As Roma fans, we’re secure in the knowledge that Francesco Totti is one of the all-time greats. From the subtle switches of play, to the thundering free kicks, to the insane volleys, to his ability to pick out a pass no other mortal could have attempted, much less seen, Totti’s legacy is safe in the eyes of those who adored him, but what about his detractors, the ones who seek some sort of sick vindication by picking apart the minutiae of his career, what is the sharpest arrow in their quiver of hatred?
Simple, his lack of trophies.
Never mind the fact that, apart from a Champions League title, Totti has done and achieved virtually everything one man can in this sport. Check this list of accomplishments, both individual and team:
- Serie A (1)
- Coppa Italia (2)
- Supercoppa Italiana (2)
- UEFA U-21 Championship
- FIFA World Cup
- Serie A Young Footballer of the Year (1999)
- Guerin d'Oro (2): 1998, 2004
- UEFA Euro 2000 Final: Man of the Match
- UEFA Euro 2000: Team of the Tournament
- Serie A Footballer of the Year (2): 2000, 2003
- Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year (5): 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007
- ESM Team of the Year (3): 2000–01, 2003–04, 2006–07
- FIFA 100
- Serie A Goal of the Year (2): 2005, 2006
- 2006 FIFA World Cup All-Star Team
- 2006 FIFA World Cup: Assist Leader
- Serie A Assist Leader (3)
- Serie A Top Scorer: 2006–07
- European Golden Shoe: 2006–07
- Pallone d'Argento: 2007–08
- Golden Foot: 2010
- Premio Nazionale Carriera Esemplare "Gaetano Scirea": 2014
- Premio internazionale Giacinto Facchetti: 2014
In addition to these nominal titles/awards, Totti is one of only four players with over 600 Serie A appearances, and is the only attacking player among that quartet. Totti is the oldest attacking outfield player to ever appear in Serie A. Totti has converted the most penalties in league history. Totti’s 21 free kick goals rank third all time in Serie A, while his 250 Serie A goals rank second to only Silvio Piola.
That’s quite a long list, and while some are more significant than others, Totti’s resume is replete with individual and club honors, so his legacy is quite secure, but the notion that Totti wasn’t a true winner, due largely to his lack of trophies, still persists.
While we can and will vehemently disagree with the assertion that his lack of Scudetti somehow diminishes his standing among the game’s greats, we can’t argue with facts; he’s only won the league once. And although it was a glorious celebration, why haven’t there been more celebrations in the circus maximus? In other words, what has prevented Totti from winning more titles?
In order to truly assess this question, we’ll focus on three factors: 1) organizational instability, 2) his lack of world class teammates, and 3) his unyielding loyalty to Roma.
Got it? Okay, here we go, three reasons why Francesco Totti didn’t win more during his illustrious career.
Point One: Organizational Instability
The word stable and Roma seldom appear in the same sentence, at least in any positive light, and during Totti’s quarter century with AS Roma, he’s seen more than his fair share of upheaval. Take this for example, since making his debut in the spring of 1993, Totti has played under seven club chairmen, and, get this, 17 DIFFERENT MANAGERS....17!!!
Furthermore, during his 25 years with Roma only six of those seventeen managers has lasted more than once season. Six men in 25 years have lasted more than 12 months on Roma’s sidelines. That isn’t just unstable, it’s fucking pathetic. All told, Totti has endured 19 different managerial changes in his career, soon to be 20 if he outlasts Luciano Spalletti. If Roma isn’t the very picture of instability, then I don’t know what is.
And as if that lack of cohesion weren’t enough, one can make an argument that none of those seven chairmen were fit and/or capable of stewarding Roma to the top. While the Sensis, first Franco and later Rosella, were well-loved, they were so strapped with debt that they outfitted Totti with such luminaries as Matteo Brighi and Cicinho, but we’ll have more on that in our next section. Point being, from Giuseppe Ciarrapico in the early 1990s to James Pallotta today, Totti has seldom, if ever, played for a competent and/or present club chairmen. Without solid and shrewd leadership at the top, how much can reasonably be expected on the pitch?
Speaking of which, let’s talk about those 19 different managerial changes and it’s impact on Totti. Besides the simple challenge of dealing with a different boss every 1.315 years, Totti’s role, and the subsequent effects on the club’s position in the table, was constantly in flux. From a second striker during the pre-internet days, to a shift to the left wing and later a traditional number ten under Zeman in the late 90s, to his days as an attacking midfielder under Fabio Capello, to a shift back to a second striker once Gabriel Batistuta and later Antonio Cassano arrived, to his role in Luciano Spalletti’s paradigm shifting false-nine formation in the mid 00s, then back to the left wing under Zeman 2.0 and Rudi Garcia, and finally as a role player/last minute savior during the past 18 months, Totti has never had a consistent role, constantly being bent and twisted to fit the tactical whims of this cavalcade of managers, much of which was attributable to the lack of direction from the very top. With a lack of organizational direction and financial wherewithal, Roma was simply unable to surround Totti with an appropriate supporting cast, putting more onus on Totti do to everything all at once.
We’ll touch more upon this in our last point, but the fact that Totti was ready, willing and able to endure all the tactical shifts, the changes in board leadership, and managerial philosophies without nary a word of complaint speaks volumes about his character and his love, his true love, of this club and this city. The badge and colors were the only stability Totti needed.
Point Two: A Lack of World Class Teammates
Before we delve into this point, let’s quickly discuss what we mean by world class, a necessarily and admittedly subjective term. For the sake of this argument, world class simply means that a player was considered among the top five at his position at any given point during his time with Totti. Not a perfect or even quantifiable measure, but it’ll have to do.
With that said, by my count Totti has played with seven truly world class players during his 25 seasons with Roma. That...that is not good, and not a formula with which you win many championships, but let’s take a quick look at those magnificent seven, shall we?
Luigi Di Biagio: Totti Teammate, 1995-1999
This one was a bit before my time, and, quite frankly, well before Totti cemented himself as a Roma icon, but Di Biagio was, at his peak, one of the best midfielders in the game. During his five year run at Roma, Di Biagio scored 16 goals in 114 appearances for the Giallorossi, while providing the club with some much needed defensive grinta in the midfield; he was a pre Y2K De Rossi.
Cafu: Totti Teammate, 1997-2003
Inducted into the club Hall of Fame in 2012, Cafu is undoubtedly one of the best full-backs to ever play the game. Cafu made 163 appearances during his six years with Roma, teaming up with Totti to deliver the 2001 Scudetto, as well as the club’s second place finish the following year. While he would win more titles with AC Milan, Cafu’s best days were arguably alongside Totti.
Walter Samuel: Totti Teammate, 2000-2004
Another one of Totti’s Scudetto compadres, Samuel was one of the more expensive transfers in club history, moving to Roma from Boca Juniors for about 40 billion lire (what an odd currency that was) or roughly €20 million. Samuel’s strength, speed, aggression and timing immediately made him one of the game’s best central defenders, a point not lost on Real Madrid, who snapped him up for approximately €25 million during the summer of 2004. Yup, Roma’s shrewd leadership only managed to wring a €5 million profit off a then 26-year-old world class defender. While Samuel flopped at Madrid, he made quite a name for himself with Inter, taunting Roma fans with his impressive play.
Emerson: Totti Teammate, 2000 to 2004
You can pretty much take everything we wrote about Samuel and copy and paste it here, though Roma were kind enough to sell him to Juventus, wasn’t that sweet of them? Emerson was another link in the chain of excellent defensive midfielders Roma has deployed over the past 20 years, ranging from Di Biagio down to Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman.
Antonio Cassano: Totti Teammate, 2001-2006
You don’t need me to rehash this one. On talent alone, Cassano may have been the best player to ever lace ‘em up alongside Totti, and, for reasons known only to the man himself, he pissed it all away. But hey, he regrets it now. Yay.
Daniele De Rossi: Totti Teammate, 2001 to Present
While DDR hasn’t been a world class player for the entirety of his 17 season career, for a good stretch of it he was arguably the best box-to-box midfielder on the planet, an honor he went toe to toe with Michael Essien for several seasons. De Rossi’s grit and tenacity was the perfect complement to Totti’s grace and genius on the pitch. Unfortunately for DDR he arrived a year too late to share in Totti’s Scudetto celebration, but he’s been almost as excellent and just as Roman as Totti for the past 17 seasons.
Radja Nainggolan: Totti Teammate, 2014 to Present
Whether he retires this year or next, Totti’s final, truly excellent teammate is the tattooed Belgian. Signed initially as a short term fill-in for Kevin Strootman, Nainggolan has steadily and progressively established himself as one of the five best midfielders in the game. Blessed with strength, speed and an ever increasing offensive repertoire, Nainggolan was perhaps Totti’s most uniquely gifted teammate ever, defying labels with his assortment of excellent skills.
While Totti has had many other talented teammates—Batistuta, Aldair, Christian Panucci and Luca Toni towards the end of their careers, the over achievements of Mirko Vucinic and Max Tonetto, and the good but not great runs from Juan, Philippe Mexes and Simone Perrotta—those seven men discussed above are the only allies Totti has ever had that could be considered truly world class, and De Rossi is probably the only one to maintain that level of play for several seasons alongside Totti.
With so little beside him, it’s no wonder Totti’s teams couldn’t break the Inter/Milan/Juve hegemony of the past quarter century more than once. The fact that Totti managed to finish second eight times is a miracle in and of itself, and had they caught a few more breaks along the way (2000-2001, 2005-2006, 2007-2008, 2009-2010), or not run up against an historically great Juventus team (2013-2014, 2014-2015, 2016-2017), Totti could have easily hoisted the Serie A trophy three or four more times.
C’est la vie, but this point underscores how few favors Totti was granted by the Roma leadership.
Point Three: His Loyalty
If the previous 1,700 words or so didn’t prove it, Totti had ample reason to leave the only club he’s ever known several times over the past 25 seasons. Had he given into temptation and joined Madrid during the early 2000s, Totti could have conquered Europe alongside Luis Figo, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, Michael Owen, Roberto Carlos, a young Sergio Ramos, a post calciopoli Fabio Cannavaro and even Cassano again. Point being, in one season alone, Totti would have shared the pitch with more world class teammates at Real Madrid than he’s enjoyed in 25 seasons with Roma.
But he didn’t, and that’s precisely what makes him so unique and so loved. To Roma fans, and more importantly to actual Romans, Totti is the club, Totti is the city, Totti is Italian football, Totti is them.
People ask me, why spend your whole life in Rome?
Rome is my family, my friends, the people that I love. Rome is the sea, the mountains, the monuments. Rome, of course, is the Romans.
Rome is the yellow and red.
Rome, to me, is the world.
This club, this city, has been my life.
If you don’t understand why the bond between this man and his city matters, then you don’t understand Totti, and you damn sure don’t understand AS Roma.
Trophies tarnish, but Totti’s love for Roma, much like the city itself, is eternal. And there are no awards, trophies or banners that can do that justice.