Oldie but goodie: Francesco Totti and Roma’s experienced elite the X-factor v City
A landmark Rome derby took place at the weekend: Roma-Lazio, won by the team in red, sealed by the third goal of a 3-1 scoreline, by the captain.
Francesco Totti would recognise the storyline. Indeed, of the many Rome derbies he has experienced, it may have been the one from which he drew most emotional pride.
It was between AS Roma and Lazio’s Under 10s. Wearing the skipper’s armband, rather loosely around his left bicep was one Christian Totti, son of Francesco, who, if he is anything like his father, will be training with the seniors within six years. And, if he is anything like his dad, he will still be doing so when he has teenage sons of his own.
Totti senior turned 38 in September and on Wednesday will attempt to guide the club whose first team he has been representing since the age of 16 into the knock-out phase of the Champions League for the first time in four years. A World Cup winner, a Serie A gold-medallist, this is the arena that has most frustrated the Roma leader, and even he knows there cannot be many more chances to enjoy a long run in it.
Without Totti, Roma would already be as good as out, and certainly facing a far more taxing equation even than the complicated one that confronts them as they host Manchester City, knowing a draw would suffice for progress, if CSKA Moscow do not defeat Bayern Munich in the other Group E match.
Totti already has left a stamp on this year’s European Cup. His goal in the 1-1 draw against City in Manchester made him the oldest scorer in the Champions League. Totti’s strike to open the scoring in a 1-1 result against CSKA a few weeks later, moved the “oldest scorer” record 56 days closer to his 39th birthday.
It seems likely it will be a long while before another player in his 39th year, or older, challenges that milestone. Ryan Giggs, European football’s other great evergreen, retired as a Manchester United player this year, confronting the very rare sensation of a season without his Manchester United involved in a campaign in the European Cup, a competition that puts a particular value on experience and know-how.
City’s manager, Manuel Pellegrini, made the point ahead of a seismic encounter for his club. He identified Roma’s captain as a principal barrier to a City anxious to show that they have the means to make an impression after three years of early exits on club football’s elite tournament.
He compared Totti to his own Peter Pan. “Totti is like Frank Lampard,” Pellegrini said. “They are players who have enough quality, maybe not to play three games a week, but to be very good when they do play.”
Lampard, 36, will have a role on Wednesday night, his savvy all the more vital in the absence of Yaya Toure, who is suspended. Doubts about the fitness of Vincent Kompany also mean Martin Demichelis, 34, may be called into service.
Totti, meanwhile, will count among his alibis 35-year-old Seydou Keita, twice a European champion with Barcelona, and perhaps a pair of 33-year-old full-backs: the former City defender Maicon, who won the 2010 Champions League while with Inter Milan, and Ashley Cole, who, with Lampard, won it for Chelsea in 2012.
Cole will contest the left-back slot with Jose Holebas, 30. He and Keita were brought into the Roma squad in the summer specifically to arm the club for the extra workload Champions League participation would bring.
Group E has so far emphasised the value of experience: Xabi Alonso, 33, has stood out for Bayern, whom he joined in the summer from a Real Madrid willing to let go a player they reasoned had passed his peak.
Totti has given Roma the points that hauled them to second place in the table, even after a damaging 7-1 home loss to Bayern. Keita has given Roma stability in midfield, Lampard become a touchstone for a City now keen to extend his loan there from their partner club in New York.
For some of those, the match brings an extra motivation. If things go wrong, it may well mark the final curtain of their Champions League odyssey, their last big European night.
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Published: December 9, 2014 04:00 AM