In football, assists have been consistently recorded in major leagues only since the late 2000s. Serie A, for example, even today doesn’t keep an official record on their archives. The reason for this is not lack of interest or recognition for the assisting man but probably just problem of subjectivity. While the most common definition of an assist is nothing complex (a player makes an assist when he passes to the goal scorer), in practice, non-consensual cases occur all the time. Factors such as the amount of time that passes between the pass and the goal, the number touches taken by the goal scorer, intention and deflections, for example, are not taken into consideration in any official definition. It is this subjectivity that passes on the job of recording the number of assists to journalists or statistics companies.
Notwithstanding, football fans often idolize the men tearing up defenses with glorious passes unsuspected even by the people in the stands rather than the goalscorers. Those fans and the whole football community in general have recently decided that such merits should be recognized on hard record even if their attribution is sometimes a muddy process. The sad part of this is that because this is a recent phenomenon, we will never know who the player with the most assists of all time is.
One of the players that would certainly be in the contention, for Serie A at least, is Francesco Totti. Given his ability to pick up a through pass in the final third and the length of his career, Totti should be at the very top. The problem is, how do we know how many assists Totti had in his long career with AS Roma? to know for sure we would need footage of every official game he played between 1992 to 2017, more specifically of every goal Roma scored. Well, you might be surprised (as I was) but thanks to our club’s Italian fans, we have.
In the face of this I decided to start a methodic research, taking note of every potential assist in every game Totti played for Roma, in Serie A, Coppa Italia, Supercoppa, Champions League and Europa League. It was a lot of work but now, after nearly one year, I’ve got the numbers. Note that the assists I took note of should be understood as direct passes to the goal scorer, no matter if the intention was to pass to the goal scorer or not, the number of touches the goal scorer took or the time it passed before shooting, as long as he wasn’t dispossessed between receiving the pass and scoring. Also, small, non-intentional deflections to the pass did not disqualify it as an assist.
Totti’s first assist was against Inter in 12 February 1995 at 18 years old. In the end, Totti finished his career with something like 201 assists and 307 goals while playing for Roma. His last assist was against Torino in 19 February 2017, almost exactly 22 years after his first. Given that a regular professional career of a football player lasts around 17 seasons, whoever wants to surpass him needs to average more than 12 assists every season, which seems an almost unreachable achievement. Most players don’t even reach 12 assists in their best season. More impressively, Totti added to that 1.5 goals per every assist on average. It is an amazing achievement and a testimony of how great Totti and his career were.
At his best and while still playing more than 1000 mins in a season, Totti had 0.538 assists per 90min (2013/2014), that would be a remarkable 20 assists in a 38 game season if he played every game. Even more stunning, in his last season, he had 0.718 assists per 90min, however he only played 877 minutes, while in his second to last season (2015/2016) he had a mind blowing 1.773 contributions (goals+assists) per 90min where he played mostly as a supersub. All in all, Totti had 7 seasons with approximately 1 contribution per game in all competitions, 8 in Serie A. He was also able to get the double-double (two-digit goals and assists) eight times in his career. If it were not for his several injuries, especially in the tail end of his career, his records would look even more impressive and untouchable.
The team he assisted the most against was Inter at 13 times, which shows how he thrived and how inspired he was against rivals. Totti also tended to assist more at home: 61% in all competitions while assisting 58% of the times at home in domestic competitions. Totti assisted against 61 different teams and to 63 different players. The players with which Totti had better connection were Montella (16 assists), Delvecchio (16 assists) and Cassano (15 assists). While Lamela’s 21 goals for Roma were assisted one third by Totti.
These numbers are great enough by themselves, but if you’re a true Francesco Totti fan you know that the thing about him was not only the frequency with which he scored and assisted, but the manner in which he scored and assisted. What I saw in those videos when stacking up these numbers simply had to be shared. Below is the effort of several months of cutting, processing and combining videos. The result is a single video with every assist Totti ever made in a Roma shirt. Not only does this allow you to experience the genius of Francesco Totti in all its glory, but it also validates my work with strong evidence, and enables peer review on possible tricky cases.
In the end, Totti made 43 crosses to goal, 27 lofted, 16 low. He also made 43 first-touch assists and an incredible 70 assists with passes behind the opposition’s defense and with only the keeper to beat. That’s almost twice the average of goals a Serie A team scores in a single season or as much as a scudetto winner only from passes that put teammates in the face of the keeper. Totti was also prolific in making assists from dead balls, with 16 from corners, 13 from free-kicks and even one from a throw-in. His versatile skill and vision are also showcased in his assist records, 22 assists with his left-foot, 3 with his head and an astounding 13 from backheels.
I leave you now with almost half an hour of Totti footage. Turn on subtitles for info about every goal. You´ll probably want to play around with the reproduction speed to fully perceive the quality of some assists. Enjoy!