Loving that underrated ‘little tw*t’ Francesco Totti…

Date published: Friday 29th May 2020 1:22

John Nicholson celebrates the people and things in football that we all love…and this week it’s Totti.

 

Who’s this then?
Francesco Totti is a 5’ 11″, 43-year-old Roman who spent his entire career playing, almost uniquely, for one club (Roma) as an offensive midfielder or striker. He was, quite simply, one of the best Italian footballers ever, winning a Serie A title, two Coppa Italia titles and two Supercoppa Italiana titles. He is also a World Cup winner with that fabulous 2006 Italian side.

He is the second-highest scorer of all time in Italian league history with 250 goals, and is the sixth-highest scoring Italian in all competitions with 316 goals. On top of all this, he is the top goalscorer and the most-capped player in Roma’s history, holds the record for the most goals scored in Serie A while playing for a single club, and also holds the record for being the youngest club captain in the history of Serie A.

In November 2014, Totti extended his record as the oldest goalscorer in UEFA Champions League history, aged 38 years and 59 days.

Further proof of how much he is loved can be found in the record 11 Oscar del Calcio awards from the Italian Footballers’ Association: five Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Footballer of the Year awards, two Serie A Goal of the Year awards, one Serie A Goalscorer of the Year award, and one Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award. He also won the 2007 European Golden Shoe and the 2010 Golden Foot. And lord knows, he had two of them.

He was in his 40th year when he retired in 2017, his final appearance being as a substitute, replacing Mo Salah in a game against Genoa. He had played 785 club games, scoring 307 goals. On top of that came 58 caps and nine goals for Italy.

A supreme artist, variously nicknamed Er Bimbo de Oro (The Golden Boy), L’Ottavo Re di Roma (The Eighth King of Rome), Er Pupone (The Big Baby), Il Capitano (The Captain), and Il Gladiatore (The Gladiator), he thrilled crowds for over 24 years.

 

Why the love?
An excitingly handsome and attractive man – standing with broad chest and shoulders out, a granite jaw, assassin’s eyes, and unkempt long-ish hair – he always exuded an imperious presence. One of those players who could take hold of a game by the scruff of its neck and boss it with a winning mixture of magnetic skill, physical determination and sheer chutzpah. While nominally right-footed, he was still superb with his left. It is hard to think of another player who was as feared for his ability to assist goals as to score them.

Making his debut, aged just 16, playing as a second striker, he would go on to occupy several different roles, including playing on the left wing for Zdeněk Zeman in 1997-98. His stature within the club grew exponentially and he became the youngest Serie A captain ever.

By 2000-2001, Fabio Capello had taken over and basically built Roma around the prodigious talents of Totti, moving him into the classic number 10 role, winning Serie A in the process. In this period a pitch invasion led to a passionate fan removing our hero’s actual shorts. As you do.

Later under Luciano Spalletti he was to play as a lone striker, at least in theory, but would often drop deep to collect the ball playing as a false nine, a tactic first used in 1930 by Uruguay when winning the first World Cup. It was hugely successful and Roma enjoyed an 11-game winning streak, finishing second in 2006-07.

Totti was a great goalscorer but perhaps was an even greater creator. With a superb long-range pass, performed with either foot, as well as a huge amount of stamina and the sort of vision more associated with someone who plays a withdrawn midfield role with all the play ahead of them, he had the ability to dominate games. Yet this was no goody-two-shoes. He had bags of grit and gristle about him. His 11 red cards is the joint-sixth highest in Serie A history. There was always a touch of the Lee Van Cleef gunfighter about him, easy to imagine the Good The Bad and The Ugly theme music playing behind him as he waited to take a penalty such as this one in 2006 World Cup v Australia.

Maybe his most memorable skill was the ‘cucchiaio’. His autobiography reflects this in its title ‘All about Totti: I’m gonna chip him now.’ And this is one of his best, done at pace and to perfection…

And if that isn’t impressive enough, how about his ability to score a backheel penalty? Out-bloody-rageous.

He had a range of different goal celebrations, most famously the thumb-in-mouth, was hardly backward in coming forwards to try and win free-kicks and penalties and infuriated many along the way with his expertise in the dark arts. Ron Atkinson is reported to have commented, after 45 minutes of Totti’s antics: “He’s a little twat that Totti, I can’t see what all the fuss is about.”

Roberto Baggio was a bigger fan, calling him “one of the last real Number 10s”. That is worth dwelling on for a moment because the Totti 10 role is less and less seen in 2020 and does seem to have somewhat fallen out of fashion. Hard not to believe that if he was 23 all over again, he wouldn’t still walk into the best sides on earth and still boss the game.

Outside of the game, he runs the Francesco Totti Academy, a football training school, and the Totti Soccer School, a football camp for children with disabilities. He also owns a motorcycle racing team called Totti Top Sport (great name).

He’s also been a tireless worker for many charities, especially for poor kids. Born in the tough outskirts of Rome, he seems to have been determined to help children who are growing up with few opportunities.

He published two best-selling books containing jokes often told about him and his teammates. All the money went to children’s charities. He’s been a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF too.

And just to add to his immortality, on 1 August 2017, a rocket carrying his number 10 shirt from his final game was launched into space from French Guiana. Totti will forever soar through the infinity of the universe. That is just perfect.

 

What the people love
He is simply irresistible. Anyone who loves the game, loves a player with his mix of cerebral and physical skills, loves his honey and broken glass nature. Loves a player who can thrash a ball with a vicious energy, or caress it with the most sensual lover’s touch. So again, a lovely big postbag arrived from his fans…

‘A true one club player, had the option to leave but chose to stay in Rome due to his love for the city, the fans and the club, you simply cannot dislike him.’

‘Totti = Football. Youth team, first team, captain, icon. All with the club he supported as a child. That’s the dream.’

‘He was one of the main reasons I watched Italian football in the late 90’s. I was slightly obsessed – loved watching Football Italia & Roma because of him. Simply a classy player. He is also responsible for 2 superb celebrations – the ‘selfie’ & the hijacking of the TV camera.’

‘Somehow, of all the players who evidently had one club as their one and only club, his meant the most. Italian players will go anywhere, Inter to AC, no matter – staying fixed at Roma, by no means the most powerful in that time, speaks deeply to me. Any team would have taken him.’

‘He spat on Christian Poulsen (former Liverpool legend) twice during Denmark v Italy at the Euro 2004 championship. Made him seem like one of the annoying brats from the school yard that couldn’t stand a defeat. But Thumbs up to his one club love affair with his boyhood club. Legend.’

‘Phenomenal player, went over to America in 2012 for a holiday and to see Liverpool’s pre season games. Two genuinely awful games, but it meant I got to see Totti in action, at Fenway Park of all places.’

‘That one of the most graceful and elegant players of his era is now playing in an 8 a side league with pub teams makes me very very happy.’

‘I remember being really disappointed that Totti didn’t, or couldn’t, play at the Riverside when we beat Roma 1-0 in the UEFA Cup. I think he had a broken leg at the time. It would’ve been brilliant to see him in the flesh.

‘The Maldini of the attacking 3rd. If he walked into a room my missus would probably divorce me on the spot and run away with him. And I’d probably be okay that. A sensational technique, a wonderfully brilliant footballer. A once in a generation player.’

‘Only saw him play once at the Olimpico near the end of his career – including one of my more popular Insta posts:

‘Great one-club servant.’

‘The epitome of not just a club icon but also a cultural one when one considers how he is revered by Roma’s Roman supporters.’

‘You could always tell which pundits actually watched European football based on their opinions of Totti. All the hacks saw him as an overrated show pony; the people who actually did their jobs saw how great he was. Class player.’

‘For some of us who love football and everything that goes with it there is something magical about icons like Totti. Special players have real connections like that.’

‘An Icon. One of the most elegant footballers Of all time. 1 club man which means so much to the supporters. World class player. Had everything in his game. The advert he done for the derby a few years back was brilliant. Italian football still has a real connection with players.’

‘Saw him play against Sampdoria in 2016 – Roma were 2-1 down at HT, he came on and absolutely ran the show. Unbelievable assist for Dzeko and then scored the winning penalty in the last minute. Class act.’

‘The man is just the definition of “class”. The way he played the game, his sublime skill just all class. A player I’d always pay to watch. Under rated in the wider world because he didn’t play for one of the giants. A true club legend.’

‘Shouting “TOTTY!!!!” in full Essex every time (and I do mean every time) he got the ball, was probably the happiest I’ve ever been watching football.’

‘During a 2001 pitch invasion, a supporter stole Totti’s shorts. I have never seen this happen to another footballer.’

‘For me Totti is emblematic of football itself, he’s my Forever Football love.I don’t know if I have the words to adequately convey this.Watching Totti play you see football that’s aristocratic, elegant, classically beautiful – leaves you in awe & it’s also crass, a little uncouth.’

 

Three great moments

At 3’:41″.
Dink a penalty in a Euro semi-final shootout? Nil problemo.

You want a stunning left footed volley? Yeah, he can do that.

And one of the best of career, a thunderthrasher ballburster from 30 metres, past Gig Buffon. Wait until the replay from behind the ball for the best view.

 

What now?
Since retiring he spent time at Roma as a technical director but left last year.

“I never had the chance to express myself. They never involved me. The first year that can happen but by the second [year] I understood what they wanted to do. They knew of my desire to offer a lot to this squad but they never wanted it. They kept me out of everything. It’s a day that I hoped never would have come. Presidents come and go, coaches come and go, players come and go. But not emblems. This is far worse than retiring as a player. Leaving Roma is like dying. I feel like it’d be better if I died.”

Of course such statements only endeared him to Roma fans even more, if that was possible. And while he is no fan of the relatively new American owners, you wouldn’t back against him having future involvement in the club that has been his whole life. In fact, it seems to be almost a certainty, perhaps when the current owners tire of their latest plaything.

His love for Roma is undying and will surely bloom once again. And just in case you need to feel all gooey inside, this should do the trick nicely.

 

What now?
Since retiring he spent time at Roma as a technical director but left last year,

“I never had the chance to express myself. They never involved me. The first year that can happen but by the second [year] I understood what they wanted to do. They knew of my desire to offer a lot to this squad but they never wanted it. They kept me out of everything. It’s a day that I hoped never would have come. Presidents come and go, coaches come and go, players come and go. But not emblems. This is far worse than retiring as a player. Leaving Roma is like dying. I feel like it’d be better if I died.”

Of course such statements only endeared him to Roma fans even more, if that was possible. And while he is no fan of the relatively new American owners, you wouldn’t back against him having future involvement in the club that has been his whole life. In fact, it seems to be almost a certainty, perhaps when the current owners tire of their latest plaything.

His love for Roma is undying and will surely bloom once again. And just in case you need to feel all gooey inside, this should do the trick nicely.

More Related Articles