Hungry for Glory is Roma’s current motto. The club have taken to using it with imagery depicting the wolf that founded the Eternal City, ready to devour rival teams that enter Olimpico . Unfortunately for Roma, history has shown that their rivals can often tame the metaphorical wolf without too much bother. They haven’t yet tried releasing real wolves onto the pitch, which would surely yield better results, but in the meantime, they’ll have to make do with Francesco Totti.
At 38 ½ years old, we should be talking about Francesco Totti as someone on the verge of retirement, but yesterday he scored a wonderful brace in the Rome derby. Pardon my ageism, but old players aren’t supposed to be that influential; when they’re close to forty they should be wheeled out occasionally to steady the ship, not driving their team’s fight back in their biggest domestic fixture. This leads to two possible conclusions: one, Totti is not human; two, he’s one of the great players of his generation. It’s possible that both are true.
After two decades in Roma’s first team, including fifteen years as captain, and the second highest number of Serie A goals of all time, Totti’s status as a great should be beyond debate, but this is football, and there are always doubters. The shade these doubters cast is to point at his relatively meagre trophy haul. His only league title came in the first phase of his career, and since then he’s had to make do with a few cups and plenty of runner-up medals. He also has a World Cup, of course, but the 2006 tournament didn’t see Totti at his best; his greatest form for the national team was way back in 2000, when he helped Italy reach the final of the European championships, including an outrageous chipped penalty in the semi-final shootout against Holland, some twelve years before Pirlo repeated the technique against England.
But, it’s a cold, loveless world if footballers are judged only on who has won the most. At best trophies are a useful guide, at worst they’re woefully misleading (see Fernando Torres’ haul over the past few years). Rome is a beautiful, spectacular city. The romantic side of football demands the team that bears its name should boast the kind of attacking flair that draws universal admiration. How disappointing it would be if Roma were a highly effective side of utilitarian troopers, so how right it is that Totti is very much a player to be watched. Some players create a legacy defined by less tangible means than simply winning stuff.