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Francesco Totti’s Hot Start Hints at Extended Future

Francesco Totti’s hot start to the 2016-2017 season has led some to speculate that this isn’t the end of Er Pupone.

AS Roma v FC Crotone - Serie A Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

Forecasting Francesco Totti’s final season in a Roma shirt was always bound to be a frustrating task. All parties involved, including Totti himself, readily admit that he’s no longer a 90 minute player week-in-week-out, but as last spring showed, Totti, when deployed as a second half sub, is perhaps the game’s most dangerous and influential weapon. In a sense he’s like a sixth man in the NBA, the guy who comes off the bench with one job and one job only, light shit up, or like an elite MLB closer, the guy who, when he toes the mound, signals the death knell for the opposition.

The only wrinkle to this grand plan was Luciano Spalletti’s substitution patterns. With a solid quartet of Edin Dzeko, Stephan El Shaarawy, Mohamed Salah and Diego Perotti at his disposal--and with a reliance on the 4-3-3--there wasn’t an immediate role for Totti. So, at least through the first month or so it seemed like we were destined for a repeat of last season’s In Case of Emergency, Break Glass for Totti approach.

That was until Totti went wire to wire against Crotone midweek, marking his first full 90 minute performance since May of 2015, and what a performance it was. Outside of yet another sublime assist, Totti ripped off four shots, chipped in three key passes and completed four successful crosses. It was in so many ways a vintage Totti performance; goals or not, his touch on the ball, his vision and the ability to make a play is what always set Totti apart.

While this 90 minutes of mastery has become a bit of an anomaly for late-age Totti, it was the latest in a string of sublime performances from Totti, who now has one goal and two assists in all of 147 minutes of action this season, to go along with his four goals in six matches down the stretch last season.

But back to this year for a minute. In those three matches and 147 minutes, Totti’s 1.22 assists per 90 minutes is second in the league, while his 4.26 assists per 90 minutes actually leads the league. And all this comes when he’s averaging only 37 passes per match (or some 50 per 90). Oh, and did we mention that he’ll be 40 in, like, four days?

And if we trace his goal scoring per 90 minutes back to when his last minute heroics began last spring, Totti is averaging an astounding 1.46 goals per 90 minutes over his past nine league appearances. Athletes aren’t supposed to be able to be this good for this long, and seldom are they willing to accept a smaller, albeit still critical role, with the grace Totti has, bar that one interview last winter.

Honestly, I’m not even certain what the point of this article is other than to bask in his continued amazement, but perhaps no one summed it up better than Totti’s most recently vanquished opponent, Crotone manager Davida Nicola:

Totti lives one minute ahead of everybody else," Nicola said in his postmatch news conference.

If only I could put my own players' clocks forward a minute ... his intuition is phenomenal. To be decisive still at 40 means he has an engine but also the ability to give people so many emotions, and a passion which goes beyond all barriers.

Totti’s continued influence on the game--which, as we just pointed out, remains at an elite level—and his ability to make an immediate impact on the match regardless of the game state has led some to speculate that his career may extend beyond this season.

I won’t go so far as to say that Totti could bag another 25 goals to catch Silvio Piola atop Serie A’s goal scoring ladder, but another 12 to 18 months as a supersub certainly seems plausible at this point, doesn’t it?

While age has worn down his agility and athleticism, it has done very little to blunt his intuition and his intellect, both of which could and would remain useful to Roma beyond June 30, 2017.