What is the best way to say goodbye? In an ideal world, Roma would be in a cup final and its talismanic captain, Francesco Totti, would score the winning penalty to put the cap on a career that has spanned 25 years and seen him win one Scudetto (2001) and two Coppa Italia titles (2007, 2008). Reality does not work like that, though.
Last week, Roma’s new sporting director Monchi confirmed that Totti would retire as a player in a few weeks.
“In terms of Totti, I already knew that there was an agreement with the club that this would be his final year as a player, then he’d start as a director,” Monchi said. “Francesco is Roma, I want to be as close to him as possible. I’d love to learn even 1% of the huge amount that he knows.”
And so the farewell begins, with even opposition fans paying their respects. At the San Siro, Sunday night, Milan fans unfurled a banner which read, “The Curva Sud pays tribute to our rival Francesco Totti”. With Roma winning 4-1, some hoped that Totti would come on for his last appearance at one of Italy’s most storied arenas. It was not to be: with the result in doubt before Roma sealed it late on, manager Luciano Spalletti bought on Bruno Peres as a sub instead. And so began a firestorm in which the coach was accused of disrespecting Totti. As it happened, Roma was awarded a late penalty which Daniele de Rossi scored; had Totti been on the pitch, he would have taken it.
“How did I know we were going to get a penalty?” Spalletti, quite reasonably, asked in a tetchy interview with Mediaset. “What could I have given him in five minutes? Milan were attacking, we were tired, so that was my decision. I’m sorry.”
This was a record sixth consecutive away win for Roma, which is one point ahead of Napoli in second with three games left to play; the next is one against Juventus, when anything less than a win will secure another title for Juve. Spalletti is out of contract this summer, and simply cannot win either way on the Totti situation.
“We always end up talking about the same thing,” Spalletti added. “This team deserves praise, but instead we are always talking about this and if I play him for just five minutes, I’m disrespecting a legend, then if I don’t introduce him, that’s wrong, too.”
Only three more games to go, Luciano…