“Could my future be away from Rome? I’m only thinking about the present. We’ll see.”
With that, Francesco Totti signalled the startling possibility that he may not finish his career in the city he has been the symbol of for over a decade.
Rumours of Totti’s discontent under the managership of Claudio Ranieri have circulated for the best part of the season but each was swatted away by the Roma captain, who had previously acknowledged that they both wanted what was best for Roma.
That is the core of the issue here. Roma is Francesco Totti’s club more so than Francesco Totti is Roma’s player. No player has been the symbol of their club and their city than Totti has been of AS Roma and the city of Rome. Totti is as much a landmark to the city of Rome as the Colosseum. “Il Capitano” has been the centrepoint of the Giallorossi since becoming the club’s captain in 1997 at the age of 20.
It now appears that the end is near for Totti. With Roma trailing against Sampdoria on Sunday, it appeared logical that Totti would be sprung from the bench in the hope of creating a typical moment of class to rescue a vital point in the Scudetto race. Ranieri delayed the introduction of his captain until stoppage time. It became immediately apparent that his coach’s decision humiliated Totti, who turned to the bench and asked – “Hey. Has the game just started?”
In press conferences Ranieri has praised Totti and remarked that his number 10 is the “core of my project”. This statement seems at least somewhat disingenuous. As the season has progressed, Totti has found himself increasingly likely to be named amongst the substitutes with Ranieri favouring a combination involving at least two of Jeremy Menez, Mirko Vucinic or Marco Borriello.
Totti’s frustrations with Ranieri brought about the “clear the air” talks at the club’s Trigoria training ground on Tuesday. Alongside Club President Rosella Sensi, Ranieri and Totti spoke about Roma’s plans and the immediate problems between the two. Totti is understood to be annoyed at the club’s decision not to sell Adriano, another striker on the fringes at Roma.
It appears that the meeting was not a success. After speaking with Ranieri and Sensi, Totti faced the press and told them that he was “sad when I set foot inside Trigoria, and that’s true.”
His “we’ll see” answer to questions about his future are unlike any answer he has ever given in the past. In his heyday, Totti had been sized up by his suitors from Europe’s premier clubs but was relentless in his allegiance to his city and club – “I’ll be here forever.” The club was more than happy to keep the city’s icon and offered him lucrative contracts and a future role in the club’s front office.
It may yet come to pass that Francesco Totti will settle his differences with Ranieri and retire at the club with whom he has achieved glories unlike any other earned by a Roman player. The reality for Totti is that he realises that Roma in it’s present form is not the same club with whom he won the Scudetto or five Italian Footballer of the Year Awards.
The Sensi family, the club’s owners for most of the past two decades, have always had the closest of relationships with their captain. Their time has reached a conclusion, with Rosella Sensi only temporarily assuming the role of General Manager until a new owner can be found.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Sensi voiced her hope that Totti would endure. ”I say to my captain that even if the Sensi family leaves Roma, he must think of the duty that together we undertook for our fans and our city.”
Even if the relationship between captain and coach is resolved, the situation has awakened fans to the fact that sooner or later Totti’s career is drawing to an end. With no potential owners identified, and the club’s financial position becoming increasingly unsettling, it is not clear what a new owner will make of Totti’s extraordinary contract.
It may yet prove to be the case that Totti’s last act as King of Rome is self-sacrifice. A sad thought for all lovers of the game.