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Francesco Totti’s Goodbye to AS Roma: A Sad Ending for a Great Love Story

A Soccer Champion and the epilogue of his relationship with the main team of his city: a story where there are no winners, only losers

Francesco Totti, "Vecchio a chi?", San Giovanni, Roma (Foto W. Acthner)

This is the case for Totti, who’d said he’d rather die than have to leave Roma, also for the club that undoubtedly was unable to protect a unique asset that included both technique and fame that strengthened the brand and allowed it to gain supporters all over the world, and lastly for the fans because they lost their most iconic star, a player who incarnated the quintessence of Roma and shared and repaid, by scoring goals and executing improbable technical gestures, their limitless love for this team. 


Francesco Totti during the press conference (Foto W. Achtner)

Two weeks ago, on Monday June 17th, during a press conference held in the Italian Olympic Committee’s (CONI) Hall of Honor, at the Foro Italico in Rome, Francesco Totti announced his resignation as a manager of the AS Roma football club. More than 300 journalists attended the event that was broadcast live on one of the channels of the public TV, Rai, by Sky, and streamed live on the websites of several important news media.

In order to fully understand why Italian news media were willing to pay so much attention to what Totti had to say, one must first take into consideration his career as a sportsman. During his career as a professional football player, the number 10  Giallorosso [Author Note: yellowred refers to the colors of the AS Roma jersey] played a total of 889 matches and scored 334 goals between his Club and the National teams; 307 of which he scored playing 786 matches while wearing Roma’s shirt.

Francesco Totti was born in Rome, on September 27th, 1976, and he grew up in the district of Porta Metronia. At the age of 16, he played his first match in Serie A wearing a Roma shirt, entering as a substitute during Brescia-Roma, on March 28th, 1993. 24 years later, on May 28th, 2017, he played his last match as a professional, still wearing the same Giallorosso shirt, against Genova, at the Olympic Stadium, in Rome.

The love affair between Francesco Totti, also known as “er core de Roma,” or “Roma’s heart,” can’t be described by words. It’s something that only he, his tifosi (his fans) and all those who’ve been part of the club, can fully understand, but the Captain’s career can be explained only in part by numbers because his medal collection isn’t as rich as one would expect.

In fact, Totti’s showcase holds only one scudetto [AN: the tricolor badge positioned over the heart and worn on the shirts of Italy’s Serie A winners, during the following season], conquered in 2000-2001, when Roma was managed by Fabio Capello. In his 25-year-long career in Serie A, Totti has twice won the Coppa Italia (2006-2007 and 2007-2008), the Italian SuperCup (2001 and 2007). With regards to international competitions, Totti can claim a World Cup won wearing Italy’s blue shirt in Berlin, in 2006, the Under 21 European Championship in 1996, and the games of the Mediterranean, in 1997.

A detailed examination of his professional career as a Giallorossi player allows one to discover that Francesco Totti has obtained extraordinary results, many of which represent overall records in the history of Italian football. Totti played 25 seasons as a starting player, more than anyone before him, wearing the captain’s armband for 19 consecutive years. For this reason, for Roma’s supporters he was, and always will be, “il Capitano,” (the Captain) – and for 23 consecutive seasons he scored at least one goal during the championship, an overall record for Italian footballers.

Paolo Condò, Sky & Francesco Totti

He scored 307 goals during official matches wearing Roma’s jersey, most of which at the end of plays (194), then as penalty shots (84), and finally, as foul kicks (29), and he holds the record for goals in Serie A (250), and the number of goals scored in Serie A wearing the same shirt (250).

Totti is also the record holder for players who took part in a derby (44, winning 15 of them), and of goal scorers against Lazio [AN: Rome’s other team], (11).

But all the records scored by Totti, wearing Roma’s shirt that have made him the most successful player in the history of the club, can hardly explain why for the supporters Totti and Roma are one and the same. As written on radiocolonna.it, his story “is a sequence of goals and unlimited natural talent, falls from grace and controversy, all the while wearing the insignia of Roma and Rome, of both of which Totti, for good or evil, has become the symbol; at times by choice, though mainly despite himself. His irony, his noticeable accent, his natural inclination to crack a joke, have made him a champion of roman-ness and a tireless inventor of one liners, gags and gaffes. Like a second personality, in addition to that of the football player.”

And also, “A unique career, regardless of the limited number of trophies won, starting when he played with the shirt of Smit Trastevere and from there all the way to the Olimpico [AN: Rome’s Olympic Stadium], always guided by his desire to surprise his fans and enjoy himself, to play creative football and score tons of goals, an idol for several generations of Roman kids who grew up studying his magical moves. Totti went from being il Pupone, “the Big Baby,” to “the Gladiator,” became increasingly popular as the author of books about his jokes and travel guides about Rome, achieved prestigious victories starting with the scudetto and ending with the World Cup, on account of his notoriety was picked to be a UNICEF ambassador and the protagonist of ironical ads in which he starred with his wife Ilary Blasy and, mostly unknown, a silent benefactor. But Totti was much more than that, he was the most popular and beloved Roman after actor Alberto Sordi, one of the rare institutions of a city in decline that could always be counted on, a sportsman of such undisputed standing that he was admired even by Lazio fans.”

But more than by numbers, Totti’s career can be summed up by a sublime – and almost irrational – technical gesture: il cucchiaio or “the spoon.” The spoon refers to a particular way of kicking the ball and can be performed on the run [AN: Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s legendary striker is a master of hitting “chip shots” on the run] or executing a penalty shot. The latter was the occasion chosen by Francesco Totti, in 2000, when he found himself face to face with the Dutch national team goalie, Edwin Van dear Saar. Totti kicked the ball gently but sharply, from under, causing it to rise slowly up in the air, barely passing over the goalie, and then dip rapidly towards the ground, ending in the net while the incredulous Dutch fans looked on.

The cucchiaio is a very risky shot: if the goalie doesn’t dive towards the side of the goal, he is certain to catch the ball that is kicked from under, giving it a backward spin that makes it move forward much more slowly than the usual penalty shots, so its success depends entirely on the attacking player’s ability to fool the goalie into believing he’s going to shoot the ball towards the side of the net. Before Totti, the only player to have ever kicked a penalty using this irreverent and highly risky technique was Antonin Panenka, who performed what became known as the “Panenka kick”, in the final match of the European Championship played by Czechoslovakia against Germany. Panenka gently kicked the ball that rose up in the air and floated over the goalie who had dived towards the goal post at his left.

Francesco Totti

In the same way that Diego Armando Maradona is still remembered for the Mano de Dios (as he called it), the sly and illegal handball with which he scored the first of two goals in Argentina’s victory against England in the quarter finals of the !986 World Cup played in Mexico, the decisive moment in Francesco Totti’s career as a professional football player was exemplified by a technical gesture that is a combination of imagination, unpredictability, risk-taking, and talent. Totti performed that historical “scavetto” or chip shot, on June 29th, 2000.

It is the day of the semifinal match between Holland and Italy at the European Championships hosted by the Netherlands. After extra time, the score is still 0-0, so a penalty shootout is required to assign a winner. The first two Italians had scored while both Dutch players had wasted their penalties. Standing at midfield, surrounded by his teammates, Francesco Totti who is the third on the list of shooters for the Azzurri [AN: Italy’s national team always plays in blue shirts], turns to his companions and, pointing to the Dutch goalkeeper, Edwin Van der Sar, said in Roman dialect: “Mo je faccio er cucchiaio,” or “Now, I’m gonna kick a spoon shot.”

Totti kept his word. Fractions of a second before he took his shot, Van der Sar dove towards the goal post on his right side while the ball chipped by il Capitano, floated in the air, almost as in slow motion, and then dipped towards the pitch on the opposite side of the net. Totti’s was the decisive goal and Italy won the semifinal 3-1. Years later, commenting on that fatal moment, Francesco Totti said: “To take a risk like that, you have to be crazy or very good. And, I’m certainly not crazy.”

In CONI’s auditorium, Totti announces that he’s handed in his official resignation to AS Roma and explains his motivations. He begins his speech by saying “I’d have preferred to die,” and “It’s almost as if I had to abandon my mother.”

“I never had a real chance to work in Roma’s technical area. It wasn’t about money but I believe I had the competence to work as Technical Director. Instead, they chose the new coach and the Sports Director without even calling me. They invited me to London two days before the announcement, when they’d already made their decisions, without asking my opinion.

Paolo Condò, Sky, & Francesco Totti

Right from the start, some people had only one preoccupation: ‘Let’s get the Romans out of Roma.’ The Americans wanted to get rid of us. Baldini? [AN: Franco Baldini, James Pallotta’s closest advisor, albeit without any official mandate] I never had any kind of relationship with him and I never will: it was necessary to decide which one of us had to go and I decided to leave. London always had the last word on every matter. They only talked to me when they were in trouble. At the most, I had ten meetings with management over the course of two years.

Now, even if Baldini were to leave, I wouldn’t return, if they’d wanted me to stay, they should have decided it earlier. I accept their decision and I respect it. But the president needs to change course. If I’d had a Totti and a De Rossi at my disposal, I’d have given them full control. Pallotta [AN: James Pallotta, president of AS Roma] has surrounded himself with the wrong kind of people and listens to them. But if I’ve been making the same mistakes for 8 years, shouldn’t I be asking myself “What am I doing wrong?” During the last couple of weeks, he tried in every way to keep me from leaving, but for two years I never heard from anyone. Evidently, for this club I was a burden, I was too difficult to deal with both as a football player and as a manager.”

With regards to the group that controls AS Roma, Totti doesn’t beat around the bush: “They made a lot of promises but they weren’t able to keep them. As a tifoso, a fan, I have my dreams: I want to compete to win. But there are financial problems. So, you have to sell important players and you weaken the team. But one needs to tell the fans the truth, even if it might not be something that they want to hear.” Furthermore, Totti says it would be a lot better if the president spent more time in Rome, and he adds: “I decided to make this move after thinking it over for months. But I’m convinced that I’ve made the correct decision and the one that is in Roma’s best interests. This is the most important thing. I’m convinced that there shouldn’t be any factions pro-Totti, pro Pallotta or pro-Baldini. Club presidents come and go, coaches come and go, the same is true for most players. But those who’ve become icons of the club never go. It wasn’t my decision. And I don’t know what else I could tell you.” Totti insists he didn’t cause the breakup. “It’s not my fault if I was never included in the technical project. During the first year, certain things can happen. By the second year ,I’d figured out what my role could be, but we never tried to help each other out. They knew what I could give but they excluded me from everything.”

Totti then mentions his hometown and his fans. “To the people of Rome, I can only say ‘Thank you’ for the way they’ve always treated me: there always has been reciprocal respect. I ask the fans to continue rooting for this team because this club is the most important thing in the world for me. It saddens me and upsets me to see it in such difficulty because the Roma is Rome. Its fans are different, they feel an immense love that cannot end. Totti concludes his speech by leaving Roma fans the hope that his may be an arrivederci, “I’ll see you again,” and not a farewell. “Speaking as Francesco I can say that it’s impossible to keep Totti out of Roma. I might return with a new ownership, if these new owners were to believe in me and my ideas. I’ve never harmed Roma and I never will. Today, I feel much worse than when I stopped playing. Today, I could have died. I’m stepping away because I love Roma. Here, there always have been some people who said, instead, that I was too big of a burden for the club.”

Francesco Totti

Totti insists that his separation from Roma has nothing to do with money: “I never talked about money, I never asked for anything. I didn’t want to be the big boss, I wanted to take responsibility for my decisions and be able to make decisions regarding matters that I know well. (…) I’m not going to let anyone play me for a fool. Would I return if Baldini leaves? No, they should have decided sooner. The vase is broken. I have nothing against them, but I’ve made up my mind. I shall take another path but if a strong ownership would be willing to bet on me, I shall return.”

Roma responded to Totti’s declarations with an official statement:

“The club is extremely disappointed to learn that Francesco Totti has announced that he has decided to leave the club and not take up the position of Technical Director of AS Roma. We offered this role to him after Monchi’s exit, for which we were awaiting his answer.

“We believed that the role offered to Francesco is one of the most senior positions at the club and obviously requires total dedication and commitment, something that is expected of all senior managers within the club.

“We were prepared to be patient with Francesco and help him achieve the transition from being a great footballer into a great manager. To demonstrate this commitment to Francesco, the role of Technical Director was offered to him – a role that we believed he could grow into and one in which we offered to support him while he adapts.

“While we understand how hard it must be for him to take this decision to leave AS Roma after 30 years, we believe that his perception of the facts and decisions made at the club are both fanciful and far from reality.

“Regarding the repeated references to a possible comeback with a new ownership, combined with information about interested parties collected by him around the world, we hope that this was not meant to be an inappropriate anticipation of a takeover attempt of the club, a scenario that would be very sensitive as AS Roma is a listed company. The club’s investor group have absolutely no intention of putting AS Roma up for sale, now or in the future. 

“We wish Francesco only good luck with what he decides to do next.”

Twenty-four hours after Totti’s farewell speech, vice president Mauro Baldissoni had this to say to Sky TV: “Certainly, we feel a great displeasure, the failure to protect a great resource for the club is a defeat for everyone.” Baldissoni also replied to one of Totti’s most serious accusations: “Deromanizzare, to get rid of the Romans in the club would be a foolish and self-destructive policy. Before the new ownership took over, I told Totti that all over the world he was more famous than Roma, so there is nothing further from the truth than that we wanted to get rid of him.” The vice president also underlined that “the current ownership hasn’t sold and has no intention of selling the club.”
In the hours following Totti’s press conference, there was a rumor that AS Roma, that is quoted on the stock market, was considering whether or not to sue its former manager. This turned out to be false, repudiated tersely by president James Pallotta himself with a tweet on his personal account:

“Not a chance. 100% false. In the history of our ownership, that possibly takes the gold medal for the dumbest comment I’ve read.”

Francesco Totti

And yet, it is clear that AS Roma is convinced that many of Totti’s complaints are exaggerated or have no merit. But whoever knows Francesco Totti – in addition to his unconditional love of Roma and the fact that he was well aware of even the smallest detail that had to do with the club – is ready to vow that he never lies. So, if Totti has complained about always being relegated to the sideline, if he mentioned the summit to which he was invited only at the last second, if he complained about his role of Technical Director being purely cosmetic because Baldini always had the last word, about the fact that the new coach and Sports Director were chosen without requesting his opinion, it is undeniable that these events really took place. It must be said that the role Totti had requested, in addition to the technical area, would have regarded the economic choices of the club.

Can one say that what was missing was an appropriate intermediation between Pallotta and Totti? Obviously, yes. Clearly it would have been useful to find a way to combine Roman-ness and company management because this bitter farewell is an own goal for Totti but also for the club.

With regards to this topic, Daniele Manusia on ultimouomo.com wrote: “To keep Totti happy should have been a duty of Roma. It’s not enough to say, as the club – or to gain the favor of the most diehard supporters, should I say the company – did, in its communique, that Totti’s version of the facts didn’t correspond to reality. And as though that wasn’t enough, the club hinted at the existence of some sort of conspiracy, with Totti acting as the intermediary for a purchase offer of the club: this is such a serious accusation that it can’t be contemplated in this article. Because, if it is true, as Baldissoni said that ‘one needs to realize that the passage from the position of being an iconic player to a managerial one isn’t easy and requires time,’ it’s also true that there is fundamental contradiction in offering him the very important position of Technical Director and, then, not inviting him to the meetings where Roma’s future is being decided.

‘It’s a huge loss for everyone,’ said Baldissoni and, not wanting to imagine a conspiracy or that Totti had become momentarily insane, it is necessary to recognize that Roma made a series of errors.”

Francesco Totti, San Giovanni, Roma (Foot W. Achtner)

If, after Totti’s declarations, someone had imagined that there might be some sort of popular revolt or public protest by Roma’s supporters, they would have been disappointed because nothing of the sort happened. And this was most likely due to the fact that the Serie A Championship had ended quite some time ago.

As it was logical to expect, several important fans expressed their sympathy with Totti’s position. According to Enrico Vanzina, a well-known Roma fan and a director of Italian Christmas films that have done very well in Italy at the box office: “Francesco said, to govern Roma, to relaunch Roma, to defend the honor and the past of Roma, we need people who love Roma. Not a bunch of mercenaries. Roma is not a company where the CEO is supposed to be making money. Roma isn’t something that can be commercialized, it’s a dream, an ideal, a vision of the world.

Those who ignore the club’s history and its characteristics should step out of the way. Goethe said that only by living in Rome can you understand Rome. Not from Boston. But not even from the seats of the politicians (on the Right and on the Left) who seek to gain political consensus by telling a bunch of lies. Francesco has said, to speak to the Romans you need to always speak the truth. Because the Romans understand, forgive, are willing to help, forget, on one condition: they won’t tolerate someone who tries to make fools of them. They don’t want to hear lies. To be a Roman means that one is aware that history includes a series of successes and downfalls. Romans have lived through it all. But they have always raised their heads again. Francesco Totti told us, get rid of those who don’t love you because they are betraying you. Yours was a superb, simple, at times ingenuous, but authentic and powerful statement in favor of Roman-ness. Captain, you are truly great and an example for all of us.”

For the former president of AS Roma, Rosella Sensi, the process of “de-Romanization” of the club that Francesco Totti spoke about, “Is not an idea that we can share and I don’t know what the consequences may be because we fans were not told of this. The world of football, in addition to being a business, must share and protect important values, and these players have been an important symbol of the club and a role model for children in Italy and around the world. They are people who have a special connection with their city and have remained in the same club for many years. These are values that do not conflict with running a club as a business and the modernization of football. Roma fans want to see continuity, and that continuity is represented by Totti and De Rossi [AN: Daniele Rossi was until a few weeks ago – when he announced he was leaving the club because his contract hadn’t been renewed – a centerfield player and the captain of Roma, of which he is the player who has racked up the highest number of games played for the club after Francesco Totti].

But not all the fans shared the same attitude. On Facebook, Stefano Fratini wrote, “Roma existed before Totti, Roma existed with Totti, Roma will continue to exist after Totti. If, one day, Totti were to return, we would have a Roma of Totti’s return. But what matters most is Roma, not Totti. And the time has come to leave behind the primitive, infantile and somewhat Fascistoid argument regarding ‘Romans and Roman-ness’” That said, one is free to criticize Pallotta’s management team (without forgetting that it’s guaranteed us continuity of high-level results, even without winning the Championship). But as long as Pallotta is here, Roma belongs to Pallotta. And, first and foremost, I’m a fan of Roma and not a fan of Totti’s.”

For sure, from now on, in the history of Totti and Roma, that for many coincide, there will be two important June 17ths: that of 2001, when Roma won its third scudetto and that of 2019,  of Totti’s stormy farewell.

On the website ultimouomo.com, Daniele Manusia observes: “In the end, it’s exactly the same paradox as when he was still a player: nothing is more important than Roma, but it is impossible to imagine Roma without Totti.  And, now that he left in such a bad way, something has gone with him. Roma starts to exist anew, with its owner, a new coach, players and fans, who regardless of what happened will still support their team, even Totti says he’ll root for Roma. But it won’t be the same thing. It doesn’t matter who is right, whether or not Totti was included enough in the club’s decisions, or if he was in too much of a hurry to obtains more power. For Roma fans this is a very painful and permanent fracture. In the end, the ones who suffer are always the fans.

I’m afraid that at the origin of this breakup there was a double misunderstanding. On the one hand, I’m talking about that role that we can call of “iconic player,” that concretely from the club’s point of view, appeared increasingly like a sort of lightning rod. A role that Totti has played for too long, from back in the days when Roma wasn’t able to win anything even with Totti present as a player. And if Totti has finally opened his eyes, well it’s never too late to stop acting as a poster for yourself. Even if he decided to leave because to remain wouldn’t have been in his best interest, or because he didn’t want to end up being held responsible for someone else’s mistakes.”

Manusia adds: “On the other hand, Totti himself seems to have misunderstood his symbolic power that was his regardless of his accomplishments, that regards more than Totti himself, that had to do with the fans’ unrestricted love for him, that he could have, or should have, tried to convert into something real at the right moment. This is the moment of truth, Totti hasn’t only left the club, he’s abandoned his special role, that for good or for evil he’d had for decades. From now on, Totti will have to accomplish something by himself, and demonstrate that he wasn’t only an impulsive Roman, who would get upset about questions of principle, who at times appeared ungrateful. Whether or not he may one day return as a conqueror, or remain somewhere else and try to achieve something on his own, for the first time, Francesco Totti will be alone.”

In conclusion, if Totti was the eighth king of Rome, one can say as was customary on these occasions, “The King is dead, long life to the King,” to announce the death of the sovereign and, at the same time, to confirm the legitimacy of his successor on the throne.

For all of Roma’s fans, even those with tears in their eyes for the departure of Francesco Totti, it is unequivocally clear that what remains now and will remain in the future is their club, Roma, that as Antonello Venditti wrote in the title of the song used for many years, starting in 1974, as the club’s official song and then abandoned apparently for political reasons, “Roma [must be loved unconditionally, not debated].” Venditti’s song is a true symbol of Roman-ness, a declaration of infinite love to the club and to the city by the same name.

Roma Roma Roma

core de stà città

unico grande amore

de tanta e tanta gente

che fai sospirà.

Roma Roma Roma

lassace cantà

da stà voce nasce un core

so centomila voci che hai fatto ‘nammorà.

 

Roma Roma bella

t’ho dipinta io 

gialla come er sole

rossa come er core mio.

 

Roma Roma mia

nun te fa cantà

tu sei nata grande

e grande hai da restà.

 

Roma Roma Roma

core de stà città

unico grande amore

de tanta e tanta gente

ch’hai fatto ‘nammorà.

 

Photo Credits:

All the photos of Francesco Totti are by Wolfgang Achtner, taken on June 17, 2019 at the CONI venue in Rome

Photos of the murals depicting Totti are by Wolfgang Achtner. The portrait titled “Vecchio a chi?” in Porta Metronia, was painted by Lucamaleonte. The mural, authorized by the city of Rome, appeared on the night of February 10, 2014, a few hours before the Roma-Lazio derby. The work occupies the three-story facade of the Giovanni Pascoli Middle School in Via Sibari, in the San Giovanni area of Rome; a few steps from Via Gallia and more importantly, from Via Vetulonia, where the Captain was born and raised.

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