When you think of Roma you won’t go far along your stream of consciousness before you think of Francesco Totti. The man who has been the captain of the club from the capital for the best part of 16 years eats, sleeps and breathes the red and yellow of Roma. Totti, despite his inspirational past as Roma’s talisman, is now finding it difficult to come to terms with life outside the spotlight at Trigoria. Francesco has seen himself thrust back into the public eye recently amid wild speculation over his future at the club he holds so dear.
It has been a difficult season for Roma, they were touted as title contenders in August but they have had to scrape their way up the table tooth and nail since a spectacularly poor start. No one will have found the past few months tougher than Francesco Totti, nicknamed ‘Er Pupone‘ or big baby, who has found himself leaving the core of a team that once depended on the Roman. Totti has never been one to shy away from the limelight, both on and off the pitch, but we could be seeing the beginning of the end for this blazing star.
Thrust into the first team at the tender age of 16, he excelled scoring his first goal way back in 1994 and was soon made captain while playing under Zdenek Zeman. Eventually in the 2000/01 season he captained Roma to their third title, playing as a trequartista behind an emphatic strike force composed of Batistuta and Montella. Totti went on to relish his role as a nominal striker in Luciano Spaletti’s 4-6-0 system, in a team that still draws many plaudits today. The limelight matured into an immense glare from here on in, we saw a boy acting out his childhood dreams for real. The fan had escalated through the ranks of the club and becoming a hero, knowing that he would one day hear his name mentioned alongside Bruno Conti and Giuseppe Giannini.
This dazzling limelight wasn’t restricted to events on the pitch though, Francesco showed the world how much he loved the attention (and the money) by appearing in numerous TV adverts – including an oddity where he is supposedly sending a jovial matey text message to Emile Heskey, and this terrible Pepsi advert in 2004. The celebrity status reached new heights in 2005 when he married ex-showgirl Ilary Blasi live on national television.
Not everyone enjoyed Totti’s fame or his attitude, and a number of jokes were published on message boards and told throughout Rome where he was the butt of the joke. But Totti was even able to channel this negative energy into further stardom when he published a book of these self-effacing jokes and even had a few of them acted out in a sketch show, the money raised went towards an animal shelter.
Managing such a personality is never going to be easy for any coach, Claudio Ranieri has certainly had his fair share of problems this season. Its been a tough season for Roma, and Totti has seen his playing time cut short by a rotation policy now in operation under Ranieri as well as the emergence of Jeremy Menez and new loan signing Marco Borriello. Anger over the rotation policy came to a head against Sampdoria a few weeks ago when Ranieri waited until the 91st minute to try and bring Totti into the game Roma were losing. Arguments and outbursts followed from the player and fans, regarding the incident as an act of disrespect designed to castrate Totti’s huge ego.Ranieri has already had a few altercations with Totti this season when in a 3-1 loss at home to Basel the player openly condemned his manager’s tactics in a post-match interview calling them ‘Catenaccio‘.
The two have since kissed and made up but in the past Il Capitano has had arguments with managers and team mates and, unlike his opponents, he has come away largely unscathed. The club showed great faith in their talisman by giving him a huge 10 year contract, comprising 5 years as a player (expiring in 2014) and 5 years in a position behind the scenes. Acts such as these from the Roma management further massage an already bloated ego.
Following the short appearance against Sampdoria, there were even scandalous rumours that Totti would look to leave the club in search of first team football, a completely unimaginable situation. It will be difficult for a man who has spent so long basking in the limelight to accept this bit part role, but after Ranieri chose to start him against Cagliari he may have once again gained the upper hand.
A few years ago it was impossible to drop Totti because of his outstanding form and superb contributions, despite any egotistical outbursts. Even when he was replaced he was ready to accept his fate for the good of the team, the most recent high profile example was in the derby last April where he was substituted at half time. But it is now becoming obvious that Totti no longer has what it takes to play every minute of every game, and there is a strong argument to suggest that he simply isn’t better than the three other forwards currently favoured by Ranieri.
If he really wants to do the best thing for the team though, it is time that this big baby grew up a little.