On the 28th of May, 2017, the world saw another football legend call time on an astounding career. Why was the career of Francesco Totti so astounding? Because he played every single minute of his senior career for his boyhood team, AS Roma. 25 years. The only time he ever played in a jersey other than the famous red of Roma, was when the charismatic playmaker put on the blue of the Azzurri. While his career was far from trophy laden, he has proudly stated that “winning one league title at Roma is to me worth winning ten at Real Madrid.” Throw in a couple of Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana titles, though, and his medal collection looks a little more impressive. Oh, and there is the small matter of that World Cup…
Francesco Totti has an abundance of talents, but one of those is undoubtedly his versatility. While he is at his best as a traditional number 10 role, he spent much of his career as a second striker, a lone striker and a left winger. His powerful shot, delicate touch and sharp turn of pace saw him fit seamlessly into any of the forward positions. He was a nightmare for opposition coaches too, due to the fact that he could terrorise the defenders of any team. This versatility of Totti is what unnerves opposition coaches, as they could spend all week coaching their right back on how to contain Totti, only to discover that he is lining up as a centre forward. Throw in the fact Francesco has an uncanny ability to find space in the box at a crucial moments and you’ll understand how frightening a prospect he is to play against.
Totti may not have won a great many trophies with Roma, but this should not be a surprise. Roma are a strong team, and have had some wonderful players over the years, but they have rarely been the strongest team in Serie A. They have been relatively consistent though, finishing in the top three 11 out of the last 17 seasons since Roma won the league. During that time, the Romans had to endure devastating spells of dominance from Milan, Inter and Juventus.
What Francesco Totti may lack in team medals, he more than makes up for in personal accolades. In 1999 he was proclaimed Serie A Young Footballer of the Year. In 2000, he was awarded man of the match in the Euro 2000 final, as well as being included in Team of the Tournament. In 2000 and 2003 he was chosen as Serie A Footballer of the Year, as well as the Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007. He was in the 2006 World Cup All-Star team, for his three assists and crucial goal against Australia in the knockout rounds. He was the top assist making in Serie A for three seasons, in 1998-99, 2006-07 and in 2013-14. He undoubtedly would have had a chance to increase this, if he hadn’t been played as a long striker more for large swathes of his career. His 26 league goals for Roma in 2006-07 won him both the Serie A top scorer and the European Golden Shoe. He also had the honour of being named on the FIFA 100 list, the 100 greatest players to have graced the game, as chosen by Pele in 2004. He may have only one a handful of trophies at Roma, but do not for one minute confuse this with a lack of success.
Regardless of what position Francesco played, one thing was assured, he was capable of scoring some wonderful goals. His air bound dive, stretching out against Lazio in the dying minutes to rescue a draw against their rivals spurring on his iconic selfie celebration. His daring chipped penalty against the Netherlands in semi finals of Euro 2000. His remarkable run from beyond the halfway line, resulting in the most delicate of chips past the Sampdoria keeper. Again, against Sampdoria in 2006, he scored a sublime volley from an impossible angle, easily one of his greatest ever goals. A stunning 30 yard free kick against Inter Milan in 2004. An audacious lob from outside the box against Lazio in 2002. A Bergkamp-esqu volley against Udinese in 2000. The strikes were varied, they were incredible, they were breathtaking. Please do yourself a favour and check out some of Totti’s best goals on Youtube, there are numerous compilations, all excellent entertainment.
Despite playing on until the age of 40, Totti’s Italy career was remarkably short. Totti made his Azzurri debut in 1998, against Switzerland in a Euro 2000 qualifier. It was a friendly match against Portugal in 2000 that he scored his first goal Italy goal, one of nine he would net. Francesco scored two goals and notched an assist for Italy, as the stormed to the final of Euro 2000, losing in extra time to France. Despite losing in the final, he was named man of the match, and earned a place in the tournaments best XI.
If his first international tournament was a success on a personal level, his second was anything but. Italy were all round poor, and the pressure on Totti was extreme. He failed to score. He registered only one assist, from a corner,and was sent off in their knockout round defeat to South Korea. Totti, along with the rest of the squad, left Asia with their heads held low. 2004 was also a shocker for Totti. He spat at Danish player Christian Poulsen in Italy’s opening game, and was banned until the semi-finals.
This was not the only sour moment of Totti’s career. In 2010, after controversial Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli dribbled with ease past Totti and co, he brutally kicked out at Mario, catching him on the shin and earning himself a red card. He also lashed out at Lazio player Luciano Zauri, appearing to stamp on him as he slid out of the field of play. His headbutt clash with Juan Sebastian Veron was another lowlight.
But you don’t get to the top by being a pushover. Totti acted out, he threw himself into tackles, he stood up for himself and his teammates. He may overstep the line on occasion, but that just highlights the lengths he is willing to go to, to protect his honour and that of his teammates.
It is this passion and determination that helped Francesco Totti do what only a handful of men have ever managed, and won a FIFA World Cup. After a worrying injury in the spring, Totti fought to be fit for the tournament in Germany. If anything, the long rest period invigorated him and saw Totti compete in a successful tournament for the first time since Euro 2000. Italy took a remarkable number of strikers to Germany, all of whom played and scored.To accommodate them all, Totti played in attacking midfield, in front of Pirlo and Gattuso. He thrived behind the strikers, setting up four assists, one against Ghana, one against the Czech Republic, and two against Ukraine.
Furthermore, he scored against Australia in the round of 16. Australia had held of the Azzurri for 90 minutes, and with the game heading to extra time, Fabio Grosso won a controversial penalty deep into added time. Francesco Totti stepped up and coolly hit the penalty home, sealing Italy’s place in the quarter final. Totti was instrumental in the win against Ukraine, and played his part in the epic semi-final tie against hosts, Germany. His impact in the final was less influential, but he played his part. He was subbed off after 61 minutes for Roma teammate Daniele De Rossi. It worked out, as De Rossi went on to score in the shoot-out.
His post World Cup Italy career was unusual. He had chosen to retire after winning the Cup, but changed his mind. He was having the season of his life in 2006-07 and there was rumour that he was to be recalled. Ultimately, Totti never played again for Italy. He had stated that he was available for selection, but numerous coaches favoured youth over experience. This may have been costly for Italy, as they crashed out of Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 in disgrace. Perhaps the presence of Totti may have bound the squad together more? We shall never know.
All we do know is that Francesco Totti is a hero of the modern game. One of the greatest number 10’s to play football. Part of a golden generation of Italian football. While he has not been without his criticism for his aggressive nature, it is in his DNA, a fighter, a warrior, a true Roman gladiator. His loyalty is commendable. Francesco Totti lived the dream of many people around the world by winning his club a league title, and winning the World Cup with his country. He has spent a quarter of a century wowing his teammates, coaches, opponents, fans and football fanatics with his flair and finesse. To have been alive to see Francesco Totti play during his peak has been a privilege. He has been a pleasure to watch. Thanks for the memories, Francesco. Ciao.