Greatest Number 10’s – Francesco Totti | When it comes to great Italian number 10s, we are spoiled for choice. Since Channel 4 snapped up the rights to Serie A in 1992, after Paul Gascoigne’s move to Lazio, countless viewers watched mesmerised at the flair and ability of such luminaries as Roberto Baggio, Roberto Mancini and Alessandro Del Piero. It’s a tragedy – a Roman Tragedy – that the end of Channel 4’s coverage coincided with the rise of the player who may in fact be the best of the lot – Francesco Totti. During Roma’s Scudetto victory in 2000-2001, Channel 4 coverage became more sporadic, with live Sunday fixtures being phased out. Its death knell was sounded during the title decider; live coverage was abandoned with seven minutes remaining due to play being held up by fans invading the pitch. After this, as far as a UK audience were concerned, Totti might as well not exist. Even I took more than a few years to appreciate his greatness, unfairly dismissing him as a “poor man’s Del Piero”
Totti is, and always has been, appreciated in Italy, where his talent is visible for all to see. In Rome, at least for i giallorossi, Totti is revered. He is without a doubt one of the greatest players of the last 20 years, but is criminally underrated in this country. Think I’m exaggerating his ability? Don’t take my word for it. Both Pele and Maradona have in the past stated that Totti was the greatest player in the world. Michel Platini said he is the player he would most be like if he was playing today, and the great Gianni Rivera rates him higher than any other Italian player of the last 20 years;
“Totti is better than Baggio and Del Piero, even better than me. He is the best Italian player of the last 20 years, I finally choose him. He can do everything and do it well. Assists and goals, power and techniques. Extraordinary.”
Totti is regularly criticised for spending his entire career at Roma, with the charge of lack of ambition being laid at his door. Some believe that his loyalty to the club mean his talent cannot be adequately measured. This is ludicrous. Whilst he does not have as many titles in the game as he may have had if he’d moved on, his ability has been regularly recognised by his clutch of personal awards. He is a five time Italian player of the year (a record), twice Serie A player of the year (only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has more, with three awards). He won the Golden Boot in 2007, with 26 goals, and he recently became second in the all-time Serie A goalscoring charts, with his current tally standing at 226 goals. It’s also easy to forget that he did not play as an out and out striker regularly before he turned 30. Prior to this Totti was far more at home in the trequartista role, creating goals. Had he been in a more advanced role from the beginning of his career, it’s likely Totti would be number one. His goalscoring record in European competition is also impressive, with 37 goals in 88 appearances.
Totti’s international record also generally stands up to scrutiny. His biggest downfall here is that two outstanding tournaments sandwich two terrible ones. Totti was quite simply the best player on display at Euro 2000. Remember his chip in the penalty shootout against Holland? Pirlo’s not the only one who did this in an Italy shirt. Here’s a reminder:
Italy’s catastrophic defeat overshadows his performance in the final where he was by far the best player on the pitch (recognised by his man of the match award), against a France side with Zidane, Viera, Desailly and Henry. In World Cup 2006, he played in every game, scoring a crucial penalty against Australia and had the most assists of any player in the competition. Yet, it is the ugly side of Totti’s character that is most remembered.
In 2002, he was sent off against South Korea in Italy’s 2nd round defeat, for a second yellow card awarded for diving in the box. At Euro 2004, he was rightly hammered for spitting in the face of Denmark midfielder Christian Poulsen. Despite these infractions, it is clear that when Totti plays well, Italy play well. In both tournaments, Italy bowed out without his presence. And whilst we have not seen him in an Italian shirt since 2006, coach Cesare Prandelli is considering asking him to end his retirement, due to his form at the moment.
It’s easy to be flippant towards Totti’s dedication to his club, especially in an age where ambition is usually matched with greed. A player of his ability could have moved to any club in the world (Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, amongst others, publically stated their desire to sign him), and he would surely have a much larger trophy haul had he done so. It’s difficult to explain, however, what Roma means to Totti and what Totti means to Roma. Whilst he only has one Scudetto to his name, this is only the third in Roma’s history (and was their first in 18 years). Totti was responsible for one of the greatest triumphs in his clubs history, and winning that title meant more to him than a dozen would at another club. His feelings were summed up succinctly in the dressing room after the match;
“It was my dream, I realised it,”
I admire his commitment, and watching his emotion at scoring on the day they sealed the title is a reminder of every schoolboys dream – scoring the winner to win the league with the team you love. Watching him play, it is almost impossible to picture him elsewhere.Totti is the beating heart of Roma.
It’s easy to underestimate Totti because he’s not force fed to us. We see Messi’s every move, every strike from Ronaldo, but Roma aren’t Champions League regulars, he’s (currently) retired from international duty with Italy, and Serie A does not hold the same lustre here it once did. But anyone who actually watches him on a regular basis, or even just pays attention to Italian football knows that he truly is one of the greats. Not moving from Roma does not take away from the genius he possesses.
What are your thoughts on Francesco Totti? Over or Under rated? Comment in the section below or on Twitter @90MinuteCynic.