The sheer dramatics in Totti’s long goodbye should end with the immortal Number 10 staying put.
Seemingly too old and slow to start a game, Francesco Totti scored the fastest goal by a substitute in Serie A this season. Just 22 seconds is all it took from the time he crossed the white line, to the time he was putting the ball into the net for a Roma.
He repeated the trick less than two and a half minutes later, securing all three points in a mixture of heroism and defiance.
Roma trailed 2-1 at home to Torino until their saviour entered the fray in the 86th minute. Much as some elements of the Roma hierarchy must wish otherwise, Totti, aged 39, still has his uses for the club.
In the wake of the immortal fantasista’s latest feat which left grown men sobbing in the stands and hearts fluttering at home after Totti yelled “I love you, Ilary [his wife]” into a TV camera, his manager, Luciano Spalletti, gave measured praise, but remained careful not to go overboard.
Spalletti was quick to point out that he’s always portrayed as the bad guy in the Totti saga, though conceded he would be content to coach him for another year. And whilst rumours persist that one of the reasons he was hired was to carry out his captain’s departure, there’s no doubting the no-win situation the coach is in whilst Totti remains.
The problem is that between what the manager wants and Totti’s history, there are a series of lived experiences that stop this from ever being balanced relationship – and I always get perceived as the bad guy,” Spalletti explained.
I pick players to win matches and when I need to think about a full 90 minutes, that changes the discussion. In my opinion, he is a player who needs to be used in exactly the right conditions – which is what happened against Atalanta and this evening.
Three goals and an assist in one week is what’s happened, and Spalletti’s point should be lauded. Since arriving mid-season Roma’s fortune has changed. The coach is getting the best out of his team, and seemingly now the aged playmaker – incredibly he has either scored or assisted a goal every 48 minutes this season.
Romanticism aside, does anyone truly believe Roma’s idol could give his best from the start of a match consistently throughout a campaign? Is it not shrewder to unleash the magician once the tiring legs of the opposition are more susceptible to a game of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’?
Spalletti did admit what fans of the Number 10 have always thought:
[Totti] knows that he can decide a match any time that he has the ball at his feet.
Deciding when Totti decides is Spalletti’s job for now. However deciding where Totti decides is still as complicated as ever.
Recent events should show all those tasked with making that decision that perhaps life apart needn’t be the way forward. Totti’s recent antics from a reduced role has garnered Roma five points from the available nine at a crunch time in the race for Champions League qualification in Serie A. Without him Roma would have gained zero.
Similarly, what would Totti’s situation be if he left Rome? One only has to look at recent club legends of the ilk of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo to see how the rigors of 90 minutes of MLS football has impacted them at this stage of their career. Or would Totti really want to swap his current reduced role with one in the Premier League with Leicester?
Remain where he is and Totti can still contribute, fighting against the dying of the light for his hometown club with the seeming power of immortality – is there a place on earth more apt to do this than somewhere called the Eternal City?