"Francesco Totti is the greatest player I have ever seen."
It is perhaps fitting that Francesco Totti’s football career began in the year that the Giallorossi won their second Scudetto title, 1983, and at one of the clubs, Fortitudo, that merged to create AS Roma all those years ago.
In 28 years at Roma, 25 of which in the first-team squad, Totti would break every record going in terms of goals, appearances and sheer longevity. But behind the numbers – so incapable of doing justice to Totti’s footballing genius – is the legend of a truly unique player in AS Roma history.
For Totti was that rarest of breeds: a player capable of combining genius, vision, technique and athleticism to drive his prolific scoring record, his marathon top-level career and – most important of all – his profound connection with the club of his life. Roma.
Following in the footsteps of his brother Riccardo, Totti left Fortitudo for SMIT Trastevere, where he obtained his first Italian FA membership card in the 1985-86 season. It was during the spring of that same campaign that Totti turned out for the Trastevere U15s against their peers in Lanfranco Barbanti’s Roma in Trigoria. Lining up against Totti that day were his future team-mates Fabio Petruzzi, Roberto Muzzi and Francesco Statuto, who were five years older than him, while assistant Roma coach Angelo Benedicto Sormani watched on from the sidelines.
Following that tournament, which was named after the legendary Roma masseur Angelino Cerretti, Totti moved to Lodigiani, where he spent the next three seasons. His talent was there for all to see and, in early 1989, the young Totti became the subject of interest from AC Milan and Lazio. Yet Totti and his family were interested in one club and one club only: Roma. An agreement was reached after a phone call between Giallorossi president Dino Viola and his Lodigiani counterpart Giuseppe Malvicini, with Totti signing for Roma in exchange for Gianni Cavezzi, Stefano Placidi and 300 million lire (around €155,000).
Totti’s journey at Roma began on 20 July 1989, the day the club registered him with the Italian FA. Training began a few weeks later at Tre Fontane. Totti arrived at the ground together with his team-mate Daniele Arelli, and club official Domenico Tortora presented him with the first Giallorossi jersey of his career.
Totti made his debut in Franco Superchi’s Giovanissimi Romani side against Almas on 15 October 1989 and quickly set about showing everyone that Roma had a truly exceptional player on their hands. He was awarded the Adolfo Bastianelli Trophy for being the best player in the Giovanissimi category and was promptly promoted to Mario Carnevali’s Giovanissimi Regionali team for the 1990-91 season. It was during this campaign, on 22 May 1991, that Totti famously served as a ballboy (under the Curva Nord) during the UEFA Cup final second-leg match against Inter.
Totti played in Aldo Maldera’s Allievi side in 1991-92, before moving up to Luciano Spinosi’s Primavera squad the year after. In the early stages of that 1992-93 season, on 3 September 1992 to be exact, Totti scored what he would later refer to as the best goal he ever scored (at least until the second half of the 1990s). It came in the first leg of Roma Primavera’s Coppa Italia Round of 32 tie against Casertana, with Totti describing it as “a left-footed volley from outside of the area that flew into the back of the net. Unforgettable.”
Though Totti was officially a Primavera player, he was often called on to turn out for the Juniores and Allievi sides. Come February, it was the Roma first team knocking on the door for a loan of Totti’s services. On 18 February 1993, Totti made his first appearance for the senior side in a friendly against Austria at the Stadio Flaminio, while his Serie A debut came just over a month later, against Brescia at the Stadio Rigamonti on 28 March.
To cap off a hugely significant year in a nascent career, Totti was part of the Allievi Nazionali side, led by Ezio Sella, that defeated AC Milan in the championship final in Città di Castello on 27 June 1993 to be crowned Italian champions.
Totti consolidated his place in the first-team squad during the 1993-94 season, but still had time to find the net against Inter to clinch the Primavera Coppa Italia in Trezzano sul Naviglio on 30 March 1994. It was the last act in his youth career: in July 1994, Totti took part in pre-season with the first team, scoring his first Serie A goal against Foggia on 4 September.
Alongside this, Totti turned out for all of the Italian national youth teams, winning the European Under-21 Championships (with victory over Spain in the final in Barcelona on 31 May 1994) and the Mediterranean Games (in Bari on 25 June 1997, at the expense of Turkey).
At the end of the 1996-97 season, Nils Liedholm took over at Roma. “I’m convinced that Totti will be a very important player for Roma in the future – for at least the next ten years,” was the Swede’s assessment of his new charge. Yet even he could not have imagined the crucial role Totti would go on to play – not for the next ten years, but for two decades to come.
On 22 August 1997, the Stadio Olimpico faithful got a first look at Totti in the No.10 shirt as the Giallorossi took on Inter in a friendly match. A little over a year later, in October 1998, Totti inherited the captain’s armband from Aldair. Totti’s rise was seemingly unstoppable – he was now recognised as one of the greatest players in world football.
On 2 July 2000, he was in Dino Zoff’s Italy side that lost out to France in the final of the European Championships in Rotterdam. The disappointment was soon forgotten, however, as Roma surged to Serie A glory in the 2000-01 season, with Totti opening the scoring in the decisive game against Parma on 17 June 2001, the last day of the season. Just over two months later, on 19 August, Totti led Roma to victory over Fiorentina in the Italian Super Cup.
The Giallorossi captain continued to perform at the highest level over the coming seasons and, on 3 October 2004, he scored his 100th Serie A goal against Inter – just over a decade after his first.
Disaster struck on 19 February 2006 as Totti sustained a serious injury in a game against Empoli, scuppering the Giallorossi’s push for the title. Yet Totti recovered in time to be included in the Italy squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He dispatched a crucial penalty against Australia in the Round of 16 to set Italy on their way to the final against France in Berlin on 9 July 2006.
Come the end of the penalty shoot-out, Totti – together with two other Roma players, Daniele De Rossi and Simone Perotta – could call himself champion of the world.
The success continued into 2007. Totti finished the season as Serie A’s top scorer and also claimed the European Golden Shoe award, while Roma beat Inter to win the Coppa Italia on 17 May before following it up with the Italian Super Cup on 19 August, once again at the expense of Inter.
Totti was, by now, at the summit of world football and a symbol – an icon – for all affiliated with Roma. On 27 February 2008, he became the player with most appearances in Giallorossi history with 387, overtaking Giacomo Losi.
Totti claimed his second Coppa Italia medal against Inter on 24 May 2008 (he was unable to play in the final due to injury but still lifted the trophy as club captain), while on 21 January 2012 Totti scored his 211th goal for Roma against Cesena. The goal meant he overtook Gunnar Nordahl as the player to have scored the most goals for a single club.
On 11 January 2015, Totti scored a brace against Lazio to become joint top scorer in competitive Rome derbies, tying with Dino Da Costa on 11 goals. Then, on 20 April 2016, at the age of 39 years and seven months, Totti became the oldest player to score a brace in a Serie A match as he produced a heroic display against Torino.
Finally, on 28 May 2017, playing his last competitive match for Roma against Genoa, Totti set the record for the longest Giallorossi career of them all: an incredible 8827 days had passed since that Brescia v Roma game on 28 May 1993.
Totti’s final appearance was the culmination of a legend that will – surely – never be eclipsed.
"Being born Roman and Romanisti is a privilege. Being the captain of this team is an honour. You are – and will always be – my life"I’m proud and happy to have given you 28 years of love."