“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight, 2008
Many stars have graced the hallowed turf of Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, a white hot cauldron where even the home fans boo their own players for [enter a generic footballing reason here].
But sometimes, and just sometimes, the Madristas rise to their feet and applaud a player whom has impressed so much during his career, or undone their defensive backline with a sublime feat of magic.
And during Madrid’s dismantling of Roma in the last 16 of the Champions League in March 2016, I Giallorossi’s then 39-year-old captain and legend Francesco Totti joined the immortals.
Sure he was only on the pitch for 16 plus minutes after replacing Stephan El Shaarawy, and sure it could be a grand gesture as his ‘final swansong’ by gaffer Luciano Spalletti, following their recent and at the time, very public fall out, but he was applauded on by the Madristas as if he was one of their own.
Possibly the last Italian to be given this rousing gesture was Juventus’s Alessandro Del Piero in 2009 when he put on a one man show by rippling the home net twice with acts of pure genius.
Booing of the home and away players with a bit of banter/casual xenophobia/casual racism has become de rigueur for today’s sportsman, but it was refreshing to see the truly good stuff reserved for a footballing legend in a fully packed theatre.
And it was only a month later that he climbed off the bench with time running out and Roma being beaten 2-1 by Torino, to bag a three minute brace, which was the leveller and winner, in an amazing turn of events.
Totti has always remained a dignified figure, even when things weren’t going his way, transplanted into midfield, striker, in the hole, free roaming, etc. etc. etc., and he has lead his squad by example to numerous silverware.
In layman’s terms, he’s been through a personal Dante’s Nine Levels of Hell, at least not the full nine, well, he is number 10, but he’s clearly visited limbo, anger and treachery to name but three, in his long career.
At the tail end of 2015/16 season it became clear that his time in the capital was over. Il Re di Roma’s crown appeared to be taken by time, and time makes a fool of us all, no matter how bulletproof we think we are.
His contract was nearly up and he had only made 13 Serie A appearances – but managed to net four important goals in the last six fixtures of the season as a sub.
No player is bigger than the club and that includes our Francesco, he’s been in the capital for nigh on 27 years following his transition from Lodigiani Calcio in 1989.
But despite Roma fans worrying about his departure, and rumours that the New York Cosmos, Leicester City and even Barcelona enquired to his availability, as usual, it turned out to be the usual paper talk.
Just remember that pre-season is as short as it is long and in June it was announced that the upcoming 2016/17 season would be his last after signing on for another year – but the boots are hung up and he’s now slipping into the comfy brogues of technical director on a six-year contract at the club he loves.
It was days in that season and in his first appearance was against Sampdoria on 11 September 2016, he once again, produced some art that was seen not too long ago.
Introduced at half-time and 2-1 down to Sampa he released fellow sub Edin Džeko with a superb first-time ball over the top for the striker to collect and level.
With the game tied and in stoppage time Roma were awarded a penalty, and who else stepped up to score the winner – and grab a piece of history by scoring in 23 successive Serie A seasons.
Keen Roma fans will notice that Totti’s exquisite delivery was used in their July 2016 friendly v Terek Grozny, where Džeko netted the second and the final score was also 3-2.
With time on his career sadly ticked away, Roma fans visiting the Stadio Olimpico for league, cup or European duty will be hoping a suitable replacement has been acquired.
As the 2016/17 Serie A season truly was their last chance to view a conductor directing his concertos with the skill and ease which were certainly his magnum opuses.
As Virgil argues with Charon: “Vuolsi così colà dove si puote…”