Throughout its history, the city of Rome has certainly seen many triumphs, not all happy. But none like the one staged at the Olympic Stadium at 8:37 p.m. on May 28.
It was a triumph of emotion, fragility and, why not, love. Without pause or conditions. The farewell to the soccer player Francesco Totti after 25 years on the Rome team touched everyone, inside and outside the stadium. On the eve, the Sky reporter Angelo Mangiante wrote: “You were the most beautiful trophy.” And it was so for the red-yellow Romaniste people.
Such a poignant game had never happened before. A champion who says farewell to his public and his stadium, loudly confessing all his fears.
Recounting the joy of playing. Explaining the darkness behind the net, the imminent nostalgia for the smell of grass and ball. Clinging to his sons and his wife with white knuckles and eyes dug out by the pain.
Asking his fans for help. Declaring all his affection for one jersey. Recalling the final minutes of the only Scudetto [the top soccer championship in Italy] won and a 40-year-long love. Infinite, yes. Dissolved in a total harmony of thanks between the stands and the field.
“Totti is the Roma team,” the fans in the southern curve — the most passionate Roma fans — wrote in a giant choreographed message, in the heart of the Giallorossi fanhood. The wolf bites whoever touches her cubs. Listen to the ferocious, yet a bit uncharitable, boos to coach Spalletti and team CEO Pallotta.
One can become a champion even with a half-empty wall. It happens to a few, though. And one can be loved to the last fibers even in “modern football,” as long as one is sincere and loyal. But it happens to a very, very few.
The captain warns: “Being Rome born and bred and a Romanista fan is a privilege.” Yet these are two faults that until a few years ago, made the slightest failings of the “pupone” the favorite target of pundits.
Totti himself dissolved the surreal debate in recent years about Totti’s future, in a speech written at home with his family. He read it in front of the microphones between smiles, hugs to his children and many tears. The words were simple: the game, love, family, dreams and fear.
“In these few days, I read many things about me, beautiful, so beautiful. I cried so much, every day, alone, like crazy,” he confesses.
On the last ball kicked to the curve, he wrote: “I will miss you.” It is not clear whether he was referring to the ball or to the field, or the public. But it does not matter. Such a great feeling does not unravel in an instant.
Everything is as it should be. Not a speech by a superman but by a man, even self-deprecating, that in the mouths of others would have sounded pathetic or corny but not in his. “I want to dedicate this letter to all of you, to the children who cheered for me, those of yesterday who are now grown up and maybe have become fathers themselves. And to those who today may cry Totti-goal. I’d like to think that my career will become a fable for you to tell…”
And in fact, it is just a fairy tale. The Peter Pan footballer became man, “damn time” — he whispers into the microphone — “allow me a little fear. This time I need you and your warmth.” And then, the stadium explodes spontaneously shouting with one voice: “We will never leave you.”
Andreotti style, the Totti debate can be opened and closed with a tweet of romanissimo Johnny Palomba: “Totti wears out those who do not have it, those who did not have it and those who will not have it.” Everything else is feeling, heartbreak, passion. And class. Shyness. Happiness. Forever.
“Francesco Totti is and will be the best player I’ve seen in my life!” Diego Armando Maradona (May 21, 2017).
The “captain,” as all the fans call him, will no longer run under the southern curve. The legend fades into myth. It now lives in the YouTube recordings of the ‘90s and more recent ones, with tears in the stands after scoring goals in the derby match against Lazio and against Torino last year or the goal at 93′ this year against Sampdoria. In the ball, caressed in hundreds of blind assists. In those passes with his back to the goalie, which are his brand worldwide. A myth made of 307 goals in 786 appearances. All with the same jersey. Even Berlusconi, during his time as CEO of Milan A.C., threw in the towel: “Symbols cannot be bought.”
Totti wears out those who do not have it. But he also wears down those who have known him. Like “Future Captain” Daniele De Rossi, who recently released stunning interviews about himself and the Captain.
He has certainly worn Luciano Spalletti down, who at the end of a record-breaking season has apologized, admitting that he was wrong managing Totti but reminding — correctly — that the coach works for the team.
Totti is too much to be easily digested in the endless football broadcasts. His ties to the Roman team and its fans are too strong to be understood outside of Rome. His shyness makes it too difficult in an increasingly social, “modern” and online football. But on Sunday night, his final game, a ray of respect united almost all the curve fans in Italy, from Lazio to AC Milan. The unique ones cannot be demolished, particularly when they are as authentic as Totti.
“Totti won in another way, he won uniting a city that is perpetually divided. After 16 years with him, it will not be easy for me. My friend is leaving.” Daniele De Rossi
But everyone, including the fans, is wrong about one thing. There’s more than one captain.
There is the historical passing of the captain’s bracelet to 11-year-old Mattia, the youngest captain of the Romaniste teams.
And especially now, there’s Daniele De Rossi, who on Sunday played the most moving game of his career, running everywhere, scoring, crying, saying the right things, protecting the result and the farewell with everything he had. And at the end of the evening, the final embrace to the departing friend.
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