There’s a reason that football is widely monikered ‘the beautiful game’, and it’s due to mavericks like Francesco Totti. To many, Totti is remembered as a one-club man, a legend of the sport who gave his entire career to his beloved hometown side, AS Roma.
For others (mainly found in the darkest corners of social media), he is an overrated, overhyped wannabe who either wasn’t good enough to land a move to a bigger team, or didn’t have the bottle to venture outside of the Italian capital to taste success elsewhere.
Those people, of course, are wrong.
Totti is an example of what every young boy and girl who loves football dreams of becoming: the most celebrated hero in their city. It helped Francesco then, that his city was little old Roma. In a career that spanned over 25 years, amassing more than 300 goals and almost 800 appearances, Totti managed to lift the Serie A title only once.
But the superstar has always proudly declared that one title success with Roma was worth more than 10 trophies with any other club – and if his celebrations upon scoring in the final day victory over Parma in 2001 were anything to go by, then the boy was telling the truth.
Through thick and thin, alongside star-studded squads in the early 2000s and some pretty poorly-assembled sides in the later years, he stayed loyal to the team he had supported as a child, each year aiming to deliver one final success to his followers. Luckily for Totti, just pulling on the Giallorossi shirt each week was enough to bring tears of joy to Romanista eyes.
But before all of this, before the goals, the fame, the glory, the pain, the idolisation, Francesco Totti was just a boy, who closed his eyes every night and dreamt of setting foot on the Stadio Olimpico turf.
This infinite love story almost came to an end before it had even started though, when giants Milan attempted to lure an up-and-coming Totti away from Rome and to the economic capital. But luckily for the starlet, Fiorella Totti, the protagonist of this particular story, and mother of Francesco,
politely declined their advances for her boy.
He was to become the King of Rome, after all, and she had foreseen the destiny of her young prince. And on 28 March 1993, her premonitions began to take shape. In the 87th minute of a routine 2-0 victory away at Brescia, a wiry, precocious 16-year-old took to the field for the very first time in his professional career.
Little did anyone know, but they had just witnessed the first steps of Er Bimbo de Oro. The Golden Boy.
Totti showed from an early age that technically, he was able to mix it with the very best. There was an aura that followed him around the pitch, an intelligence that others struggled to comprehend, and the dainty, majestic touch of a boy born to dazzle.
The exciting teen was only a young boy however, trying to compete with the physical and defensive expertise of a man’s game. So for the time being, we had to make do with only one more appearance during the 1992/93 campaign.
His first year in professional football wasn’t quite finished there, though. Totti was flying through the youth ranks with Italy, and he featured in both the Under-16s European Championships, and the Under-17 World Cup in the same summer of 1993.
Totti helped Gli Azzurri finish top of a group that consisted of France, Portugal and Russia, and the Italians went on to reach the final, where they would face Poland. Unfortunately, the young forward was suspended for the big match, and he was sorely missed, with their rivals picking up a 1-0 victory to lift the trophy.
But as mentioned, the forward wasn’t finished there. Totti was part of the Italy side which crashed out of the Under-17 World Cup at the group stages, although he did score an absolute screamer in a 2-1 defeat to Mexico.
Picking the ball up in the centre of the park, the magician looked up to see two opponents blocking his path to goal. In the blink of an eye, Totti had chipped a delightful pass between the hapless adversaries, and then breezed past them without hesitation.
His teammate was on the same wavelength, and clearly remembering the game plan – which probably consisted of ‘give the ball to Totti’ – he laid a pass back into the path of the number 11. Now standing bang centre of the goal, about 30 yards from the posts, Totti released a thunderbolt of a strike without even breaking stride, which curved and swerved to the keeper’s left and into the top corner.
It was the goal of a champion.
My father always told me, ‘If you find that you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.’ Luckily, that specific situation has rarely befallen this particular writer, but on that day in 1993, it was clear that young Totti had an IQ superior to everyone around him.
He was destined for bigger and better things, and there was no limit to what he could achieve in Rome and with his nation. One league title, a handful of domestic trophies, a World Cup, and the most breathtaking of careers later, a living legend now walks in our midst.
Long live the King.