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On This Day: Totti makes his Roma debut

It is a game that would otherwise be resigned to the vast archive of history, a regulation 2-0 away victory over Brescia in a season where Roma were heading inexorably for a forgettable mid-table finish.

Instead, coach Vujadin Boskov’s decision to call upon the 16-year-old sitting at the end of his substitutes bench, introducing him to the action for the final minutes, ensured the game would always hold a special place in Roma history.

That 16-year-old was Francesco Totti, and Brescia’s Stadio Mario Rigamonti thus became the venue for the opening chapter in a career that would take the teenager to football's summit.

785 more games - and 307 goals - for the Giallorossi followed, in 24 years of sustained excellence.

“When the gaffer told me to warm up I thought he was talking to Roberto Muzzi sat next to me,” Totti later recalled of his debut.

“As it turned out, he had me in mind! I couldn't believe it, the emotions I felt were indescribable.”

He added: "I warmed up for about 10 seconds. I only touched the ball a couple of times - I was too excited and happy!"

A teenager when he made his senior bow for his home-town club, Totti was not even old enough to be called that when he first landed on the club's radar– and didn’t even play in the game (for local side SMIT Trastevere) where his talent was spotted.

“They wouldn’t let me join in because I was smaller than everyone else,” Totti said of that fateful day.

“I just started doing keep-ups by the side of the pitch. [Roma scout] Ermenegildo Giannini watched me from the side and took me on without me even playing.”

He went on to play for Lodigiani, another local side, before officially joining Roma when he was 12. The progression through the ranks was rapid and, on that March day in 1993, it was Ruggiero Rizzitelli – an Italy international who would go on to play for Bayern Munich – that made way for the youngster.

“I remember when Francesco started coming to train with the first team for the first time, while he was still in the Primavera squad,” Rizzitelli recalled.

“We were used to seeing a lot of good young players, but he had something extra – you could see that even then.

"He wasn’t afraid of the older members of the squad. The youngsters would be full of running and the older guys would give them a hard time, often putting in some really hefty challenges.

“Totti would take the knocks, get up and carry on doing tricks and even nutmegging people the next time he got the ball. You could tell he had class and personality.”

Within a year, Totti was a regular presence in Roma squads, injecting the side with fresh ideas and the impeccable technique that would eventually make him a World Cup winner.

In 1997 he was first handed the No. 10 shirt he would make iconic, while a year later – still only 22 – he was given the club captaincy in a remarkable gesture from the incumbent, Brazilian legend Aldair.

Somewhat reserved, Totti's typically Roman penchant for cutting one-liners became a cornerstone of his own leadership style, as Roma developed into a consistent challenger on the Italian scene.

“He always made me laugh – in the dressing room he always has a joke up his sleeve,” Max Tonetto, who emerged at a similar time, said. “He’s a shy guy, but he knows when to crack a joke to get his point across in a light-hearted way.”

"Few have been spared," Totti himself acknowledged recently. "Those who come to Roma, without knowing what the people of Rome are like, take a whole season to get our jokes."

The rest, as they say, has been glorious history. A World Cup, a Scudetto, a European golden boot - just a few of the many trophies and awards Il Capitano has garnered.

Eventually retiring when he was 40, almost unheard of for an outfield player at the highest level, his longevity became yet another aspect of his brilliance.

“He’s world class on and off the pitch,” club Hall of Famer Vincent Candela, another former teammate, said.

“Francesco has given so much for the club, and the club has done so much for him. He’s been the driving force behind Roma for more than 20 years.”

Twenty-six years, to be exact, as the anniversary of his debut comes around again. Now starting a new chapter as a club director, what has been achieved during those years is almost beyond compare.

"Those colours were in my bedroom and in my dreams from a young age," Totti concluded. "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?”

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