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Totti and the Art of the Backheel

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Revisiting Totti’s signature move.

Liverpool v Roma X
Bring it back!

When I look back and try to pinpoint what first mesmerized me about Francesco Totti, I find that it is the small things. A flick here, a one-touch pass there, a deftly sent through-ball. But of all his magic tricks, the back-heel pass remains supreme.

While it is difficult to say when back-heels became common place in football, many would contend that the technique was invented by Alfredo di Stefano in the 1950s. Nicknamed the Blond Arrow, the Argentinean forward dazzled for Real Madrid, impressing fans with his creativity and vision. Since then there have been many players who have utilized this simple, yet tactical maneuver. Johan Cryuff, Theirry Henry, and Alessandro Del Piero come to mind. But among all the creative playmakers, the artsy back-heelers, no one compares to Francesco Totti.

As much as I despise the Premier League and everyone in it, I find this quote by Arsene Wenger aptly put:

I don't feel that it's difficult to do a back-heel: what's difficult is to analyse the right thing to do at the right moment.

He’s right. My seven-year old nephew can use his back heel to pass around the playground, but that doesn’t mean he has mastered it. Totti’s vision has prolonged his career, and his ability to anticipate the play before anyone else is what makes him so special. Specifically, and throughout the years, his back-heel passes have caught defenders off guard time and time again. It’s astonishing, really. As spectators we can see it coming, how we traps the ball and raises the heel, but how he is able to precisely put the ball on the path of his teammate’s run is truly remarkable.

As we continue to celebrate what may be Totti’s last year as a player, let’s take a trip down memory lane. While there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of back-heels by Er Purpone, these are my favorites of recent memory.

#1: Roma V. Parma 2013

Watching this in real time was a real treat. Notice how he turns his body before the pass is even made as if he conceived the play on the run. This is a 360 back-heel pass from a 36 year-old, mind you. It’s a downright shame that Perrotta slips and misses the chance at the end.

#2: Roma V. Lecce 2009

Oh, man! Talk about a through-ball. Again, Totti totally fools the defense with his movement. It appears he is going to cut in and shoot (just think of how many times El Shaarway has done that) but no, he delivers a slicing back-heel through-ball straight into the path of Tonetto. If only Tonetto finished this chance!

#3: Roma V. Chievo 2014

Yes, that is Destro pulling off a miraculous, lunging back-heel flick, but watch Totti try to outclass him with a two-touch, back-heel pass of his own. In fact, the buildup play and counter-attack here is just fascinating to watch.

#4: Roma V. Astra Giurgiu, 2016

I’ve included this video to prove a point. At 40 years old, Totti should still be getting minutes. And I don’t mean five useless minutes at the end of a game. He is still capable of changing matches with his passing. Look how easy he makes this look! With the speed Roma has on its wings, there is no reason Totti can’t be given longer cameos. In any case, this is epitomizes all that is Totti-esque. He barely touches the ball as it glides off his heel onto the run of Salah.

#5 Roma V. Inter, 2012

Haha, was that Piris in the beginning? Anyways, this was just great in so many ways. Firstly, watch as Totti easily shields the ball from 6’5 Andrea Ranocchia. I mean, Ranocchia is no world beater by any means, but this shows how strong Totti is at holding the ball. Also, you gotta love watching baby Florenzi scuff that chance. Later in video, there is also a gem of a no-look pass. Legendary.

The list goes on, but I’ll leave it here with these five precious moments. I am going to miss this so much. Watching football today, I sometimes feel cheated that it’s all run and gun. There truly fewer and fewer players in the sport capable of these touches. And when Totti retires, we all lose some magic.