Francesco Totti, at 40, enjoying an Indian summer for AS Roma with eyes on Europa League trophy

Ian Hawkey writes AS Roma legend Francesco Totti has bypassed better chances at greater honours in staying loyal to his one and only club all these years – but he still has one more shot at a European title.
Roma's Francesco Totti walks on the pitch during a Serie A soccer match between Roma and Torino at the Turin Olympic stadium, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Alessandro Di Marco / AP
Roma's Francesco Totti walks on the pitch during a Serie A soccer match between Roma and Torino at the Turin Olympic stadium, Italy, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. Alessandro Di Marco / AP

Three hundred friends, family members and colleagues came to the birthday party, held at the striking Tor Crescenza castle, to the north of Rome’s centre.

A more remarkable milestone had been cheered two days earlier. Francesco Totti was 39 years and 363 days old when he struck his Serie A goal No 250.

Alas, the penalty that brought up that statistic was AS Roma’s only goal in a defeat to Torino. It cost the club with the most enduring captain in the game a place in Italy’s top three.

Still, the Romans who gathered for a night of dining, music and tribute arrived smiling, even Luciano Spalletti, the Roma manager who has had his abrasive moments with his captain.

Spalletti listened as Totti announced his next targets: He conceded that the aim of another 24 goals, which would make him the Italian top division’s leading scorer of all time, might be beyond him, but he said he dreamed of scoring the goal that wins the Europa League final this season. Roma continue their campaign in that competition tonight, at home to Astra Giurgiu.

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There are many ways to enumerate Francesco Totti’s unique brilliance, his longevity, but among them are not a hatful of club trophies.

The price of being adored, and eternally inspiring in the Eternal City, of being a one-club man for nearly quarter of a century as a first-teamer has been to suffer frustrations as medals disappeared from grasp. Totti has collected eight Serie A runners-up prizes since he won his single scudetto with the club, in 2001. He was already in his ninth year then as a senior, having debuted at the age of 16.

He was well into his third decade when he finished top scorer for a season in Serie A, in 2006/07, with 26 goals.

This from a player who when he has spearheaded the attack, was always the most deep-lying of centre-forwards, truer to the role the No 10 on his back suggests.

Had he spent his career lingering in the opposition penalty box, then the milestone of individual Serie A goals, set by Silvio Piola back in 1954, would have been passed by now.

Forty years old. The same age – within five days – as Brazil’s Ronaldo, who slipped away from Real Madrid 10 seasons ago, his days as the most lethal finisher in the elite of the game well behind him. Ronaldo, twice winner of the Ballon d’Or, coincided with Totti in Italy but never won a scudetto.

Forty: The same age as Michael Ballack – born a day earlier than Totti, and Germany’s figurehead player for a decade – who retired five seasons ago. Totti won the World Cup with Italy in Ballack’s Germany when the pair of them were 29.

That remains his only major senior trophy beyond the domestic arena. The Europa League might alter that.

Meanwhile, the idea, which Totti floated only a few months, that he might play one day in a jersey other than Roma’s, has receded.

He had his opportunities, to join AC Milan in their heyday, in the 1990s, or to sign for Real Madrid, but he stayed at the club where he is an emblem.

Spalletti has been one of his greatest allies, the manager enabling Totti to score prolifically in a previous spell of work together, but since Spalletti returned for a second spell in charge, the pair have had their differences.

But Spalletti knows only too well what a difference the veteran can make to a game.

How’s this for an Indian summer? In his last 11 Serie A matches, Totti has scored six goals and contributed four assists.

And in all but one of those games, he only came on as a second-half substitute. Some form for a man in the latter months of his 40th year.

“Forty?” he joked to the guests at his party. “You can take 10 years off that.”

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Published: September 28, 2016 04:00 AM

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