After 24 years, Francesco Totti’s time at the Stadio Olimpico is coming to an end. Mark Young looks back at his incredible rise from teen idol to Roma legend.
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Last Sunday saw Francesco Totti’s beloved Roma side beat city rivals Lazio 4-1, but the city’s treasured son was sat morose on the bench, clearly unhappy at his bit-part role.
Totti is one of this writer’s favourite players and has been for years. A player synonymous with one club and probably one of the world’s true cult heroes, the Italian and Roma legend seems to be seeing his career winding down in front of him now – but it wasn’t always like this.
A young, talented Francesco would make his debut for Roma’s first team at the age of 16 in 1993, and would go on to score his first of many goals in 1994 against Foggia. Zdeněk Zeman was the coach at the helm for Totti’s maturing years, including the year he was given the number ten jersey that would become so iconic over the next two decades.
Totti hit his stride in the mid-90s, and was sounded out for a place in the France 1998 squad; he didn’t make the cut and bounced back the following season by winning Serie A’s Young Player of the Year award. It would be at the tender age of 22 where Totti would be awarded the Giallorossi armband, an honour that the Roman warrior has held with him ever since.
In 2000 and 2001, Totti was named Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year, and also won Serie A Footballer of the Year a couple of times in the next few years, leading the team to some remarkable achievements. Under manager Fabio Capello, Totti led his side to a Scudetto victory in a potent forward line that included the legendary Gabriel Batistuta and Vincenzo Montella, and also scored a winning goal away against Real Madrid in October 2002, the first time in 35 years that the Italians had won at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Er Pupone became Italy’s number ten for the 2002 World Cup, but flattered to deceive in the Far East, before he was vilified in Euro 2004; despite carrying Italy’s huge hopes once again, Totti received a ban after spitting at an opponent in the group stages.
Totti’s playmaking would be turned in to a striking role when Luciano Spalletti took charge at Roma in 2005. Spalletti’s expansive style of football meant the midfielder would now play more of a false nine type of role, and he flourished – even winning a European Golden Shoe.
During this spell, and as injuries wore off going in to the summer of 2006, Totti would finally make the Azzurri shirt his own. Playing the whole tournament with metal plates in his ankle, Germany 2006 would not only make him one of Rome’s cult heroes, but one for his nation as well. Totti scored the winning goal in the round of 16 to send Italy through, and his playmaking abilities shone. He would lift the World Cup in his final international tournament, retiring from international duty in 2007.
There was darkness just around the corner, though, as the club captain started to suffer from injuries and a lack of playing time, especially during now-Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri’s time at the club. The return of a former team mate would get Francesco back on the right track, as Montella returned to lead from the dugout; Totti hit form again, as he did again recently under Rudi García.
Totti will finish his Roma career as their all-time leading goalscorer and the top goalscorer in Rome derbies – his is a career that has had huge lows, but many highs as one of the greatest of his generation.
Roma’s greatest ever player will be adored for decades in the Italian capital, and to see him sidelined in such a game as one against Lazio last weekend was a sad sight; one that made it worth highlighting his god-like status with his hometown club.
Whatever happens next for Francesco, he is certainly one of those players that I have to thank for getting me in to this wonderful sport. A magician, and certainly one of a kind.
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