How do you know you have made an impact as a footballer? Your image on the front of the latest video game? Your own range of boots? A position or skill named after you? Not bad.
But how many football players are the subject of a tribute comic from Disney on their birthday? That’s special. And that’s exactly what happened to Francesco Totti.
The AS Roma captain is 40 on Tuesday and to celebrate, Italy’s popular Topolino (Mickey Mouse) magazine featured a character called Papertotti, a combination of a duck and the veteran attacker, on the cover.
Totti scored his 250th league goal for Roma on Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Torino, and still has a unique appeal. Known as ‘Er Pupone’, loosely translated as ‘the big kid’, he’s admired by great-grandfathers, grandfathers, dads and children.
That’s what happens when you make your debut in 1993 and still have a few tricks left in your repertoire in 2016.
The defeat to Torino on Sunday lunchtime was an unwelcome birthday present. But four days previously he’d been his team’s leading man. Again.
Last Wednesday the living legend made his first start for over a year in the league match at home to newly-promoted Crotone. Totti garnished the clash with classic touches, inventive flourishes and a trademark first-time pass to provide a goal for former Manchester City misfit Edin Dzeko.
Sure, their opponents from the south of Italy didn’t present a severe test, but the hosts’ skipper was magnificent. The notoriously tough Gazzetta Dello Sport gave the audacious elder statesman seven out of ten, saying
‘the pass to Dzeko was worthy of applause.’
It’s a remarkable renaissance. Midway through last season he was barely featuring. Questions marks over his future hung in the Roman air. There were rumours that disciplinarian coach Luciano Spalletti, back for a second spell in charge since January, felt he was a distraction and bad influence.
But the player forced his way back into contention with some stunning cameo performances in spring. Whether a little voice in Totti’s head urged him to battle for his career and legacy and work harder in training, or the penny dropped that he was nearing the end, we don’t know.
We do know that Totti is a protagonist once more. Against Sampdoria on September 11 he was also crucial. Coming on as a second half substitute, the ageing ace created the equaliser for Dzeko and scored the winner from the spot in the 92nd minute.
There are whispers of a new contract for 2017/18. Roma president James Pallotta said
‘Francesco is very important for the team and the city. I know what he means to this city.’
The man himself wrote a letter for website ‘The Players’ Tribune’ detailing his unconditional, unbreakable love for the Eternal City. He explained how his grandfather Gianluca was a Roma fan, and the passion was passed down the generations.
‘Roma was more than a football club, it was part of our blood, our family and our souls,’ said the Italian, adding
‘Rome is the sea, the mountains, the monuments. Rome to me, is the world. This club, this city, has been my life.’
Totti, at 40, still affects games. He still wins matches. He is the image of his city: the Eternal city. Bruno Conti thinks Totti should get a museum for his birthday. Simone Perrotta, his former teammates, believes
“more football, at least another year” would go down well. “A two-year contract would be better [than a present],”
Vincenzo Montella added,
“because he still entertains and makes people emotional.”
A lifetime achievement Ballon d’Or would certainly look nice on the mantlepiece. The most novel gift idea of all, however, came from Spalletti.
“I was thinking of the DeLorean from Back to the Future.”
That way Totti could go back and relive the highs or go forward and see what’s next.