Why Francesco Totti Is The Last King Of Football's Golden Age

​​As the Roma legend turns 40, Finlay Renwick reflects on the the legacy of the ultimate one club footballer

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Il Re di Roma. 'The King of Rome'. That's what they call Francesco Totti in the Eternal City, where he is the favourite son and last of a dying breed: The One Club footballer and the last man standing from Serie A's halcyon days of strong jaws, outrageous kits and Football Italia highlights on Channel 4.

Think of Italian football and, almost certainly, it will be Totti and Gianluigi Buffon who spring to mind. But while Buffon, with his statesman-like personality and thoughtful and candid interview technique, has achieved protected status in the legends' hierarchy, Totti is a more polarising prospect, especially amongst the British media and Premier League-obsessed public.

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Making his Roma debut in 1993 against Brescia aged 16, this week Totti turned 40. Let that sink in for a second: Francesco Totti is 40 actual years old.

He snagged his 250th Serie A goal at the weekend, making him the second highest scorer in the league's history. He was a World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 and has, along with players like Javier Zanetti, Allesandro Del Piero and Buffon, come to define the greatest – and coolest - era of Italian football - and yet he is still often absent from the conversation when it comes to talk of the all-time greats.

This can, in part, be attributed to Totti's reluctance to accept the baton of the modern, marketable 'star' athlete that players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba brandish with glee. Totti never dabbed with Stormzy. He doesn't have his own range of blankets, underwear or hotels. He is a son of Rome who plays for Roma. He speaks no English and didn't even move out of his parents' house until he was engaged.

There's also the fact that Totti doesn't fit the mould for how the British media want their players to perform. He is temperamental, aloof and represents the undiluted schoolboy joy of just playing football and playing with emotion… Which, as we saw with the treatment of Luis Suarez, isn't what Graeme Souness and the curmudgeonly dinosaurs of the British football media want to see. They talk about 'passion', but anyone who actually shows it is thrown under the bus at the first opportunity.

More fool them.

To see Totti in his marauding, Kappa-shirt-and-headband-wearing heyday - the heartbeat of a team and an entire city - was to expose yourself to something intrinsic and ego-driven as a football fan. It was a glimpse into what it would be like to be an absolute icon and, melodramatic as it sounds, a living deity for a people and a culture. 

Admit it, we've all dreamed of walking out to 60,000 fans screaming our name. To be idolised. To be special. Well Totti was and is the purest representation of that. And there will likely never be another.

Despite approaches from Real Madrid and a host of other clubs in his pomp, Totti stayed. Today you can't imagine one world class player who would sit still if the biggest, most successful and highest paying club laid their cheque book on the table. Players are now ephemeral, transient and distant. They are personal brands with five year strategies and an untouchable plasticity that fans can respect and admire, but they can't cherish. Not like the Romans can cherish Totti.

Describing his career and loyalty to Roma in The Player's Tribune, Totti wrote:

"People ask me, why spend your whole life in Rome?

Rome is my family, my friends, the people that I love. Rome is the sea, the mountains, the monuments. Rome, of course, is the Romans.

Rome is the yellow and red.

Rome, to me, is the world.

This club, this city, has been my life.


Fucking hell, if that doesn't stir something inside you as a football fan or otherwise, then what can?

Here's to Francesco Totti, the last of his kind.


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