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Er Pupone

Francesco Totti played his last game for Roma some weeks ago now, and despite the incredible occasion sparking emotion all over the world from friends and foes alike, I haven’t really reacted much online yet. I have been meaning to blog on it for a while, but a combination of life getting in the way and my own struggles to find the words have prevented that from happening until now. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it will be easier to look at this rationally, free of the emotion of the moment, now that a little time has passed.. Or maybe not. Let’s see…

Of course, Francesco Totti was, is and will continue to be an important figure in my life both as a Romanista and as someone who is proud to have Roman heritage.

Last year I had the honour of doing an interview for the official Roma website about being a Romanista in New Zealand. One of the questions was “what does Totti mean to you?”

It’s a big question. And a difficult one to answer. At the time I said:

“One of the special connections I feel to Totti is he is roughly the same age as me. The older we both get the more I enjoy being able to say, “yes, I may be starting to get a bit older and lose my hair, but look over there – the captain of Roma is my age!” Unfortunately that won’t last forever, but he will always be the best player I have ever seen play.

I read the recent Four Four Two article on him about a week ago – it made much of how a lot of people in the English speaking world don’t really ‘get’ Totti. I feel sorry for those people because they don’t know what they are missing. When you learn to appreciate his deft touches, his subtle little flicks, the way he sees an opportunity nobody else sees and sets it up to perfection, you can’t unsee these things.

He’s a legend and that’s all there is to it really. The best player Italy has ever produced, I believe. And when a player that good plays for your team his whole career, it’s a huge source of pride.”

Now that the moment of truth, that saw him move so much of the footballing world to tears, has come and gone, the realisation of the enormity of what he achieved, and the esteem in which he is held, really makes the above words seem a bit pathetic in hindsight.

I have no intention of taking another crack at it here though. Paying tribute to Totti in a way that does the man justice is quite simply an exercise in futility. Instead, I only want to amend one thing I said in that interview: He’s not a legend at all. He’s a god.

And what his farewell showed all of us was just how much glory there is in loyalty. For all their bling and trophies, nobody who has passed through Real Madrid or Barcelona or Bayern Munich or Juventus will ever know a farewell like that. Success has been redefined as not just about golden trinkets. Totti has taught us that there is another form of success that lasts much longer and means much more. It’s called love. Totti was loved like no other footballer on this planet – more than Ronaldo and Messi will ever know or understand.

But that doesn’t mean he’s infallible. He’s flawed just like everyone else, and in many ways his flaws were there for all to see after that Genoa game. As someone who is appropriately nicknamed “Er Pupone” (the big baby), it was really hard for those who know him well to see him obviously finding it incredibly hard to come to terms with the fact that it’s time to grow up – nobody gets to play football forever, not even the King of the Eternal City.

Almost certainly the best photo of Totti I’ll ever take sadly – MGG, 2015

I can’t begin to fathom what it must be like, being as famous as he has been from a young age – marked out for greatness since well before he hit puberty, he didn’t really have a normal coming of age and he’s never had much of a life outside of football. I worry about how prepared he is for the real world.

And that’s one of the real reasons it has taken me this long to write something about Totti’s retirement. Because as many of my friends were sharing YouTube clips of his farewell, almost treating it like a circus act, my primary emotion was not the sadness of knowing that I will never see him play in giallorosso again. It was sadness for him, and a small dollop of anxiousness for his wellbeing.

I understand that he’s not the first and he won’t be the last famous sportsperson to struggle with ‘what’s next’ and that’s an aspect of the game we don’t talk about enough. European Footballers get showered with riches when they are playing, but then the game can also spit them out on the street with no life skills at the end of their careers. Roma has shown they understand that by offering, and strongly encouraging Totti to take up, a term as a club director to help him with the transition.

I really hope that he accepts the offer, rather than trying to prolong his playing days somewhere else, but reports suggest that’s a touch and go decision at best.

One rumour doing the rounds is that there’s at least one club trying to bring him to the A-League! I won’t bother pretending that there’s not a sliver of a selfish side of me that would love to see that happen, so I can watch him play one more time.

But actually, no, I would prefer to remember him as the player I had the enormous privilege of seeing at his best both in the flesh and on TV, rather than as a 41 year old knocking around the Cake Tin while idiots who don’t deserve to breathe the same oxygen as him chant “who are ya? Who are ya? Who are ya?” I think I’d pass on that. I hope he does too.

Tu sei nata grande,
e grande hai da restà…

Rome, 2009

Categories: Roma/Italian Calcio

Tagged as:

Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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