Rome has borne witness to the treacherous knife of Caesar’s beloved Brutus, the vengeful sword of Russell Crowe’s Maximus Decimus Meridius. But few weapons have done more damage than the feet of Francesco Totti.
For 25 years – a career spanning some 600 games and 250 goals – L’Ottavo Re di Roma (The Eighth King of Rome) ruled the ancient city, repelling visitors with each nonchalant, triumphant swing of his Nike Tiempo’s.
Here are four occasions when Totti was at his brilliant best.
It’s been a bad day for Luca Marchegiani. The Lazio keeper, and highly-respected Italian international, has seen his ego ground deep into the dirt over the course of 90 minutes against their arch-rivals and reigning Serie A champions. With the clock ticking down, the veteran shot-stopper stumbles weakly off his line, like a shell-shocked survivor of a nuclear catastrophe taking his first cautious views of the sun. As he squints into the floodlights of the Olimpico, he sees the familiar shadow of impending doom: Roma’s number 10 has the ball at his feet.
Lazio’s defence – a term that could possibly be challenged in a court of law after this performance – stands in his way. The back four show the collective courage of a snail crossing the track on race day at Silverstone, leaving Totti to weigh up his options.
Il Capitano could opt for a pass to either flank, or a through ball to Vincenzo Montella. Instead, he reaches into his bag and pulls out his best pitching wedge, lofting the ball gently on the breeze. As it sails over his head and into the net, you can sense the surrender in Marchegiani’s soul.
All hope is lost.
When Inter’s Ze Maria loses the ball on the flank midway in Roma’s half, there seemed no immediate danger. Yes, the ball had fallen to Francesco Totti, but there was still the small matter of some 60+ yards, and the Inter rearguard between Roma’s talisman and Francesco Toldo’s goal.
And this was an Inter defence that was notoriously too, Roberto Mancini’s men having notched 12 without reply in their four home fixtures so far this season. At least until Totti’s Roma came to town.
Er Bimbo de Oro (The Golden Boy) drifts past the destructive intentions of both Esteban Cambiasso and the onrushing Ze Maria, before darting inside Marco Materazzi at full speed. As his momentum reaches a crescendo, you expect him to unleash a venomous shot in Toldo’s direction. Instead, he pauses a split second before spooning the ball over the Inter keeper and curling into the far corner.
The Italian football press call it a “Cucchiaio”. I call it filthier than a binman’s shoelace.
So much of Totti’s genius was his master of disguise. Even in a world as frenzied and frenetic as football, he was capable of acts of incredulous drama – which sounds like the mission statement for Coleen Rooney’s Instagram.
Totti has already scored one sublime set piece, curled beautifully into the top corner, to put Roma ahead in the second leg of the Coppa Italia Final. Incredibly, minutes later, he eclipses that initial effort. Only this time he opts for power rather than precision.
The most remarkable aspect of this goal is the run-up, a blatant and almost disrespectful statement of intent. Totti starts such a distance away from his intended destination that you wonder if, like most journeys around Milan, he wouldn’t be better hopping on the tram. It’s clear what’s on his mind. There’ll be none of his trademark chips or dinks. Not today. Not for this goalkeeper. Strap yourself in, son. Old Frankie Boy’s giving this one the treatment.
And when he does, it’s a monstrously powerful hit. It’s only on the replay that you can fully appreciate this goal in all its glory. The ball is struck with the sort of guttural violence and swerve that makes you wonder if it’s been sponsored by Tony Yeboah.
For some reason the Sampdoria right-back has left Totti unmarked on the left-side of the penalty area. You can sort of understand his reasoning. If Roma do opt to put it in the mixer, then the odds favour the defender. Totti has a similar relationship with heading a ball as Die Hard’s John McClane has with peaceful terrorist negotiations.
However, it proves to be a costly error. Marco Cassetti’s ball is inch-perfect to arrive not at Totti’s head, but at his less-feted weaker foot, whose primary purpose in life has been to admire the majesty of his opposite number. Only on this occasion, much like Tony Blair’s New Labour, it’s time for the left to take centre stage.
Defying convention, Totti doesn’t even have the common decency to take a first touch. Instead, he steadies himself and lashes the ball beautifully on the volley. From a near-impossible angle, it arcs into the opposite corner with the sort of physics-defying curve nor
The crestfallen Sampdoria tifosi stand and applaud the genius they’ve witnessed before their eyes.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do.
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