Now there’s 225 reasons why Totti is unique
James Horncastle explains why Francesco Totti’s goalscoring feat has provoked such an emotional response in Rome.
There was a pitch invasion after Roma’s 3-1 win against Genoa on Sunday night. A girl and a boy made a dash for Francesco Totti. They were fans of his. But of course they were. They were his kids, Chanel and Cristian.
“It was a beautiful surprise,” Totti later said. “I thought they were at home. They’d been ill during the week.”
They came bearing a gift. It was a T-shirt they’d made specially for him. While they’re too young to remember them all, they do know that their dad likes a T-shirt.
From the ‘I have purged you again’ one he revealed under his jersey after the derby in 1999 to the ‘You’re Unique’ one he dedicated to their mother in the same fixture in 2002. More recently of course there was the tongue in cheek ‘Sorry for the Delay’ T-Shirt he showed after ending a goal drought in 2012 and how can we forget his ‘The King of Rome Is Not Dead’ one, inspired by a commentator.
This T-shirt probably meant more to him than all the others though. ‘You’re great Papà’ read the slogan. It brought tears to Totti’s eyes. “For a father things like these are unforgettable,” he said. “It will remain an unforgettable evening.” He pulled the T-shirt on, grabbed his kids by the hand and ran under the Curva Sud with them and his team-mates.
Earlier in the evening, one of those team-mates, Daniele De Rossi had taken a tumble in Genoa’s penalty area. The referee had pointed to the spot. The ball was placed on it. Totti stood over and looked at goalkeeper Sebastien Frey.
One can only imagine what was going through his head. Score this and he makes history. Again. There was no cucchiaio. Totti didn’t try to be too clever. He just drilled it into the bottom left hand corner.
The thumb of one hand went into his mouth. The index finger of another pointed to the sky in celebration. And with that the scoreboard at the Olimpico lit up. “Totti, Nordahl 225.” He’d done it. Totti was now joint second on the list of Serie A’s all-time top goalscorers, a remarkable achievement when you consider how, for much of his career, he’d played either on the left or as a No.10.
In the Tribuna Tevere, a banner was unfurled that simply read: “Grazie Capitano.” Totti, who had promised to reach the landmark that night, had already prepared a response. His message to the fans was relayed via the advertising boards surrounding the pitch. “Thanks to all of you, [love] Francesco.”
It was only the 16th minute. There was of course still a game to be played. Former Roma player Marco Borriello soon equalised for Genoa from the spot. And so, Totti went back to work.
Shortly after half-time, his corner kick drifted toward young centre-back Alessio Romagnoli who glanced a header beyond Frey. It was the kid’s first start for Roma in Serie A, a night to savour. Romagnoli, bless him, couldn’t believe it. “Watch him,” wrote Tonino Cagnucci in Il Romanista. “He doesn’t celebrate immediately… He turns and then starts running towards Totti, almost out of recognition [for his part in the goal], almost to ask him if it really happened.”
Totti made his debut in Serie A on March 28, 1993. Romagnoli wasn’t even born then. If a life can be measured by Totti’s career, Romagnoli was born 223 league goals ago, four days after Totti scored his second goal in Serie A against Bari on January 8, 1994 to be precise.
Totti’s corner. Romagnoli’s header. One generation to another.
The result on Sunday was put beyond any doubt when Totti set up fellow World Cup-winning veteran, Simone Perrotta. Their third goal of the night made it three straight wins in Serie A. The Europa League places are now only four points away. All the talk on the night, however, was about Totti and Romagnoli. “It’s a unique evening,” Romagnoli cried, “an immense joy. I could never have imagined a first start like this. It’s a unique feeling. To play with Totti is too beautiful. He’s unique.”
There’s that word again: ‘Unique’. It has followed Totti around throughout his astonishing career. Not without ample justification. In the Curva Sud on Sunday night, another banner was held aloft. “Next Stop Piola,” it declared, referring of course to Silvio Piola, Serie A’s all-time top goalscorer. Few expect Totti to score the 50 goals required to break his record. One paper estimated that, at his current scoring rate, it would take him another 114 games to do it. Turning 37 this September, time is running out for Totti even if a two-year extension on his current contract, which ends in 2014, is said to be a formality.
Piola’s 274 goals in Serie A [290 if you include the 1945-46 season, the first campaign after the Second World War which many don’t count] came at five different clubs, including Roma’s rivals Lazio. Gunnar Nordahl’s 225 were also split between Milan and Roma. No one then has scored more goals for one club than Totti has in the history of Serie A. So in this sense and others, he really is, as Romagnoli says, unique.
Totti won’t content himself with that of course. Breaking Piola’s record is just one of the things, along with the prospect of maybe winning the Scudetto once more before he hangs up his boots, that keeps him going. “I’ll stop as soon as I overtake Piola,” he joked. Knowing Totti, he’ll probably be the one to have the last laugh.