For all the goals, assists and cheeky backheels he graced us with, the sheer length of Francesco Totti’s career was perhaps most worthy of praise—8,827 days passed between Totti’s debut on March 28, 1993 and his ignominious “retirement” last year, and yet the past 365 days have somehow felt longer than the nearly 9,000 that preceded it, like an interminable winter denying sunlight to the budding bulbs.
However, unlike those spring flowers, when it comes to Roma fans and Francesco Totti there is no hope for a renewal. Although our admiration and adulation of Totti is indeed perennial, his career, sadly, was not. And over the past year we’ve had ample time to attempt to reconcile that legacy with the manner in which his career ended, wondering all along how things could have played out differently.
Don’t worry, we’re not going down that “retirement” well again, but suffice it to say, the final 18 to 24 months of Totti’s career didn’t go down as planned, and while Totti himself is not above reproach in that mess, I’ll go to the grave firmly convinced that he was ultimately forced out.
Okay, yeah, maybe we’re going down that well again. Sorry.
If you can watch that ceremony and not be overcome with a virulent sense of rage, then you’re a bigger person than I am. Sure, the ceremony in and of itself was well handled and quite touching, but the very fact that it existed and that the club foisted it upon Totti, the man without whom this Roma would not even exist, provokes a response beyond words.
Considering the weight of that moment, it would have only been natural to assume that coping with that loss would have cast a pall over our 2017-2018 coverage—we are, after all, the Church of Totti, and unlike normal houses of worship, our god was always there, literally walking among us, calling millions to adore him with every flick of his toe.
The mere fact that we didn’t implode after his “retirement” is testament to the grace with which Totti handled his exit. Outside of a few pointed comments in the months that preceded his “retirement” and a brief dalliance with Miami FC, Totti accepted his fate quietly, albeit begrudgingly. And while he had every right to complain, to protest and to rail against the club that had wronged him, he didn’t, and in that silence he gave us all peace.
It would have been easy for Totti to follow his heart (or his feet as it were) and continue playing the game he loved for the sake of it, but if there’s one thing Er Pupone always knew intrinsically it was this: if you can’t play for Roma, you might as well not play at all. And that’s the cross Totti had to bare—there was still football left in his body, yet the club to whom he had given so much and so easily forsaken him.
So when we saw Roma struggling on the pitch, particularly during the winter, and the camera panned to Totti in the stands, looking dapper as hell in his assortment of dark suits I might add, your heart ached just a bit. The Totti of old was long gone, but even at his advanced age, he was still capable of creating these little magical moments, erasing 89 minutes of frustration in the blink of an eye, but he was powerless to help and we were damned to wonder what if.
From my vantage point, the “what if Totti was still here” feeling faded away rather quickly, simply because I had no choice (given what we do here)but to focus on the current Roma. And once the melodrama of a new season, a new manager and new tactics took full swing, I didn’t even really have time to give it a second thought.
There is, however, one thing that didn’t fade, and I suspect never will: the feeling of absence. And at least for this past season, the pangs in your heart stemmed not from the feeling that Roma would have been better with him on the pitch (they would have) but something far more profound—a loss of wonderment, of enchantment...of innocence.
Sure, Francesco Totti brought brilliance, poise and grace to the pitch, but his true gift was something unspeakable, something almost ethereal—reassurance. The comfort of knowing that you were cared for, that you were loved and that he would never forsake you.
Basking in the adulation of tens of thousands of weeping Romans one year ago, Francesco Totti bore his soul, admitting he was scared of the unknown and asking us for our help, and in this moment of candor, of mortality, Totti became almost transubstantiated in the eyes of his followers.
As Roma fans there are certain things we can forgive—the sales, the questionable purchases and the inevitable disappointments that come each spring—but the manner in which his own club, his heart and his soul, treated him with such blatant disregard is unforgivable.
For those who loved him, and those who appreciate the true weight of his legacy, there will forever be a dividing line between Roma with Totti and Roma without Totti—the demarcation between romance and crass reality.
One year doesn’t erase such things. Nothing does.