28th of February 1993, a date that many Roma and football fans around the world will never forget. A young promising lad from Rome, at the age of only 16 years old, makes his official debut for his childhood colours.
At such a premature age, you could already foresee and glimpse the natural talent and genius that was within the footballing mind of Italy’s next big star. Not only did he possess a technique that was out of the norm, but he carried with him two attributes that would remain his trademark forever; charisma and a light-hearted personality. Unpretentious aspects of a genuine, passionate leader. As time passed and as confidence grew, this young talent from Rome began making a name for himself in Europe and around the world. His footballing abilities and skills, along with his humble way of living success, attracted clubs of the stature and magnitude of Real Madrid and Manchester United. Glory, money and absolute recognition for the years to come. For a young player with such a bright future ahead, how could these lucrative offers and historical clubs ever be refused? However, this is where the footballing world first noticed who they were dealing with. Leave aside the technical skills and the desire to win some of the most aspired competitions in the world, here we were dealing with something more profound and certainly purer; the love for his city. Only one man in today’s present football generation can honestly say to have chosen loyalty over success: Francesco Totti.
The Roman Gladiator has marked an entire generation, building a career characterised of triumphs, personal achievements, disappointments, and most of all, passion to his fans. However, Er Pupone, how Totti is known in Rome, has slowly seen himself become an outcast and a burden in his own home. The various injuries encountered, and most of all, the inability to generate the appropriate chemistry with the numerous managers that arrived in Rome, represented the first signs of a player in decline, or at least in apparent decline. What happened this weekend with Luciano Spalletti, Roma’s current manager, is something I thought could never occur, especially to an untouchable legend of the club; the complete exclusion, after being told he would start the match, of Francesco Totti from the short-list of players summoned for the match against Palermo on Sunday. The manager from Tuscany, in fact, did not appreciate Totti’s latest interview released to the press, where he demanded more respect and transparency from Spalletti for everything he had done for the club. Strong and direct words from the Italian legend, who never in his career took such a firm position regarding his relationship with the club’s staff and management. For the first time, we are seeing a Totti who is rightly putting himself ahead of the club and is not afraid of the harmful consequences that could shake the entire Roma environment and surroundings.
However, a couple of questions arise from this; in modern football, where the game has been transformed into a multi-billionaire business, is there still space for true club legends like Totti? And has the evolution of the game, where matches are more focused on intensity and speed, eradicated the prototype of player with the characteristics of the Roma captain? And last but not least, should the management of the club be more involved in regards to such a delicate matter, concerning their biggest ever legend?
There is no doubt that the management should take a clearer and more direct position with regards to their number ten, as players like Totti embody the positive and authentic values that possibly still exist in the game today. And it is unquestionable that modern day football which now heavily relies on mainly making pragmatic and rational decisions, focuses more on the business investments and on impacting its own financial growth around the world. Twenty five years ago, football was somewhat more romantic, the industry has now become emotionless and impassive under many aspects, causing a severe detachment of the many segments and assets involved in the game, from club legends to the poor treatment of fans.
There is no doubt that by disregarding his own personal achievements in exchange for loyalty and devotion to the giallorossi colours that he never abandoned, Totti managed to magnificently echo and follow in the glorious footsteps of ancient Rome by creating himself a legacy in the history of the game. He may have not always had the best attitude on the pitch, but the loyalty for his city goes beyond all these minimal details. For 23 years Totti has been defending the colours of his club and now does not deserve to be labelled as just a foot soldier in the many footballing battles he has fought in. If recognition still exists in modern football, now is the time to demonstrate it.