For Francesco Totti, the Roma shirt is more than just part of his work uniform – it is a badge of identity, a second skin. “I was born in Rome, I’m a Roman and I’m a Romanista,” the Giallorossi captain has said in the past, and when he slips the shirt off after a game, his tattoo of a Roman gladiator adds further weight to the feeling that both the city and club are hardwired into his DNA.
Born in the neighbourhood of Appio Latino nearly 35 years ago, Totti does not simply wear his team’s colours: he fights for them, lives for them. “Although I’ve had several possibilities to leave, I’ve always said that I only want to wear one club’s shirt during my career,” he told FIFA.com in the lead-up to Sunday’s high-profile trip to face Juventus. “I can’t imagine myself wearing another one. In addition, I don’t know how I could have explained myself to my children. Love took precedence over all the offers I’ve had, and I’m happy with my decision. It means more to me than winning a Ballon d’Or.”
Like Raul, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Del Piero, the forward has finished high up the voting list for football’s ultimate individual prize on more than one occasion without ever taking top spot. If there was a FIFA Ballon d’Or for consistency, however, Totti would surely already have one on his mantelpiece. Capped 58 times by Italy, the No10 has broken record upon record since his professional debut, most notably plundering more goals and making more appearances than anyone else in Roma’s history and setting a new Italian benchmark for goals scored with the same club.
The chances are that Totti will render those records a lot tougher to surpass before he hangs up his boots for the last time at the Stadio Olimpico. “I’ve still got two years on my contract and if I can stay in the same physical shape, I still hope to be playing up until the age of 40,” he explained. “For now, though, that’s all just speculation. As long as I feel in form and useful to the team, I’ll continue to wear the shirt with a lot of pride. When I no longer feel in the right condition, I’ll be the first to call it a day. I believe in my potential. The important thing is to do what’s necessary to stay in condition – to live a healthy life and behave like a true professional.”
Totti certainly acted like a model pro at the start of this season. Last summer brought change in the Roma dugout as Luis Enrique took over and quickly set about applying the lessons he learned during his years at Barcelona, first as a member of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ and later as coach of the Catalan outfit’s youth sides. Totti did not appear to figure prominently in the Spaniard’s plans, but although the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ winner was frustrated to be relegated to the bench, he never made life difficult for the man in charge.
“It’s normal not to be happy when you don’t play,” said Totti. “But I always made myself available to help the team. And when I did play, I didn’t do too badly, and the coach started to take me more into consideration.” Luis Enrique’s change of heart was noticeable and has arguably helped Roma turn their season around following their nightmarish start, which included a disastrous opening to their Serie A campaign and a play-off defeat in the UEFA Europa League.
‘A joy that can’t be matched’
Since then, their hard work has paid off, and I Giallorossi have forced their way into a European berth while playing some of the most attractive football in Italy’s top flight. “I’ve always said that when there are changes, it takes a little time for everything to come together,” added Totti, who has struck five goals this term (celebrating each one with his famous thumb-sucking routine, “in honour of children everywhere, and mine in particular”). “The coach’s goal is to bring a new mentality to Italy. I like his playing system and I’m sure it will quickly turn out to be a successful one.”
Unsurprisingly, little counts more for Il Bimbo d'Oro (the Golden Boy) than success with Roma, with whom he clinched the Serie A title in 2000/01. He also lifted the FIFA World Cup Trophy at Germany 2006, of course, but asked which of those experiences he would most like to repeat there is not a doubt in his mind: “The Scudetto with Roma, without hesitation. It’s a joy that can’t be matched.”
With retirement far from his mind, Totti has a few more chances left to fulfil his dream. Beyond that, when he does finally decide his playing days are over, he will turn his attentions to another of his passions, the 'Never Without You' clothing line he created with his wife. Even then, however, Totti will never be without Roma.