Francesco Totti may be in the twilight of his career, but the boy from the streets of Porta Metronia is this season enjoying something of an Indian summer.
A loyal, one-club man in the era of the flighty, mercenary footballer, the 37-year-old has been widely lauded for a career-long commitment to his boyhood team.
Honours on the pitch with A.S. Roma over the last 24 years, however, have not been so forthcoming, with Totti having only three major club trophies to show for a quarter-century worth of service.
In spite of this lack of medals, he still exudes the aura of a man fulfilled. After all, Totti is practically a God in Rome, or in the non-Lazio parts at least. His recent birthday celebrations were a perfect showcase of his status in this regard; September 27 saw legions of fans gather at Roma's training base in Trigoria to pay tribute to their messiah.
Outside the ground a chartered plane flew overhead sporting the message "History speaks for you", while inside Totti was presented with a throne bearing his name and number, as well as a 37 kilogram cake designed in the image of the Colosseum.
As such, one would be safe to assume that the status of the club’s captain is already ironclad among supporters. He has, after all, made more appearances for Roma (685) and scored more goals (285) than any other player in their illustrious history, and with the milestone of a 40th birthday now firmly on the horizon, most players in his position might be forgiven for offering more than passing consideration to the prospect of retirement.
Totti, on the other hand, is not most players, and the two-year contract extension he inked at the start of the season is testament to this. Although his longevity is regularly compared to that of Ryan Giggs, a key point of difference between the two is that the Welshman has rarely, if ever, been one of Manchester United’s three key players over the last 15 years.
The Roman, on the other hand, has always served as the main pivot of his club, both on and off the field. He’s reached double figures in terms of goalscoring in ten of the last eleven seasons, this despite the fact that he has very sparingly been used as the side's chief centre-forward.
This can be owed in large part to his exceptional versatility, a trait which has become increasingly apparent throughout his career. For instance, although he originally announced himself on the world stage with stellar performances as a left winger during 1997/98, Totti would later flourish as an out-and-out ‘number ten’ in Fabio Capello’s title-winning squad of 2001/2002.
In a fashion similar to what we have seen from Lionel Messi in recent years, Totti also excelled as a ‘false nine’ under Luciano Spalletti in 2007/08. While this versatility is clearly an asset to any side, the revolving door policy employed by the Roma board in terms of their managerial appointments in recent years has left their captain's position in the team under constant review.
Indeed, the first order of business for any new coach has routinely been to answer questions on whether he can find a place in his team for a wintering Francesco Totti. The newest man to take the hot-seat at the Stadio Olimpico, Rudi Garcia, gave short shrift to any suggestions that he couldn’t.
As we stand now seven games into the season, Roma's 100% record suggests their manager has been vindicated. In fact, with last year’s top scorers Erik Lamela and Pablo Osvaldo no longer on the premises, it could be argued that Totti’s importance to the team has never been more apparent.
While the club’s peerless start to 2013/14 has been owed to their manager’s mantra of balancing the lost influence of individuals like Lamela and Osvaldo by raising the responsibility of the collective, it’s worth noting that they also have the player of the season thus far in their ranks.
In fact, no one in Europe has bettered Totti’s assist total (currently seven), while his two-goal salvo in Roma’s 3-0 demolition of an in-form Inter Milan last time out has to rank among the greatest centre-forward displays in the history of the fixture.
This reflects not only his ability to maintain his own high level, but also to raise that of those around him. Gervinho, in many ways, is case and point. Erratic at best during his time at Arsenal, the Ivorian’s pace and directness have set Serie A alight so far this season, and were primly showcased at the San Siro.
Furthermore, new signings Kevin Strootman and Mehdi Benatia have also proved stalwarts in a team which has now scored 20 goals and conceded just one. That stat is remarkable enough in-and-of itself, but when looked at in the context that Roma had one of the worst defensive records in Italy last season (giving up 56 goals in 38 games), Garcia is again deserving of enormous credit.
Although the Frenchman has repeatedly gone out of his way to manage expectations among fans and staff alike, his battle to subdue excitement in the capital may well be in vain. After all, considering only one of the seven teams in Serie A history that began a season with seven straight wins didn’t then go on to win the league, the likelihood is that Totti could well be celebrating his 22nd campaign by lifting the Scudetto come May.
With his club form seen to be undergoing something of a renaissance in this regard, murmurings of a recall to the international setup appear to be growing louder with each passing week.
Having already tasted World Cup success in 2006, Totti may yet find the allure of a return to the grandest stage too good to turn down. Indeed, if places in the Italy squad for this summer’s tournament were decided solely by the court of public opinion, the 37-year-old’s flight to Rio would already be secure.
Alas, while that decision will ultimately be left to Cesare Prandelli, the omens for a fairy-tale return, at this stage at least, look promising. "In the event that the World Cup was around the corner I would have no doubts and would absolutely call him up”, said the Azzurri manager, “but we’ll have to wait and evaluate the player's condition one month prior to the World Cup."
With this in mind, if Totti can maintain his recent levels of form and fitness through to season’s end, success is destined to follow. And given what he has contributed to the sport on both a national and international level, few are more deserving of a crowning glory.
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