One needn’t look any further than the Chiesa di Totti Twitter feed yesterday to see how divisive and controversial the “retirement” of Francesco Totti has become. We use those somewhat sarcastic quotation marks simply because Totti never actually uttered or used those words, a point not lost on two of his most ardent supporters and former coaches, Carlo Mazzone and Zdenek Zeman (apropos of nothing, the ‘Z’ key on my laptop is busted...lovely).
While Mazzone and Zeman don’t need much motivation to leap to Totti’s defense on any subject, the exact parsing of Totti’s announcement yesterday has given their criticisms of the club’s handling of Totti’s final season a little extra, shall we say, grinta.
In case you forgot, Totti was, depending on one’s view, either ambiguous or downright inflammatory when he said “this is the last time I can wear Roma’s jersey.” Not will or be able to but ‘can’, three little letters that have reignited a capitoline conspiracy theory in which Totti is being forced out of the club
Enter his former managers. First up Zeman:
He didn’t say he wanted to finish with football...Others have decided for him that he won’t play for Roma anymore. I hope Francesco decides to have fun and enjoy himself again.
I know him, and it will have been difficult for him to maintain balance and respect. I’m not surprised though, I know what Francesco has given Roma, carrying them on his shoulders. Totti has built-up so many Coaches over the years, they didn’t build him.
Quite honestly, this was a bit restrained for ZZ, I was expecting him to write a sonnet and belt it out from a belltower, but Mazzone...Mazzone pulled no punches, unleashing a tirade on his former club.
I know the lad and his family well and he’s been nothing but maltreated in recent months. I was shocked, bitter. Disgusted, yes, because what more could you do in a footballing lifetime than Totti has done?
Do you think this is a worthy treatment of him? He who has entertained us, won for us, and this is how we repay him?
Luciano Spalletti? I don’t even want to hear his name! I don’t like him, he rubs me up the wrong way.
Francesco deserved respect for his football, his seriousness and his honesty. He’s proven himself to be a unique, exemplary professional. And that’s why I’m so angry!
Francesco is the perfect embodiment of the joy of playing football, he’s shown endless respect for everyone, from the club to his teammate
Here Mazzone really speaks to the heart of the issue—are Totti’s unparalleled contributions to the club deserving of special treatment? Do his 25 years of service, of excellence, warrant a contract-for-life, as it were?
Mazzone continued, opining on the end of Totti’s career:
Francesco was an extraordinary player, and no-one could ever wear the shirt like he did. Becausee of the affection I feel for him and Roma, I think he’s done the right thing in being Giallorosso for life.
His departure? He should have been allowed to decide in complete serenity, without anyone deciding for him. I don’t know what he’ll do in the future, but I hope he’ll remain in football and get the respect he deserves.
Francesco is an admirable person, and he deserves all his dreams to be fulfilled. I’ll never forget him, for all the great joys we shared.
While we can probably attribute some of this rage towards his personal relationship, admiration for and simple nostalgia, Zeman and Mazzone’s views are far from unique. Shit, even the Lazio Ultras have sided with Totti in all this mess. Point being, Totti strikes a chord with people who love him; there is simply no ambivalence when it comes to Roma’s beloved number ten. He is Roma, full stop and you’ll never convince them otherwise.
However, there is a significant portion of the fanbase who can separate their emotions and remain rational, keeping the longview in mind and reminding themselves that, while Totti is and was a cut above the rest, he is not larger than the club, nor is preserving his legacy worth sacrificing the club’s short term health.
For an intimate look into this dichotomy, dig this tweet and some of its replies:
Totti playing 90 minutes Sunday is well worth losing second place, if it came down to it.— Chiesa di Totti (@chiesaditotti) May 25, 2017
I’ve found myself flip flopping in the grandest of John Kerry fashions throughout this whole ordeal. While I want nothing more than for Roma to be consistently successful and to mount a real challenge domestically and continentally, I simply cannot divorce that logic from the love, esteem and admiration I have for Francesco Totti.
In a strange way, I suppose this whole mess is fitting—Totti’s place within this game and within this club is, in so many ways, unprecedented—that his exit couldn’t and shouldn’t possibly follow any script.
Did Roma do him wrong? Absolutely, he can still play and deserved at least a chance to prove himself, and this whole thing smacks of disrespect and the pushing of an agenda, but Totti is not blameless. His hemming and hawing about his future only exacerbated this entire situation, a point typified by the vague language in his announcement yesterday. Had he clearly stated his intentions at the beginning of the season—yes, I want to play beyond this year—some sort of amicable arrangement could have been reached, but he didn’t, and here we are.
Totti and the club have each short shrifted each other, but in the end it’s the fans left holding the bag.