Francesco Totti’s last ever game for his beloved AS Roma was always going to be an emotional occasion. Still, few probably anticipated exactly how emotional the Roma fans farewell to their greatest ever player would become. Totti is the embodiment of that football club and hardly a single eye was dry in the Olimpico on Sunday.
You already know the story of Totti, the Rome-born superstar who has represented his hometown club throughout his career despite every single top club in Europe from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United all just waiting for the chance to sign him. This has been to the detriment of his medal collection as he could have won significantly more titles than his solitary Scudetto in 2001 and his two Coppa Italia trophies. What matters more to Totti and the Roma fans however is that his legacy has reached unimaginable heights in Rome. That one Scudetto with Roma means more to Totti than 10 Scudetti with Juventus, for example, would have. His loyalty means everything to his club too, as the fans have been able to enjoy a world class local boy for almost 25 years.
Added to his Roma titles is also a World Cup title with Italy in 2006. Totti wasn’t 100% fit in the tournament, but was an important member with assists and the winning goal in the last 16 against Australia when his penalty in stoppage time sent Italy through. Despite the World Cup trophy, Totti has repeatedly said he values the league title with Roma in 2001 as his happiest moment.
During the years, Totti’s bond with Roma and Rome in general has grown immensely. Totti is just as big a symbol for the city for football fans as the Colosseum is for others. It’s not for nothing that he’s often called Il Re di Roma (the king of Rome). Totti has been a talismanic presence at Roma and will continue to be as his legacy will live on forever. He’s scored more goals than any other Roma player and has made more appearances than any other player. His 250 Serie A goals places him second on the all-time list of goalscorers in Italy’s top flight.
Totti isn’t only celebrated in Rome though. Every football fan knows Totti and most of them loves and adores him. He touches everyone, from the seven-year-old boys running around Rome pretending to be him all up to Lionel Messi at the very top who called Totti a “phenomenon” when Roma played Barcelona in 2015. The superbly consistent level of his performances over his 24 year first team career ensures this appreciation and coupled with his loyalty to his club, it’s easy to understand all the love and adulation Totti receives from all corners of football.
At the end of the day though, Francesco Totti is a footballer. A truly terrific one at that. A complete attacking player, Totti is one of the most creative and intelligent attackers you’ll ever see. Capable of playing wide, up front or as a trequartista (number 10), Totti has used his technique, creativity and intelligence to unlock the tightest Italian defences as well as providing spell-binding moments of magic to marvel at with some sublime lobs, thunderous strikes, through passes, dribbles, volleys or his more than 1100 backheel passes. In his youth, Totti was also very quick and could accelerate past opponents. A game with Totti was never dull as you were always waiting for him to create some moment of magic, which he usually delivered.
It was an emotional farewell for Totti.
Unfortunately, time catches up with everyone and so too with Totti. In recent seasons he’s featured less and less, and this season he’s been only sporadically used by coach Luciano Spalletti. It comes as no surprise that this is his last campaign at Roma, but it wasn’t until this week Totti announced that he wouldn’t continue. The whole thing could have been handled better to allow everyone to say goodbye to a national legend. That’s another part of Totti’s legacy; he’s become a national treasure for Italy and is revered up and down the country. Even among Lazio fans as they saluted him with a huge banner a few weeks ago.
Still, what happened tonight was special. After Roma had beaten Genoa 3-2 to automatically qualify for next seasons Champions League group stage, everyone remained in the stadium. Totti shortly disappeared into the catacombs, but made his way up to the chants and applause of a full Stadio Olimpico. He was accompanied on his lap of honour by his wife Ilary and their three children as Totti waved goodbye to each section of the stadium. His teammates remained on the pitch and some of them struggled to hold back the tears. Daniele De Rossi, a long time teammate of Totti and a fellow Roman, had tears in his eyes as did fellow Roman Alessandro Florenzi. Totti himself was crying and the fans were too. Roma forward Stephan El Shaarawy, who only joined the club a year ago, was crying too despite his short time at the club and as Totti’s teammate.
This reaction is the stadium is far beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed. That level of emotion and love between player and fans is unseen. When even teammates, recent ones at that, are crying because of one man’s status in a city and a football club you know we’re talking about a special person. Not only a special player, a special person too. The ceremony was extremely emotional, it was very powerful and it was thoroughly deserved.
Me? I was welling up a bit too, to be honest. Totti has always been special to me, ever since that Panenka-penalty against the Netherlands in 2000 which I thought were so cool. All those times he chipped goalkeepers made me go out to practice on my own, and every time they came off in games I secretly celebrated I pulled off a “Totti”. When he led Italy to the World Cup in 2006 he became even bigger for me and his superb quality in the years since has elevated him into my favourite footballer. And I don’t even support Roma.
Only the absolute greatest players can transmit such powerful feelings like those we witnessed in Rome today. Francesco Totti is perhaps the most influential footballer of all time. The scenes today when his own fans, his own people, said goodbye would suggest so. A genius with the ball at his feet, capable of doing anything with a football and a talismanic figure at his hometown club. Totti is Roma and Roma is Totti. What the future holds for Francesco Totti still remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; his legacy at Roma will never be forgotten.