Francesco Totti sat down this week for an interview with Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome, for a newspaper article.
See what the No. 10 had to say below...
Francesco, what is your first childhood memory?
“My first memory comes from a place not far from my home, in front of my school. There was a big park where I could play with my school friends and my cousins. That’s my first memory of a ball and of football.”
How old were you?
“Maybe five or six.”
What did your bedroom look like?
“The walls were yellow and red. It was Roma-themed. I had a big poster of my idol at the time, Peppe Giannini, in there. There were jerseys and scarves everywhere. It was like one of the stands [at the stadium] all yellow and red.”
Were you good at school?
“I was good at getting there! In class I did the bare minimum – a six out of ten. I always managed to get by more or less. A consistent six out of ten. Any more would have been going overboard.”
How much time did you spend playing football?
“Loads of time. I had a perfect schedule. I’d get out of school and then from half past one until two o’clock, at the latest, I’d study. As soon as I heard a football being kicked around by my friends, just by my house, I’d tell my mum that I’d done all my homework and then went to play. I used to stay out until half past seven or eight o’clock. Every day, throughout the year.”
So how did you get from playing in the street to playing for Roma?
“I took the ideal path. I first played very close to where I lived, at Fortitudo, then spent three years at SMIT Trastevere. When I was with that local side, we played a friendly match one day against Roma. I didn’t play. They wouldn’t let me join in because I was smaller than everyone else. I just started doing keep-ups by the side of the pitch. Ermenegildo Giannini was at Roma at the time. He watched me and took me on without me even playing.”
“He was a clever man, someone who really understood football.”
So he asked you to come and play for Roma?
“Yes. Then I got a letter saying they wanted to bring me in at Roma. Instead I spent three years at Lodigiani, until I was 11, and then at the age of 12 I went back to Roma.”
So even as a child you were that good?
“I was very good. I was a little guy, very skinny. Some people were worried that I wouldn’t grow, because I was really tiny. They used to call me a dwarf. I was short; skin and bones, but then I grew up over time. Fortunately, I ended up like this.”
There are pictures of you playing with Alessandro Nesta when you were a kid. Do you remember that game?
“Yes. I met Alessandro when I was 12. We progressed through the youth ranks together, me at Roma and him at Lazio. We were both friends and foes in a sense. If I’m not mistaken, that game was in Primavalle, a final between Lodigiani and Lazio. We won 1-0 thanks to a free-kick I scored. They were a strong team though, they had Nesta, Marco Di Vaio, and others who went on to play in Serie A.”
Your son Cristian is around the same age you were then. I remember once you came to the Capitoline Hill with him. He saw a ball on my table and you said: “This lad goes crazy when he sees a ball, I wonder why…” How is he getting on now? Is he a good player?
“He’s good, he’s improved. He was a bit more playful before, just thinking about enjoying himself. He does still have a lot of fun; I know what he does with his time. I see a bit of myself in him. He’s now showing more desire, more passion. He likes the game. He goes training and goes to play more regularly, and I can see that he likes it. He’s good, but not as good as his dad when he was young…”
Would you like him to be a footballer?
“On the one hand yes, but on the other, no. I say yes because if he has the desire and passion, then he should do what he wants to. On the other hand, having his surname complicates things. He’s already going to tournaments with friends, in Sabaudia and elsewhere. Once he scored 15 goals and won the award for best player. Then you have everyone saying: “Oh yeah, he’s won the prize because he’s Totti’s son…” The fact he’s scored 15 goals doesn’t count, but having that surname does. It annoys me because when you’re talking about young kids, you need to be positive. You shouldn’t be jealous or have a negative view on everything. A child enjoys running and kicking the ball. If they are lucky or unlucky enough to be called Totti, it’s hardly their fault.”
Zinedine Zidane’s son plays for Real Madrid.
“And that’s because he’s Zidane’s son?”
If he wasn’t any good, he wouldn’t play.
So, let’s talk about Roma. What does Roma mean to you?
“Everything. The city and the team. It means everything. I think the city of Rome, and I don’t say this just because I am Roman, is the most beautiful in the world. You have the sea, the mountains, all the monuments, the sunshine. You have the passion of the Roman people. Then you have Roma the football club. I’ve always supported them. Those colours were in my bedroom and in my dreams from a young age. I have worn this shirt for 25 years, and it’s been my only one. I also wear the captain’s armband. What more could I want from life?”
What do you like most about the people of Rome?
“I like their boldness, their sincerity, their smile and the passion they have in what they do.”
You’ve always liked teasing people, which is quite typical of Romans. Which of your team-mates have you joked around with most?
“I have to pick one? Few have been spared. I’ve teased everyone at least a bit. Those who come to Roma, without knowing what the people of Rome are like, take a whole season to get our jokes. I got on really well with Vincent Candela. He’s French, but an adopted son of Garbatella. He became a true Roman. He’s a clever, cunning guy. It took him no time to get my jokes.”
On your 40th birthday, you said there was a time when you were thinking about joining Real Madrid.
“It was in 2003. My relationship with the club was in an odd place, certain things weren’t going so well. I had made some specific requests and it’s not like they wanted to keep me happy, but do things more their own way. Real Madrid did everything they could to convince me to join. It’s the only other team in the world that I would, with a heavy heart, have joined. I thought about it seriously. Ultimately it was my family, my friends and my wife who - fortunately - helped me decide to stay at Roma. I think it’s lucky that I did.”
Do you think you could ever have left Roma?
“Now, I say no. But at that time I wasn’t 100% sure. It wasn’t about joining any old team, but the best team in the world.”
I remember that as an observer, you decided to help save the club in that period.
“Yes, not everyone knows that. It was my own choice. I wanted to help the Sensi family, which did so much for Roma. I’m not ashamed in any way, but I’m happy that not a lot was said about it. I did it for the team, for these colours, which have always been in my heart. I did it for the Sensi family because they have always treated me like a son. When there’s respect, you need nothing more. I tried to repay them, as well as I could.”
How do you see your future?
“I don’t know what the future holds for me. I know I’ll enjoy it, a new life and career. Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I hope I’ll always remain a part of Roma. That’s what I want. I want to help the club, and I hope I’m able to do so. I’ve spent a huge chunk of my life here. I’d be really happy if I can keep helping Roma.”
Would you like to be a coach?
“Part of me would like to. I don’t think about it at the moment because knowing my character, I may not be able to manage a group. But having seen some of my former team-mates who have recently stopped playing go down the road of coaching, it makes me wonder whether something happens when you’re no longer a player. Maybe the same thing will happen to me. I’ll change my nature and the way I do various things.”
What has been the best moment of your football career?
“Setting aside winning the Scudetto, which had always been my lifelong aim, perhaps this recent period. Last year was a really awful one, a lot of different things happened across the board which I hadn’t expected. But my pride, passion, determination, spirit and character helped me make many changes. Now I feel really good, just like when I was a youngster. I’m in a good place.”
And the toughest moment?
“Injuries, the nasty and unexpected ones. Moments like that allow you to understand the measure of a man. I have bounced back after two or three very tough situations. They helped me realise what strength of character I have, and the fact that I have an enduring desire to play.”
Which coach have you had the best relationship with in your career?
“[Zdenek] Zeman was the one I got on best with. But others too, for the most part. I’ve never really had issues with coaches, because I’ve always done what’s required of me. I have always respected them. I’ll say this again: I’ve never tried to get a coach sacked or get one brought in at this club; it’s always been the club’s decision. I’ve never tried to influence that. The only one I had slight issues with was Carlos Bianchi. I was young and he was wary of players from Rome, because he preferred foreign players. He tried to get me to go elsewhere.”
To change teams?
“Yes and I almost did. I reached an agreement with Sampdoria. I signed with them and the next day there was a tournament at the Olimpico, with Ajax and Borussia Monchengladbach. It was the day before I was supposed to go to Sampdoria. But the gods of Rome rebelled and it turned into a magic evening. I scored against Ajax and Borussia. Ajax had a player [Jari Litmanen] that Bianchi wanted at all costs. After the game, however, Sensi intervened and said: “He’s not going anywhere.” The whole deal with Samp collapsed. Bianchi said, “It’s me or Totti”, and Sensi answered, “Totti”, and that’s when everything changed.”
How’s your relationship with Luciano Spalletti?
“I have a good relationship with him, one which goes beyond the confines of football. He’s a good person, with his own values. He’s done so much for me and is a guy who always wants to win. As a coach his knowledge of football is superior to most. Roma did well to bring him back.”
Let’s talk about two things that have changed in football. Firstly, would you say there’s more physicality and less technique in the game?
“I’d say yes, unfortunately, from my point of view. If you’re good physically, there are many things you can do, but without the technique you’re helpless. Ultimately it’s your brain which is the most important thing. If you have a good brain you can do everything.”
The second thing that’s changed is the stadiums being empty. When you started your career they were always packed, and now - barring a few exceptions - they’re empty.
“It’s quite distressing to see Roma’s stadium empty. You hear people’s voices and when people shout, but I was used to playing in front of between 40 and 50 thousand fans. It’s different now. It’s also a change for the team. When the crowd is behind you, it makes it tough for opponents who come to the Olimpico, having all those people on your back, putting pressure on you. I hope that this issue with the Curva can be resolved. I’m not sure what’s behind it, but enough is enough. Let’s get rid of these barriers. It’s time to find a solution. Let’s raise those barriers because we need our fans. Them being there changes everything. Those who do wrong should be punished as individuals, which is fair. It’s only in Rome that we have this issue, but it’s a city like any other. We want passionate fans to come and cheer on the team; with their help we can share great joy and excitement. I want to hear them again, close to the team. I hope they can come back to the stadium while a solution is found. The club, the fans and the players all need to be united on this issue.”
This is not something you talk about much, although I've mentioned it before. I've seen the care and attention you've shown people who weren't well and who wanted to meet you. We've been to see some of these people together. Do you feel a duty to return some of your good fortune to the city and to those less fortunate than yourself?
“I've always got involved in lots of things, especially in private, away from the cameras. I like helping people without everyone knowing about it. I've taken part in lots of charity initiatives and made lots of surprise visits to kids in hospitals who weren't well. I enjoy doing things like that – it makes me feel good. I'm lucky because I have money, family and health. It makes me sad to see people who are suffering. I did what I could and I always did it in secret. I help lots of people and it's an important part of my life.”
Have you ever been friends with a Lazio player?
“Yes, Nesta and Di Vaio. We grew up together, albeit on different sides. We're really good friends.”
How important is family to you?
“100% important. Without family you can't really appreciate what you have. Without family everything is more difficult. The older you get, the more you come to appreciate the values you were taught.”
Which of your goals is your favourite?
“I have two favourites and I can't make up my mind. There's the one in Milan when I lobbed Julio Cesar and the one I scored with my left at the Marassi, against Sampdoria. One with each foot.”
Do you remember all your goals?
Do you sometimes dream about football?
“No, but I sometimes dream about the end of my playing career. Sadly it's reality that you're dreaming. In a way I'm happy because I've had 25 years of love and passion that I could never have imagined. But I'll miss joking around with my team-mates, the dressing room, training camps and just being on the pitch. Lots of things that I won't have anymore. I'm going to enjoy every last minute.”
Do you agree with Maurizio Sarri that the league is already over?
“The league isn't over but Juve are on another planet. They've proved it over the last five years. We'll try to give them a run for their money and take it to the wire but we know it won't be easy. We have to be honest with ourselves and the people who come to watch us. They're the best team and we're a notch below. But we won't give up.”
Who is the dirtiest defender you've ever faced?
“[Paolo] Montero. I don't know what he's like as a person but I've heard very good things about him. On the pitch he was really vicious, like a dog snapping away at you all the time. He'd go in really hard, but that's part of the game.”
Do you have a favourite part of the city?
“Everything in Rome is my favourite, and there are so many areas I haven't seen yet. I hope to see them in the future. Each part is fascinating in its own way. I'd like to go back to Via Vetulonia. I have lots of wonderful memories from there: it's where I grew up, first played football and made lots of friends. Sooner or later I'll go back and say hello to everyone.”
What's your opinion about the things journalists write?
“Sometimes they go over the top. You should be writing things that are true, not pointless stuff. It's not right to write things just for the sake of it.”
Are you happy?