We will all remember Francesco Totti for his magnificent passes, outstanding football IQ, stunning tricks, out of this world vision, gracious touch and true leadership. Most of these attributes are typical for the position Francesco has played on the pitch since making his debut in 1993, attacking midfielder, later moulded into shadow striker.
The very definition of a playmaker (the famous trequartista role), who turned into an even better 'false nine' in Spalletti's 4-2-3-1. A striker, but not really a striker, yet playing in the role of a striker. Totti scored an astonishing 26 goals in Serie A 2006-2007 and won the European Golden Boot. After 2007, and on the other side of 30, Totti regularly scored 13+ goals a season, until 2011 when he was nearing the age of 35. He simply enjoyed that position, and with guys like Mancini, Perrotta, Taddei and Pizarro behind him, he had all the freedom to explore and roam around the pitch.
But the question that follows now, is massive: What if Totti was a defender? What if he never played further up the pitch but always in defence? What if he only scored a handful of goals for Roma instead of 250?
Then we would have to look for a replacement for all those goals, penalties and assists, but who was as genious as Totti during all these years? Cassano perhaps. Mancini, Vucinic, Lamela and even Ljajic all had their moments of brilliance in a Roma shirt. But damn, doing that for more than 20 years at the same club? Unthinkable.
In the 90s, and before 2005, we had guys like Montella, Batistuta, Delvecchio and Balbo. Players that could decide a game on multiple occasions. After that we had raw talents up front like Bojan, Destro, Iturbe, Lamela and Menez but very little efficiency. Totti always had to save the day. In fact, for most of the time, the club has been depending on Totti too much. Even last year (for example against Torino), they had to depend on a 39-year-old Pupone to drag them through the mud. What a disgrace for those who were 15 or even 20 years younger than him.
So yeah, talking about a replacement isn't even funny. You can't replace someone like that, you just hope that all the others give 200% each game and a bit of luck goes your way.
As a defender, I presume Totti's impact in games would be less, though a Beckenbauer, Gentile, Scirea or Baresi kinda type is a guarantee for prizes as well. A smart defender with a scintillating pass, the previously mentioned vision and the ability to dictate play from the back is something that Roma has been missing for a long time.
Yes, there were great ones like Samuel, Panucci, Aldair, Juan, Marquinhos and good ones like Mexes, Burdisso, Benatia and Zebina. But a type like Totti in defence, well, that would change a lot of things. Recently, Roma's CB department has been a revolving door. Every CB that has a more or less decent season is sold or linked to bigger or richer clubs. Enter Totti. Roma would have a CB that has survived in Serie A for ages, like Maldini, Nesta, Chiellini, Barzagli or Costacurta. A player who knows every attacker inside out. A weapon. It's no coincidence those names all won the Scudetto multiple times.
An Aldair-Totti partnership, or Totti-Juan, or Totti-Benatia. The possibilities seem endless and whoever was teamed up with Er Pupone in the heart of the defence, would benefit from his qualities. Even keepers like Antonioli, Pelizzoli or Doni would have easier matches and peaceful minds thanks to him.
When Totti really broke through at Roma, gathering more than 20 appearances in 1994-1995, he hadn't that much of a competition. There was Balbo and that was it. Muzzi, Fonseca, good players sure, but not world beaters. Only later Delvecchio, Batistuta and Montella joined the club. Was it harder to break through if Francesco was a defender?
Not really, if I look up some rosters of 1993-1995, there was Aldair and that was it. The others? Carboni, Annoni, Lanna, Petruzzi, Grossi, Festa. Not exactly names that everybody remembers or puts in their best hall of fame, unlike Aldair. The good ones only followed later in the 90s and 2000s: Zago, Candela, Cafu, Zebina and Samuel.
By 2000, Totti would already be a regular in the starting 11 at the back and even form a formidable combo with Samuel, Zago, Cafu and Candela in the 3-5-2 line-up. Or with Panucci, Chivu and Mexes around 2004-2005, or with Cassetti, Juan and Tonetto in 2009-2010.
Usually the problem with Roma is its lack of concentration and defensive brainfarts. They have finished second for dozens of times now, sometimes with a minor difference (Inter after Calciopoli), sometimes with a huge gap (Juventus). But if they had a consistent, rock solid defence and a true leader at the back who gathers his troops, who knows how many Scudetti were in reach? Maybe two or three more after 2001?
Of course, all the goals and assists Totti produced during those years had to be produced by someone else but Roma rarely had a scoring problem up front. From Batistuta, Delvecchio and Montella to Vucinic, Mancini and Cassano, Roma always found someone to bang in the goals. Even midfielders like Radja, Dani, Perrotta and Taddei knew how to score a goal or two. So even if I said a while ago that someone like Totti is irreplaceable up front, all those guys combined can somehow bundle their strengths and make the best out of it. Let's not forget they still share the same pitch as Totti and he can always help them out from the back.
By the way, who says Totti couldn't contribute here as well? Panucci managed five goals in one season on two occasions, surely Totti with his penalties and free-kicks could aim for an even higher amount? Plus, that same Panucci also proved that you can play in that position until your late 30s. See also: Maldini, Costacurta, Zanetti. Serie A is less physical and much slower than let's say England or Germany, so it makes it easier for older players to adapt.
Football analysts usually say strikers win you games, defences win you championships. Perhaps this whole Totti debate is one of those reasons why. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore the legend of Totti with all his backheels, flicks and the cucchiaio. But maybe he could have won as much as Maldini or Nesta, if he, like them, too wore the captain's armband at the back.
We'll never know, and in my opinion, that's a damn shame.