Football is changing. A shift from mind to body. Slowly, the quality of a footballer has transitioned from vision and style to pace and physicality. True, the game has always needed athletic specimens, but the modern player relies on his athleticism more than his cognizance. What would footballers like Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Mohammed Salah be without their speed and strength? While leagues differ in tactics, ranging from defense-minded Calcio to Barclay’s run and gun, the momentum of the game has accelerated. This acceleration has been the impetus of the modern footballer who has been adapting for the last decade. And those who do not adapt become endangered. And those who become endangered can become extinct.
In Italy it is known as the trequarista, in Argentina it is the enganche, Brazil, the meia atacante. The playmaker, perhaps the most fascinating position in the sport, requires a special type of athlete, one who uses his creative vision to be the provider. Historically, the number 10 jersey has been synonymous with the position, donned by greats such as Diego Maradona, Zico, and Zinedine Zidane, to name a few. Today, the number 10 retains its symbolism, with Lionel Messi being the exemplar; however, the archetypal playmakers are disappearing as a new era of football dawns. Back in December, our very own Thomas More dropped a premonition in his article, “The Culture of Calcio,” stating that “the days of the dominate trequartista [were] more than likely long gone.” And right he was. Except for one thing: the last of the old guard, the last number 10, Francesco Totti, the eternal captain, had yet to hang his boots.
Despite all the drama conjured by journalists and fans, Totti’s imminent retirement means so much more than an icon’s farewell. When Il Gladiatore finishes his illustrious career, the game loses some of its old magic. The flicks, the back heels, the slicing, one-touch passes—all the tricks we’ve come to love—will become the old way, how the game used to be, a classical football. Now, perhaps it isn’t dramatic as all that. Creativity will always be a part of the sport, but when Totti goes, the paradigm shift in how the game is played will become even more apparent.
History repeats itself. Heroes inspire eternally. Totti will not be forgotten. Yet, how long will we wait for the next Totti to come? And I don’t mean literally, for we all know of a certain son destined to fill his father’s shoes, but where is the player with the gift to read the game like Totti can? Sure, there are many footballers today with exceptional skill, but I honestly can’t name one with the same kind of magic as Francesco. Maybe, waiting or searching is wrong. Impossible. Maybe the only thing we can do is celebrate the man with Rome in his veins, the player with the uncanny foresight, Merlin with a football, and maybe his legacy will be enough to remind us why we love the game. Or maybe, he will fool the world and bless us all with one more year...
If, and this is a colossal if, Totti decides to continue the sport, how are we supposed to feel? Bittersweet. On one hand, the magic is prolonged, on the other hand, we are given a last chapter that doesn’t quite belong. I, like many, couldn’t imagine the man in a different jersey, but my own greediness leads me to believe he still has the quality to play. Miami FC? Why not. Ego, you say? At this point it seems the man just wants to play the sport he loves. Hell, he could join my Sunday league, besting all of us twenty-somethings. But is the King of Rome willing to become a peasant? Sure, it isn’t the storybook ending, but neither is being pushed into a corner. Silence. That’s all he’s giving. His beeline to the locker room after the Juventus match didn’t help either. There are some profound decisions going on through his head, but one thing is certain: May 28th us wolves will howl.