Until recently it seems, Francesco Totti was never fully appreciated by fans and journalists around the football world. Good player? Yes. But outside of Italy, there was always a lingering sense Roma’s captain never got the respect his abilities deserved.
Staying at Roma was seen as his cross to bear; snubbing the continent’s super-clubs, and in doing so forsaking European glory, was used against him. He was ‘overrated’, ‘overhyped’ and ‘glorified’, with Roma’s Champions League failings used as proof: “Where was this audaciously talented, prolific Number 10 who lights up Serie A on a weekly basis?” people said. “Overrated,” they concluded.
Domestically, a player so closely associated and openly beloved of one club always runs the risk of being despised and/or taunted by other supporters (see Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard et al). Totti obviously fell into this category. But people also felt him arrogant and too Roman.
He was mocked around the peninsula, particularly about his supposed lack of intelligence after a series of public faux pas. “Carpe Diem,” a journalist told him during one interview, to which Totti replied: “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.”
Jokes about Totti became a thing around Italy. For example:
‘At the Vatican, they found a magic mirror. If you say a lie in front of it, you will disappear. Christian Vieri starts by saying: “I think I am the most powerful footballer in the world!” Poof! He disappears. Then Gennaro Gattuso tries: “I think I am the most handsome footballer in the world!” Poof! He disappears. Now it’s Totti’s turn. Having seen what happened to Vieri and Gattuso, he keeps on thinking about what to say and slowly says: “I think… I think…” Poof! He disappears.’
Then came a turning tide – of sorts, at least in Italy back in 2003. Showing all the awareness off the pitch people had become accustomed to seeing him produce on it – coupled with the ultimate act of self-depreciation and humility – Totti helped put together and release a book: ‘All the Totti Jokes’, which contained exactly what the title promised.
His only conditions about the book’s publication were that the jokes contained reflected badly on him rather than his family, and that all the money raised went to a project helping the elderly in Rome and to a Unicef project helping homeless children. It became a best-seller. Donata Lodi, Head of External Relations for Unicef said at the time:
No-one expected Totti to react in such a way to all these jokes. Everyone had a perception that Totti was having a very negative reaction to these jokes and the fact that he collected them on his own was extremely well received.
It was a surprise in a sense for the public, it gives them a different perspective of him as an individual.
Any lingering sense of indignation towards Totti all but disappeared in 2006 when he helped Italy capture their fourth World Cup trophy, and in doing so, becoming part of a select bunch of national heroes.
Until recently the Totti international doubters remained, convinced he was sensationalised. All of this mattered little to the Giallorossi of course, who’ve always known what they’ve had: A champion; a Ballon d’Or winner in all but award; their symbol and unrivalled captain. A living legend.
Ironically, it’s now the club who are accused of lacking respect towards their home-grown idol whilst the playmaker receives previously unseen levels of adulation, as fans from far and wide defend his honour.
A lack of appropriate playing time and contract offer has caused outrage around the world as appreciation and sympathy levels soar for Roma’s fantasista, now that his current predicament has given an all too ominous sense of farewell – forever – to a player who is the last of a dying breed.
It’s a not too dissimilar scenario experienced by Andrea Pirlo as his final whistle seemed to move ever closer. Now known as the King of Italian Cool on a pitch, there was a time before joining Juventus when he was just not as appreciated or adored on a global level, although he was just a successful. What changed? He grew a beard?
The negativity for staying with Roma and winning less has been replaced with plaudits for being last of the loyal one-club men and his Serie A goalscoring record is lauded over, as are the numerous assists, magical backheels, incisive passes, novelty t-shirts and originally unique celebrations provided by the Number 10 down the years. “Maybe he was, in fact, underrated?”
The rights and wrongs of Roma and coach Spalletti’s handling of Totti has been argued over in countless articles during the last few weeks, and although Spalletti was justified in his team selection by positive results, his bluntness (“I manage Roma, not Totti”) could and should have been more tactful.
Now, most recent comments attributed to club president James Pallotta seem to suggest a parting of ways between Totti and Roma is highly likely – and if so, the parallels with Andrea Pirlo’s twilight grow even closer.
“The situation with Francesco is really hard,” Pallotta is said to have told reporters.
I’d like him to become part of the management, but he’d prefer to continue playing. The captain said he was interested in going to play in Miami, but they don’t [yet] have a team in MLS.
He could be interested in moving to New York though.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain: the global footballing community is now united in admiration for a player who will be sorely missed by all, the last of his ilk, but will always remain King of Rome.