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Totti Today: Life After Football According to Totti, Prandelli and Sacchi

This week saw three calcio legends talk hard truths about life beyond merely winning and losing football games.

ACF Fiorentina v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Jessica Walters died in her sleep last night, which means one of two things for me. For one, rest in peace. Walters acted, walked and talked like she’d had a good innings in life, with nothing to envy anyone else throughout her journey. Second of all, Season 11 of Archer is has to be the final curtain call for the show, if it even gets green-lit in the first place. I’d probably just cancel it, as Archer without Mallory doesn’t bear thinking about even tuning in.

Deep resignation also prevailed in Italian football this week, as three household names on the peninsula probed the topic of calling time on their careers. Francesco Totti has openly made it known he’s still not pleased about having to leave a playing career that did not—in fact—turn out to be fueled by eternal youth after all (though finally gaining his domestic Italian sports agent license and looking like he’s going to win The Greatest Roma Hairstyle in History has to make Totti’s week somewhat better). Cesare Prandelli took a different approach: No long fairwells here; it’s the sudden and abrupt goodbye to football, where Prandelli at least gets to say he did it his way. This prompted Arrigo Sacchi, probably the most revered coach in Italian football history, to weigh-in with his say on retirement. Where Totti found angst, and Prandelli found haunting remorse, Sacchi has no regrets and only the relief of retirement to share with his peers.

Speravo de mori’ prima: Totti’s Long Kiss Goodbye is a Hit

AS Roma v Empoli FC - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Of the few but clear reasons why I don’t have time for Luciano Spalletti anymore, his handling of Francesco Totti’s retirement isn’t actually one of them. This is why I was very skeptical of yet another Totti documentary—this time purely focused on the subject of retirement, his last year as a Roma player, and his relationship with wife Ilary Blasi—that looked like it was struggle to be anything more than a vendetta against Spalletti. And the immediate reaction from Roma fans, insulting Spalletti-actor Gianmarco Tognazzi over social media after the show’s first episode went to air, didn’t help on this front (though we only have Tognazzi’s word on that issue).

The coffin of the AS Roma football club Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

But that wasn’t the only red-flag that the show might be nothing but a vanity parade. There was the fact it was based on Totti’s biography Il Capitano, which wasn’t great. There was the fact the lead actor playing Totti was chosen because he was a Totti fan from childhood (not that there’s anything wrong with this but think of how many people have blown a potentially epic role by being too close to the material), and there were the on-screen cameos of Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Del Piero that could have steered the show into Goal! territory (which happens to be a favourite DVD trilogy of mine—but you know my taste is trashy). And yet... early reviews suggest the show is good. Not as good as Mi chiamo Francesco Totti, but having two hit-documentaries in less than one year is damn impressive stuff for Totti to get under his belt. Will this unburden him of his regrets over hanging up the playing boots?

A.S. Roma vs F.C. Genoa - Serie A Photo by Silvia Lore/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Though I haven’t seen any full episodes myself, the show explores that burden with no apologies made for doing so. It’s a cathartic journey of sorts, where Totti gets to set the record straight not only on Spalletti, but Antonio Cassano’s morphing role in his life from chaotic teammate to surprisingly wise friend, and the pillars of his personal life that are made up of both his parents and wife Ilary. It’s through his relationship with Ilary that we get confirmation of what we already knew: Totti wasn’t a born captain but managed to surpass himself in that respect.

At nature, Totti has always spoken on being shy, introverted man, one who’s even afraid to approach girls or make the first move in Speravo de mori’ prima. He’s previously spoken on how he was too eager to let the flashy cars do the talking, when he was trying to win over Ilary Blasi on their first dates together. You know how the story goes from there. Ilary was unmoved by the money (being a successful star herself), and it’s her no-nonsense yet sensititive approach to their private life that has Totti penning tributes to her throughout the show’s narrative. Of all the people telling Totti he should have done everyone a favour and retired a lot sooner, his wife was always at the front of the queue in that respect, unafraid to tell him what he needs to hear, when he needs to hear it, in a city that refuses to contemplate his mortality on his behalf. We’ve all got growing up to do sometime.

Three episodes of the six-episode drama have aired so far, with the rest to come by the end of April. There’s no official word on if the show will ever see life beyond Italian airwaves, but the worst reviews of the show so far have given a minimum of three stars out of five, with most reviews ranking the show at four stars or above. Maybe Totti could ditch the sports agency and get into filmmaking? There’s a certain Roma club-owner he could call for a collaboration on that front.

Cesare Prandelli Keeps it Short But He’s Trying to Find the Sweet

ACF Fiorentina v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Prandelli’s goodbye to football wouldn’t have ranked as high on the emotional stakes inside of Rome as Totti’s hit show, but it certainly tops the charts for sincerity and the courage to face dark emotions head-on, without making a meal of it. There’s only one thing that grates me about how people react to guys like Prandelli speaks on uncomfortable topics, and that’s the assumption that everyone wants a life full of happiness and positive emotions.

From my point of view, it’s all a choice—though that isn’t to say everything is within our control or that we dictate circumstances more powerful than us. I just feel it isn’t our responsibility to assume “a happy life” (whatever that is) looks the same for everyone. Sometimes I’ve found the best joy in choosing to be as miserable as I want to be and, like choosing to be happy, that’s perfectly OK as long as it’s not an extended or semi-permanent state of mind. Because nobody is living if they’re mining the same limited range of emotions day in, day out. And apparently Cesare Prandelli feels like it’s time to confront his own emotions, perhaps in the aim of expanding his range once more in the future. Perhaps not. It’s all a choice.

The full translation of Prandelli’s open letter to Fiorentina and Firenze, calling time on his coaching career, can be found on among other places. In the letter, Prandelli openly makes reference to a dark shadow growing inside him for years that he now wants to confront, and feeling essentially nothing from coaching on the sidelines right now.

ACF Fiorentina v Atalanta BC - Serie A Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images

Personally, I’m surprised such a deep love affair grew between Prandelli and the region of Firenze (for once, it’s a story of a former Juventus player going onto better days in Tuscany rather than the other way around). In my head, I always associate Prandelli with helping Parma to beat the odds of bankruptcy and devastation, by bringing on a new generation of youth to successive top five league finishes for Parma, in what was meant to be the club’s darkest hour at the turn of the millenium. Had it not been for the presence of such a skilled coach as Prandelli, Parma’s downturn could have been a lot worse. Some would argue Parma’s downturn did eventually come anyway, but at least the club got the esteem of launching some very successful footballing careers along the way. And yet, it is in Fiorentina that Prandelli beat the biggest odds on the pitch.

It’s easy to forget (and I often do, for some reason I can’t explain) that Prandelli led Fiorentina to the knockout stages of the Champions League when the club was in no financial state to be mixing it up with the big boys at the time. Like Roma in that era, Fiorentina slayed Bayern Munich on the big stage, under Prandelli’s stewardship. Had it not been for a -19 point penalty in the league, in Prandelli’s first spell at the club, he would have officialy led the Viola to a third-place finish on a shoestring budget. At Fiorentina, Prandelli also launched several successful youth careers such as Montolivo, Kuzmanovic and Osvaldo but to name just a few; he also helped rejuvenate the career of Alberto Gilardino, who Prandelli originally helped mould into the mega-bucks hitman striker during Gilardino’s best days at Parma.

Italy Training And Press Conference Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Though Prandelli has never actually won a knighthood amid a generation of Italy sport where they were titles to go around, it feels like Prandelli should have been awarded such an honour. He won two Panchino d’Oros (Serie A Best Coach of the Year as voted by his peers) during his first spell as Fiorentina manager, and was voted in second place as Best International Coach of the Year (only behind a trophy-laden Vicente del Bosque) thanks to Prandelli’s stint as Italy manager.

Arrigo Sacchi: Italy Needs to Recognise the Courage to Step Down

Festival Dello Sport 2020 In Milan Photo by Mairo Cinquetti/NurPhoto via Getty Images

One man who couldn’t help but have his say on Prandelli’s goodbye was Arrigo Sacchi. And it shouldn’t be surprising, as one of Sacchi’s last acts in his active football career was to usher in Prandelli through the door at Sacchi’s beloved Parma, all those years ago.

There are other parallels between the two men, as Sacchi also knows a thing or two about coming so close to success as an Italy coach, and yet still being revered for his stint on the Nazionale bench despite not winning a trophy. In his interview to the Corriere della Sera this week, Sacchi spoke on the need for Italian culture to respect people in positions of seniority who have the courage to call it quits, and not stand in the way of generations following their lead:

“I’ve known Cesare for thirty years, and it was me who wanted him as Parma coach in 2002 when I was the technical director [at the club]. As soon as I found out [about his resignation], I wrote him a message.”

CdS: What was written?

“[That he’d done] an act of honesty and seriousness.”

CdS: What did you mean by that?

“It takes courage to resign in Italy, because no one does that. And I’m not just talking about football but also in politics, and in the institutions. Those of us who choose to resign are seen like we’re losers, when that isn’t the case. It takes more courage to put yourself to one side. Cesare could have kept going on, pretending like nothing was wrong, earning his salary, but instead he showed an act of dignity and intelligence out of respect for himself and the club, an act of a great man that he is. He won, yet another time.”

Soccer - European Cup Final - AC MIlan v Steaua Buchurest Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

CdS: You stood aside after a 2-0 win away to Verona. You were saying: ‘I can’t do it anymore.’

“As soon as the game ended, I rang my wife and told her: Enough, it’s over. For the first time ever, I felt nothing. No satisfaction, no emotion. That was when I understood that the moment to shut it down had come.”

CdS: Have you ever regretted it?

“Retiring was the second-best decision I made in my life, behind that of deciding to become a coach. I’ve gave all of myself for 27 years, always with the same commitment, the same perfectionism, whether it would be in Bellaria in the lower leagues or at Milan. Stress was my companion for life. In that same moment, though, where I saw that the joy of victory didn’t compensate for the stress anymore, I understood that my time as a coach was done.”

Parma Training

CdS: Did you ever seek help from a specialist?

“I went to see a psychologist and I asked if that sudden absence of emotions was normal. They replied that the anxiety of the 27 years prior wasn’t normal.”

CdS: But it’s even said that anxiety, stress and tension help to raise the bar, to give the maximum. It’s almost a psychological drug...

“Stress, as long as you can stay on top of it, is an added value. It pushes you to perfectionism and to constant improvement. But if stress surpasses you, you have to have the lucidity to stop yourself. I talk about it often with Pep Guardiola. He, too, chose to take a year out at a certain point in his career. There were some who labelled him a loser, and instead he became even better.”

Everton v Manchester City: The Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final Photo by Laurence Griffiths - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

CdS: By now, is the blame also on the unsustainable aggression of social networking?

“The blame is on the culture of winning at any costs, which is totally mistaken. The concept of ‘if you don’t win, you’re a failure’ is the worst lesson you can give a kid. Mistakes and losing is a part of life. You only lose if you don’t give your best, and if you don’t learn.”

CdS: What have you learnt?

“That I didn’t want to end up the richest tombstone in the graveyard. If I’m happy, if I live without regrets, if I’m proud of what I’ve done in those 27 years of winning and losing, of jay and stess, it’s exactly because one beautiful day I said ‘that’s enough, thanks, this is it for me.’ There isn’t a moment where I don’t give me thanks for that decision.”