He recently celebrated his 20th year in Italy's top flight and it's fair to say that Totti can be considered the greatest ever player to have plied his trade in Serie A.
Francesco Totti has long been assured his place in the pantheon of all-time Italian greats but his recent run of record-breaking exploits must make him Italy’s most-talented post-war player.
There has been a rich array of talent down through the decades that could vie for the honour: Alessandro The Waterboy, Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Gigi Riva, Gianni Rivera, Sandro Mazzola, Roberto Mancini and Gianluigi Buffon.
What a list to savour; just reading the names aloud is like perusing the most voluminous Italian menu but finally one dish stands out above the rest and that is the King of Rome, Francesco Totti.
It is hard to believe that Roma’s talismanic figure is still tearing through defences nigh on two decades since he made his debut as a 16-year-old in the dying minutes of a league match at Brescia.
Having won every domestic honour with his beloved Roma as well as a World Cup winners medal in 2006, this season has seen Totti ascent to the peak of the Italian game on a personal level.
Having recently become the second all-time top goalscorer in Serie A on 226 goals – he has Silvio Piola’s 274 record in his sights over the next four years – the 36-year-old is also ninth in the all-time Serie A appearances along with Rivera, with 527 matches under his belt.
Totti has also scored 20 free-kicks in Serie A which puts him in all-time fourth place, with the player who scored on that Brescia debut for the then youngster, Sinisia Mihajolvic, leading the way on 28 goals from dead-ball situations.
Then there are the thousand-plus trademark back heels and his own copyrighted Er Chucchaio – the teasing chip first unveiled in the penalty shoot-out against Holland at Euro 2000 and immortalized forever in the 5-1 thumping of the old city rival Lazio and the hated northerners, Internazionale.
They are snapshots of a life at the sharp end of the most brutal and unrelenting defending in world football but above all they are iconic images that the Roman Giallorossi followers at least have embraced as the freedom of expression that permeates every nock and cranny of the Capital.
Caput Mundi is what Romans have always known their city – capital of the world – and for the modern-day citizens Totti’s deeds retain a lingering feeling that is no better place to be than the Olimpico on a match day when Er Pupone is in full flight.
It is like Rome on a spring day when Er Ponentino wind eases the soul and warms the heart – and Totti is as beloved as the soothing breeze from the west.
A Roman who has popularised the city’s dialect with his every touch and each time he opens his mouth – il capitano rubs it into the north that there is only one capital.
His allegiance to the city and Roma have long been recorded into local folklore. When asked by his mother if he wanted to play for Roma or Lazio the reply was simply: “Only Roma.” There have been the T-shirts taunting Lazio and even his red cards have been applauded off the pitch.
His legendary proclamation: “I am a Roman and a Romanista. I will live and die that way” has been inked into the skin of many of the tifosi who pack the Curva Sud.
It is this feeling of loyalty that saw him turn down reported moves to that bastion of northern power AC Milan and Silvio Berlusconi’s trophy-laden club and to Real Madrid where untold riches awaited both on and off the pitch.
He has also had to repel those from within the club who felt he was becoming too powerful. Where the Carlo Mazzone – born in the winding turns of the Trastevere area to Totti’s leafier Porto San Giovanni district – had nourished the raw talent and nurtured the feeling of being a Roman, the Argentine Carlos Bianchi arrived with hatred for the rising star in his veins.
But Totti was no latter-day Coriolanus who turned his back on the city only to return to attempt to bring it to its knees in an act of vengeance, and it was his tormentor who was driven out. Luis Enrique would also find to his cost that attempting to banish a local hero would only lead to the road of his own ruin.
With each slight Totti became more and more of a monumental figure for the fans and even Zdenek Zeman was not harangued for failing to win anything when he was asked who are the best three Italian players and replied: “Totti, Totti and Totti.”
It was the venerable Czech who handed Totti the number 10 shirt but it was Fabio Capello who understood that only giving the player the unlimited freedom to thrive all over the pitch that Roma would finally land their second league title.
It was as captain and playmaker that Capello left Totti to drive the team to the Holy Grail after a 74-year wait and sparked a summer-long party than would have impressed the Caesars – and when Capello spirited himself into the night to take the helm at the enemy of Juventus it was Totti who voiced the betrayal.
He was not playing to the gallery to curry favour but only tapping into his Roman-ness: the same deep-seated love of Roma that once encouraged the youth team ahead of a derby match when he shouted “Laziale vattene” (Lazio clear off) from an open window as the Lazio team bus arrived at Roma’s Trigoria training ground.
Former Roma medical officer Mario Bozzi tells a story that took place on a greater stage – the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid – that encapsulates what Totti and Roma mean to each other.
It was Capello’s side who were facing Real Madrid in the Champions League and Bozzo remembers that the tension was rising in the dressing room but that Totti was standing on the steps at the end of the tunnel with a towel wrapped round his waist, gazing up at the stands.
Capello, according to Bozzi, was on edge and just as his ire was about to spill over the captain entered and calmly and turned to the coach for what was no more than a whispered rally cry: “Calm down, we cannot start until I lead the team out.” He did so and scored in the bear-pit of the Bernabeu in a 1-1 draw.
This week the plaudits have arrived from all over the world to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his dream of playing for Roma coming true and of course Totti’s first thoughts were for the club and his birthright when he said: “Time has flown because I have done everything with passion – a passion for Roma and being a Roman.”
We chart the career and genius of Rome's eternal son, Francesco Totti. Hailed by many as the greatest Italian player of his generation, we consider his continued influence in Serie A and his ability to unite the people of the Eternal City.
"Totti is the monument of Italian football." Marcelo Lippi
The Eternal City has hosted some of the game’s greats. Conti. Falcão. Cafu. None however, greater than current captain and symbol, Francesco Totti. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to label the local boy as one of European football’s finest talents.
Furthermore, on talent alone, Totti may well lay claim to being one of the greatest players in the history of the Italian game. His quality is at times immeasurable for what he brings to Roma is unique and eternal.
Strangely it’s romance that may never have blossomed. It is widely accepted that Totti’s mother turned down a lucrative offer from A.C. Milan so that he could join his hometown club, a dream which was realised in 1989.
Foreseen as one for the future by Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Gallini while Arrigo Sacchi went about revolutionizing Calcio with his invincible Milan team of the early ’90s, the pair must be left rueing the ‘what ifs’ had Totti indeed joined the Milan revolution.
However, despite all evidence to the contrary, given the success of his remarkable career, it would be safe to assume that such presumptuous hindsights would be flawed, given the very nature of Totti’s success with Roma; the one and only club he has ever represented professionally.
Like so many geniuses, his career is flawed; blotted by moments of madness. Controversy has followed Il Bimbo d’Oro (The Golden Boy) throughout his career and his psyche remains one of the most intriguing and unpredictable in the game.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Totti is that he’s still here. Still gracing our screens with match winning performances like last season against Juventus. Still bringing hope to a city besieged with socio-economic and cultural identity problems. Still giving hope to thousands of children who dream of becoming the next ‘monument’ in Italian football. Still keeping alive the romantic dream of the classic number 10; the brilliant trequartista.
He’s quite possibly the last of the aforementioned breed. He still relies on technique, vision and precision – much like he did on 28 March 1993 when he made his debut in an unremarkable 2-0 away victory against Brescia.
His genius lies in his three unrivalled skills; the ability to create something from nothing off either foot, the supreme and deadly finishing which has brought him 230 Serie A goals and the confidence with which he goes about his business. Who can, of course, forget his Panenka from Euro 2000 against the Netherlands?
His genius also resides in his head. His feet are natural. Touching a ball and striking cleanly comes with consummate ease. However his mind is what separates him from the rest. He thinks ahead. He’s the enigma who has carried his hometown club for almost two decades and won a World Cup along the way.
Some managers have tried to negate the enigmatic Italian’s influence. Luís Enrique paid the price. Not necessarily because he lost his job, but because Roma lacked invention, skill and unpredictability. Perhaps Fabio Capello laid the blueprint on how to use Totti back in 2001; don’t stop using him. Make him the focal point of every attacking move and let him carry the burden. He can, he’s certainly strong of mind.
His stats are sublime; Totti has played more than half of his footballing career as a classic trequartista and yet, has managed to score more than greats like The Waterboy, Baggio and Batistuta; players who had more freedom to score as forwards and have played more or less the same number of matches as the Roma captain.
Who can forget his 113th strike back in the 2005/06 season at the San Siro against Inter, where his majestic chip from outside sailed over a stranded Francesco Toldo? That goal is perhaps one of the greatest chips scored in Italian football, but having suffered a career threatening injury a few months later, many feared that they’d seen the last of the star at the very top of the game.
However his love for football and Rome helped him recuperate in time to be selected by Marcello Lippi for the 2006 World Cup in Germany where he played every match and, having contributed four assists and the crucial last minute penalty against Australia in the second round, was one of the protagonists of the world conquering Italian side.
Now that was some comeback, and for his never ending fight to stay fit even after the age of 30, he deserves nothing but respect.
At 37, he’s fitter and stronger than ever. Perhaps he can’t drift around like he used to, especially in the channels, however his ability to find space in key areas ensures he remains one of the game’s most dangerous players. For a man who many considered to be past his best when Luís Enrique took charge in 2011, he has improved and grown yet again. Just like any 'Eternal Man' would.
People spend plenty of time asking Totti why he never moved clubs in search of trophies, but the truth is, why would he? He is the soul of Roma, lauded as their saviour and afforded hero status; he loves the adulation.
Always a man in search of greater purpose to find motivation in performing his magic on the pitch, Roma has long presented itself as the ideal foil for him to find his way to superstardom.
The relationship between Roma and Totti is of mutual benefit; Roma need their captain to galvanize the team and Totti needs a major stage to shine on – it’s not difficult to see why Totti remains motivated and hungry to carry on. Thankfully for the world of football, Totti made the right decision to turn A.C. Milan down as a child. He hasn’t looked back since.
That isn’t to say he hasn’t had offers. Real Madrid came on occasions and were politely ushered away empty-handed.
Manchester United tried their luck in 1999 and 2000. Sir tender Alex Ferguson had openly spoken of his admiration for Totti’s talent and his desire to see him grace the Old Trafford pitch.
Perhaps his incessant desire to turn away potential suitors and remain in Rome is what deters some quarters of the English media from truly praising him.
The ever condescending English media never really admired him the way they did other players, but their silly knack of judging foreigners based on their performances against English sides, like Zlatan Ibrahimović, has done little to disparage the Italian who, according to IFFHS, was the most the popular footballer in the whole of Europe as late as 2011.
For Totti, he will ultimately judge his career on what he’s given back to his people. Trophies are a bonus and the 2001 Scudetto will surely sit proudly alongside his European Golden Shoe in 2007. Factor in a World Cup and five Italian Player of the Year awards and he will sleep easy.
Success is subjective. Ask Alan Hansen and he’ll tell you it’s all about what trophies you have in your cabinet. Ask Steven Gerrard or Paulo Maldini however and they’ll point to Hansen’s fact, alongside the achievement of playing for one club, the club you love, your entire career.
For Totti his subjectivity cannot be criticised. For him, he’s given more back to the people of Rome, than any trophy can. He’s given them loyalty and hope – a role model and a “monument” as Lippi describes him. He’s given them the chance to live each game through a man who wandered the same streets they did. Most importantly, however, he’s kept their identity alive.
In an Italy where identity and social segregation becomes an ever increasing and contentious topic, he’s united the people. He’s the monument that unites the Eternal City.