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On Dealing With A Legend

After Luciano Spalletti's act of managerial harakiri in last weekend's post match presser, which was followed by a refutation of a fight between TGIP and talisman Francesco Totti by the club itself, this CDT writer is left with a familiar feeling.

Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

It's finally come to blows, well, reported ones at least. The latest twist in the saga that Totti's career has unfortunately turned into is disappointing, but not wholly unfamiliar to me. Like many members of the CDT community, I watch other sports and support those teams as well. Two of the other teams I happen to support, the Denver Broncos and the Los Angeles Lakers, have had to deal with retiring legends this year too, so the weekend news out of the Italian capital hasn't affected me one bit. It's like I've been watching the same movie all year, and I guess I've grown comfortable with the sickening state that accompanies witnessing a retiring legend. While the Broncos and Lakers achieved varying results using different treatments of their respective legends, as a fan, I felt the same. The same as I do now with Totti.

Some people believe bad things occur in threes, and it's beginning to look like that's what's going to happen based on how things are going between Totti and 'management'. As a fan who's seeing the same situation play out for the third time this year, I'm left wondering why a legend's retirement is almost always bittersweet. There are a couple of common factors in the situations of Totti, Kobe Bryant, and Peyton Manning that helps explain my, and probably many others, sickened feeling. How, as fans, do we reconcile our yearning for a legend to be properly treated, with our desire to see our team succeed? And in terms of the post-legend era, how do we fill the void left by a legend's retirement? How will the teams with retiring legends deal with the void left on the field, or court?

As a Broncos fan, it was difficult to set aside the desire to see the team succeed so that Manning could have a proper send off because they had a chance to accomplish something great. I wanted Manning to get the treatment he deserved, but not at the expense of a championship. Luckily for Broncos management, the team won the Superbowl after choosing to stick with Manning, yet they essentially won despite the legend's play. As Manning's not a career long Bronco, many fans aren't worried about how they'll fill the void of a legend that's not truly theirs, but rather how the team will fill the void left by Manning on the roster. So far, the only solution that creative problem solver John Elway has come up with is Mark Sanchez. To say Mr. Butt Fumble is underwhelming would be an understatement.

As a Lakers fan, it was much easier to set aside the desire to see the team succeed so that Kobe could have a proper send off because they didn't have a chance to accomplish anything. And in the NBA, teams are rewarded for being the worst, so I was all for the media-fueled Kobe retirement tour. The Black Mamba didn't disappoint in his last game, dropping an incredible 60 points, yet I was still left with a bittersweet feeling after the storybook ending. It's tough to miss a legend who, even though he's the reason many started playing basketball, bled your team dry financially in the twilight of his career and left the team with essentially nothing. And it was tough at times to watch him struggle during his last season. But Bryant isn't the only one culpable here; the management is as well for, among many other things, acquiescing to his every demand, which fed his ego.

There are similarities with the Totti situation in both the Bryant and Manning situations. Totti and Kobe are both one club men, carrying their teams for over twenty years, bringing throngs of new fans to each sport. Kids in Italy likely yell 'Totti!' when scoring an ambitious strike on the football pitch, just as kids in the U.S. yell 'Kobe!' when making a clutch shot on the basketball court. They both deserve a proper send off. But let's not forget the ego. Both Totti and Kobe have had their moments speaking their mind to the media on management, knowing the effect their words can have; although their brashness is part of their mystique, part of their legend. The similarity between the Totti and Manning situation lies less in the legends' personalities and status, but more in the teams they play for, specifically the fact that those teams have certain ambitions. Roma is having to deal with treating a legend who's potentially retiring in a respectful manner while also trying to succeed, just like the Broncos had to do with Manning.

Now finishing in third and qualifying for a Champions League playoff isn't exactly winning a Superbowl, but it would be considered a success looking at where Roma was earlier in the campaign. Based on the last few matches, Totti will finish out the season as a super sub, which personally I'm at peace with. He's tailor-made to come on at the half or at the 60th minute mark and change the match. And we won't have to see him struggle, like he would if he played the whole match. He can still have an impact on a successful team if he so chooses. As for the future, there's obviously no replacing Totti, as evidenced by the Bryant and Manning situations.

We have a right to criticize the treatment of Totti as fans, but in doing so we should also think about how difficult it must be to deal with a retiring legend, from both the player's and the management's perspective. Historical precedent suggests dealing with a retiring legend isn't easy. It's nearly impossible to give a legend the send off they deserve and succeed at the highest levels as a team, that shit only happens in Disney movies. We should just try to enjoy every second il capitano's on the pitch, because this sickening feeling isn't going away anytime soon. We should be grateful that Totti's playing meaningful minutes still and isn't struggling. In fact, he's been the difference maker in his new role in the past few matches. Perhaps if he can finish the season strong, he'll stick around next year, but maybe I'm being too hopeful...