Daniele de Rossi who duly converted, the man that Roma fans consider as Totti’s true successor to the throne at Rome. A baton had been passed and an era had truly ended as 80,000 people inside the cauldron of the Stadio Olimpico saluted a champion.
To title of being the best in what he does is not one that was given to Totti easily. The boyhood Roma fan made his debut for the club in 1994 and shone in a team that played host to some mercurial strikers in Gabriel Batistuta and Vincenzo Montella. Handed the armband at the age of 22, Totti was the player that all fans of Roma’s ultras associated with. He was their voice and their spirit playing on the pitch. His talents were polished under the astute tutelage of Fabio Capello, who led the Romans to the Serie A title in 2001.
Having offers from clubs no less than Manchester United and Real Madrid, Totti was a rare breed of footballers who stayed put at his boyhood club despite missing out on silverware on many occasions. It was under Spalletti that Totti’s true potential was realised. The wily Italian decided to use Totti as a False 9 in an innovative 4-6-0 system which saw him drop deeper behind the opposition centre-halves and set up his teammates with his impressive range of passing, vision and shooting abilities.
The sight of Totti’s arrowed cross field passes, chips, lobs and through balls in the most minimal of gaps became a one to behold across Europe. The False 9 became a system that gained popularity thanks to how impressively Totti demonstrated its effectiveness. Pep Guardiola’s decision to play Lionel Messi in that position reaped benefits beyond what the Spaniard could comprehend.
Totti got better with age
Despite a multitude of coaches that graced the dugout at the Stadio Olimpico, Totti’s relevance to the squad could never be debated as his influence on and off the pitch was crucial to the team’s performance. One would think his skills and ability to turn a match around would wane as he crossed over to the wrong side of 35, but one look at some magical goals such as the bullet free kick against Juventus or the trademark chip over Joe Hart in the Champions League to become the oldest scorer in the tournament’s history would tell you that Totti was far from done.
At a time when football fans saw numerous icons with whom they grew up watching, retire, Totti was the eternal romance that each fan was a part of and like his international teammate Gianluigi Buffon, seemed like he could go on forever.
At the international level, the sriker was seen as one of the true successors to Roberto Baggio. The Roma talisman put in heroic performances at Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup where he was sent off in highly controversial circumstances in the Round of 16 game against hosts South Korea. While Euro 2004 was a forgettable tournament for Totti, the 2006 World Cup is where his dream was finally realised.
Totti given an emotional farewell by the Romans
Despite suffering a career-threatening ankle injury prior to the showpiece event in Germany, national coach Marcello Lippi placed enormous faith in selecting a player who he believed would be key in bringing the cup home to Italy for the fourth time. This faith saw Totti work even harder on his recuperation and make it to Germany with metal plates attached to his ankles. His skills as a False 9 proved invaluable to Lippi as he became the link between playmaker Andrea Pirlo and strikers such as Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta. Lippi’s decision to bring the striker was vindicated thanks to Totti’s vital assists for Pirlo, Marco Materazzi, Gianluca Zambrotta, Luca Toni and his injury time penalty against Australia saw him get his hands on the Jules Rimet trophy at last.
While there were numerous calls for subsequent Italy coaches to bring Totti into the teams for Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, he made the 2006 World Cup win his last bow for the national team.
As football fans across the world move towards idolising new heroes, there will always be a sense of nostalgia that would be evoked whenever the name Francesco Totti is mentioned. The King of Rome as he was rightly called, the man that fans call Il Gladiatore was always a warrior and made the Olimpico his Colosseum.