THT Heroes: Francesco Totti – The Roman Emperor

Francesco, why don’t you play for another team for two or three years in order to win something more?
-Because I grew up playing for Roma and I want to die playing for Roma, because I have always been a Roma fan.

These strong yet powerful words were uttered by the legendary Roma striker, Francesco Totti. Few players in modern football can boast of being a “one club man”; however, in recent times, no one epitomizes loyalty as much as Totti does. Born on September 27th 1976, and raised in Eternal City, Rome, Totti idolised former Roma hero Giuseppe Giannini. Blessed with great skill, immaculate technique, vision, goal-scoring instinct, passing range and the ability to make something out of nothing, he used to often visit the Olimpico to watch and admire Giannini and Rudi Voeller in action. His parents vowed never to let him take a step out of Rome, and his mother has made claims that her son showed interest in football ever since he was just 10 months old. She proudly said that at that tender age, Totti started dribbling a ball on the beach, and there was no looking back.

Early Years and Breakthrough season

Totti has claimed that as a child, he would sleep with a football and not with a teddy bear. It is widely reported that as a young boy, Totti’s mother rejected a lucrative offer from AC Milan – rumored to be in the region of 100 million lire – and Lazio, in order to wait for a deal with his favourite club AS Roma to take place. In 1989, Totti’s wish came true; he joined the famed Roma youth academy, and thus began his own love affair with the Giallorossi. He spent three years with the primavera side, before the then Roma coach Vujadin Boskov promoted him to the first team at the age of 16. On the 23rd of March, 1993, Totti made his entrance into Calcio. He played in the away victory against Brescia, and thereafter began his legacy.

Former Roma player Carlo Mazzone was the coach whom Totti would credit a lot of his success to. He said that Mazzone was like a second father to him and managed him the way he should. Indeed, Totti would go on to score his first goal in Roman colours on 24th September 1994 in the 1-1 draw against Foggia under Mazzone’s guidance. Roma later handed Totti a professional deal worth around 60 million lire, fulfilling his childhood dream of being a professional player for the Giallorossi.

“Who are the best five Italian players? Totti, Totti, Totti, Totti, Totti. Francesco is eclectic and can play wherever. He has carried Roma on his back for 15 years” – Zdenek Zeman

Zdenek Zeman took over the post as manager of Roma in 1997, jumping ship from rivals Lazio. His role was influential in Totti’s progress as a footballer. Zeman handed Totti the coveted no.10 jersey to Totti. In his very offensive formation, Zeman deployed Totti as a left winger, giving him the freedom he would thrive on. Totti would often cut in from the left and unleash strong drives on goal. In Zeman’s two years incharge of Roma, Totti would go on to score around 25 goals, an impressive tally for a youngster playing out of position. In 1998-99, Totti’s efforts were awarded, as he would go on to win Serie A Young Footballer of the Year award.

Roma and the first Scudetto

“Only Gigi Riva could kick the ball like him in Italy. But only with his left foot. Totti can use both feet and can hit the ball in several ways. Such champions can shoot ten times per match and eight of them are aimed on target, while five are very dangerous and can turn into a goal. Totti’s shooting qualities are unique and they will stay intact for life.” – Fabio Capello

Fabio Capello took over the reigns at Roma after Zeman’s short stint with the Giallorossi. Capello scrapped Zeman’s formation, aiming to build the team around Er Pupone. Capello then employed Totti as an old school trequartista, a role which would magnify his passing ability and his natural skills. Totti was surrounded by gifted players such as Montella, Batistuta and Samuel, which bought out the best in his ability. In the 2000-2001 season, he finally realised his dream as Roma went on to lift the scudetto under Capello after an 18 year drought. Totti was one of the main catalyst behind Roma’s success, as he scored 13 goals in Serie A. He also managed to score in the 3-0 win against Fiorentina in the Super Coppa Italia. His achievements firmly established him as an idol amongst Roma supporters the world over. Totti was now a symbol and an emblem of everything associated with Roma.

He went on to win back-to-back Italian Footballer of the Year awards in 2000 and 2001, while was also nominated for the prestigious Ballon D’or award in the same years. In 2000, he also bagged the Serie A Footballer of the Year award  thus rounding up one of his most successful seasons. He won the Italian footballer of the Year once again in 2003 and  2004.

Totti will forever remain in the hearts of the Roma fans

In the 2004-2005 season, Fabio Capello decided to leave Roma in favor of rivals Juventus after a disappointing campaign. This move angered the Giallorossi faithful, and Totti summed up their frustration by branding Capello a ‘traitor’. He claimed the now England manager left the team in tatters and his attitude towards the players had changed, often advising primavera players not to follow in the foot-steps of Totti but to idolise team-mate Emerson, who left alongwith Capello to join Juve. Indeed, Roma struggled after Capello’s departure, and the club had to replace four managers by the end of the season. However, Totti was once again the shining light in a  disappointing Giallorossi side netting 15 goals and providing countless assists.

Luciano Spalletti took over the reign at the capital outfit in the 2005-2006 season, and he brought along the striker-less 4-6-0 formation. Totti played in the most advanced position of the formation. however, he wasn’t portrayed as a striker; his role was to drop deep and thus offer more space to the attacking trio behind him. This risky experiment bore fruit for Spalletti and Totti, as he inspired Roma to a record 11 wins on the trot in the league, the most by any Serie A outfit. The 2006-07 season was a personal high for Er Pupone, as he benefitted a  great deal from Spalletti’s famous formation. He finished the season as Capocannoniere (top scorer in Serie A) with 26 goals. He also went on to win the European Golden Boot award for top-scorer in Europe.

The Azzurri and Totti

Totti had represented Italy at all youth levels, and was in the European Under 21 winning squad. Euro 2000 was arguably Er Pupone’s best performance yet on the International stage. Italy finished off the tournament as runners up, and Totti was the main protaganist behind their amazing run. He scored two goals, and although the Azzurri ended up on the losing side in the final, Totti was named man of the match. He was at his creative best in this game, as he set-up Italy’s first goal through an outrageous back-heel. His most famous international goal was perhaps the one he scored against Edwin Van der Sar. “I’ll chip him” he reportedly told team-mates when the game was in the midst of a penalty shoot out, and he did not disappoint. As a 23 year old, he displayed the composure and audacity of a player much beyond his years. Totti was also named in the team of the tournament, gaining praise from legendary midfielder Michel Platini.

The World Cup soon followed two years later, and Italy flattered to deceive as they were eliminated in ‘that’ game against South-Korea. Totti failed to make any sort of impact and was wrongly sent off by Italy’s enemy no.1 Byron Moreno. Euro 2004 was probably Francesco’s worst tournament yet, as he was engulfed in negative media attention. Totti spat at Denmark’s Christian Poulsen and was subsequently banned. He missed the rest of the tournament, and Italy failed to progress through to the next round.

A half fit Totti inspired Italy to World Cup glory

Prior to the 2006 World Cup, Il Capitano suffered a horrific injury after an awful challenge by Richard Vanigli, damaging his ligaments. His involvement in the 2006 World Cup was in doubt. However, Totti did eventually make his return to the International stage in the World Cup, playing on with metal plates in his ankle. Lippi noted –

“It is clear that Totti is one of the few players who doesn’t have a substitute because there is nobody around who plays like him.There are no alternatives for Totti in Italy.No one else could play Totti’s position.”

Far from match-fitness and not at his best, Totti still started all of Italy’s 7 games. He scored the crucial match-winning penalty for Italy in the pre quarter-finals against Australia and finished off the tournament with the most assists, a testament to his skill and seemingly undeniable quality. He was later named in the 23 man All Star Team as he successfully guided Italy to her 4th World Cup triumph.

Totti officially announced his International retirement on 20th July 2007 in order to concentrate on his club side, Roma. Roberto Donadoni failed in his attempts to persuade Er Pupone to return to the Italy set-up in Euro 2008. However, during Marcello Lippi’s second stint with the Azzurri, post the Euros, Totti made himself available to the former Juve tactician. He said that should he be called up, he wouldn’t decline. Lippi opted not to call him up and Italy subsequently were eliminated in the group stage, finishing bottom in a relatively easy group and thereby enduring their worst ever World Cup campaign. Many blamed Lippi’s decision of excluding Totti from the side as part of their failure.

Il Cucchiaio and the Celebrations

The most famous goal you associate with Totti is probably the chip shot – Il Cucchiaio – which roughly translates into the ‘spoon’.  His most famous goal was probably the legendary one he scored against Inter, where he dribbled at Materazzi before chipping a hapless Julio Cesar. That goal was voted as the best goal in Serie A in the 2005-05 season. Another glorious goal is the one he scored against Lazio in the Derby Della Capitale, which ended 5-1 in favour of Roma. Totti’s autobiography is entitled “Mo’ Je Faccio Er Cucchiaio”, which translates into “I’ll chip him”. Il Cicchiaio has become a trademark Totti goal over the years. In December 2004, Totti broke the record for the highest number of goals for Roma, when he scored his 107th goal. What followed were scenes of jubilation as hordes of children took the field with the number 10 jerseys. Totti, himself removed his jersey flashing the number 107.
Totti has also been renowned for his various goal celebrations.His most popular celebration being when he scored yet again against fierce rivals Lazio, on his shirt were written the words “Vi ho purgato ancora”, which means, ‘I’ve purged you again’. In the Capital derby, he also ran towards the camera-man taking control of the camera after scoring a penalty. Most recent celebrations include him sucking his thumb, which he does out of dedication towards his son Cristian. He once tucked the football under his shirt and lay flat on the ground only for his team-mates to pull out the ball as an act for the birth of his son.

Not just a Footballer

Totti has not only been an inspiration on the pitch, but also one off it. He is now a goodwill ambassador for for UNICEF and the FIFA/SOS Children’s Villages. Totti has often had bad experiences in front of the camera during interviews, prompting the release of a book about a host of jokes at his expense which Totti himself has put together. The book released on 16th June 2003 and has gone on to sell more than 430,000 odd copies surpassing all expectations and becoming a top-seller. The only condition he put forth was that the book would contain jokes only about him, and not of the people surrounding him. The money raised was donated towards helping the elderly in Rome and also towards a project assisting homeless children in Congo.

Totti is also a known poker enthusiast; last year, he signed a sponsorship deal with online gambling company Party Poker. He has also opened up a football school, aptly named ‘Number Ten’. Moreover, he owns a motorcycle company named ‘Totti top Sport’ which helps young riders of the minor class to reach the very elite of the sport.

Totti – the Legend

“Totti is the best player in the world. He has just been a little unlucky in the past.” – Pele

There can probably be no praise higher in world football then one that comes from Pele. The legendary Brazilian named Totti as one of the best 125 living footballers ever. Fans will often be left wondering what could have been, had Totti accepted multi million offers that Real Madrid and Manchester United tempted him with. However, having stayed on at Roma, his story couldn’t possibly have been even more special.  He has been an inspiration to young players world over, notably Javier Pastore  who said in the past that it was his wish to emulate Totti.

At 34 years of age, Francesco is now nearing the climax of his career. Throughout, his illustrious career at Roma, he has won over fans worldwide and has gained their respect. With 463 appearances and 196 goals, Totti is Roma’s highest ever goal scorer, and will go down in history as the greatest player to have ever donned the famous Giallorossi jersey. It’s hard to imagine a Roma side without their captain, as he has been such a peripheral figure for the Lupi. Few players in football history have had such a tremendous impact on Italian football the way Totti has. Whenever he does decide to hang up his boots, it will be a huge blow to Roma and Calcio in general. Finding someone to replace him will remain a Herculean task, as it is near impossible to achieve as much as he has achieved on a professional as well as personal level with his fans.


Follow TheHardTackle on twitter here

Follow the author on twitter here