With almost seven years of CdT experience under my belt, I like to think that I can find the right tenor for most Roma pieces. Transfer rumors, tactical debates, managerial changes, Roma players missing the World Cup; I've seen it all at this point, so taking the temperature of the room has become something of second nature to me. However, there is one part of the Roma experience that I still struggle with: paying sufficient weight to the contributions and legacy of Francesco Totti.
Although some of my favorite pieces here are the ones I dedicated to our namesake, given all that he meant to Roma, I just never feel like I'm doing him, or more accurately the myth of him, justice. For nearly 20 years, Totti was Roma's best player, her most famous ambassador, the reason players like Antonio Cassano and Luca Toni signed on with the Giallorossi, and the very reason many of you are reading this right now. I say it without an ounce of hyperbole: Francesco Totti was Roma. Without his contributions on the pitch and the credibility he gave to the club on the global stage, Roma as we know it might not exist today.
Francesco Totti was the glacier and AS Roma were the rivers and lakes created by the sheer weight of his existence. And once that monolith slowly recedes, or in Totti's case pushed out the door into "retirement”, a piece of you disappears in its wake. With the anchor of your identity suddenly gone, how does one move on?
Etheric implications aside, Totti's simple absence from the pitch stripped Roma of their chief creator, their source of inspiration, and their killer instinct; in short, Roma haven't had a number ten (however one defines that) since Totti left. And we're speaking both figuratively and literally.
Not long after his "retirement” folks around Roma began debating the future of the number ten shirt—should it pass to a new generation or forever stand in reverence to the man who wore it best?
In some sense, this debate may have been fueled by Roma’s newfound Americaness—retiring numbers seems to be more of a state-side thing—but if ever there were a player meant to test conventions, surely it was Francesco Totti.
No one in their right mind would argue against Totti receiving some sort of longstanding honor from Roma, but a football club retiring the number ten is no simple matter, not even when Totti is involved.
The number ten shirt is, in a way, alive; this simple integer somehow embodies everything that makes football beautiful, encompassing and representing everything that moves you when you see the sport played at its absolute apex. The one-touch passing, the stepovers, the gravity-defying volleys, and even the perfectly executed slide tackle; the number ten speaks to all of that in ways that words will always sell short.
Clubs should not only want players with the number ten skill set but with that aspiration. So, to remove that symbol and that honor from your roster isn’t a decision to be made in haste, but this is Totti and Roma we're talking about—no player in club history did any number greater justice than Totti did the legendary number ten.
But Roma can’t keep his number in a state of quasi-unavailability forever, right? At some point they have to decide: you can either wear this or stare at it in awe as it hangs from the rafters at The House That Totti Built.
Despite the fact that Totti readily admits the number should remain in circulation as a point of inspiration for the club's best players, for the past two seasons, this wasn’t something we even had to consider because let’s face it, Roma didn’t have anyone worthy of wearing the number ten, and certainly not in Totti’s immediate wake, so his number was almost revered by default, only spoken about in hushed tones.
And while it's probably more of a concern for obsessed fans like us than it is for the players, the future of Totti's number ten has practically joined religion and politics on the list of impolite conversation; just...just...just don't bring it up because things are bound to get ugly.
Considering that, being able to ignore this debate has been a blessing in disguise, but we all know the day would come when some kid brought it back to the forefront.
And that day may have already arrived.
With his rapid ascension up the Roma ladder, one fueled by audacious attempts on goal, his scintillating first touch, and ethereal feel for the game, Nicolo Zaniolo has reignited the number ten debate.
I'm not suggesting he's Totti's equal, or even a reasonable facsimile, but he's the first player (along with Lorenzo Pellegrini) who made you look at the number ten and think...hmm, maybe.
At its core, this is a completely subjective debate, but given ALL that Totti did for and meant to Roma fans, it's an incredibly touchy subject, so rather than me sorting through Zaniolo or Pellegrini's merits, I'm turning it over to you.
Should either of these kids inherit Totti's number ten shirt or should it forever stand in silent testimony to the man who built the Roma we know and love.
Should Roma retired the number ten shirt to honor Francesco Totti?
This poll is closed
No, it's too important a symbol