They call him “The King of Rome”. It was 1989, and a fresh faced 13-year-old walked through the front doors of the Trigoria Sports Centre for the very first time and the rest, as they say, is history.
That 13-year-old was, of course, Francesco Totti - who was about to embark on an incredible journey by re-writing the history books of his beloved Roma. 26 years later, approaching his 40th birthday, few would have thought that Totti would still be going strong with his adored club. Close to making 600 appearances for the Giallorossi, Totti has found the net just shy of 300 times.
Undoubtedly one of the finest talents Italy has ever produced – despite his occasional controversies – Totti is part of a dying breed of one club players. A player who has remained loyal to club he’s loved all his life, throughout the various highs and lows.
Il ‘Capitano’ has shattered personal and club records however despite all his accolades and heroic status, Francesco Totti has only won one league title during his remarkable Roman career - in the 2000/01 season.
Roma’s bitter rivals Lazio had just won the 1999/00 Scudetto, which was enough to make any Giallorossi fan go into hiding for the first summer of the new millennium. While Lazio celebrated their triumph, goading their city neighbours at every opportunity, Roma coach Fabio Capello was busy plotting payback.
Former president Franco Sensi invested heavily and Roma signed Boca Juniors’ rough and ready centre-half Walter Samuel for 40 Billion Lire. Samuel would fit into an already impressive defence which included Brazilian superstar Cafu, Aldair and French left back Vincent Candela. Roma weren’t short of goals either, with Vincenzo Montella, Marco Delvecchio and of course young captain Francesco Totti in attack. However Sensi and Capello wanted to ensure Scudetto success and they broke the bank, signing not only one of Serie A’s best, but one of the world’s best strikers in Fiorentina’s Gabriel Batistuta, a deal which was believed to be worth around 70 Billion Lire at the time.
Capello began to build his team around their 24-year-old captain. Totti was the focal point of an exciting new look Roma, and would find himself playing the trequartista role, behind new signing Gabriel Batistuta and Italian international Vincenzo Montella. Capello’s rationale was to try and get the best out of Totti’s creativity, using his incredible passing ability to feed the Lupi’s lethal front two. But the provider soon turned goal-scorer, setting the tone for the campaign by finding the net in their opening day victory over Bologna - a comfortable 2-0 win at the Olimpico.
Il ‘Capitano’ led Roma to the top of the table in the early rounds, chipping in with some important goals, including a spectacular left foot volley in a crucial 2-1 home win over Udinese - a victory that would be vital come the end of the season. Another Totti master class in January 2001 saw Roma crush Napoli 3-0 in the Derby del Sole. Now sitting pretty at the top of Serie A, the Roma faithful began to believe.
Totti was consistently putting in decisive performances and picking up weekly man of the match awards as Roma kept a comfortable distance over title rivals Juventus. As the title race came to a head, he was on the score sheet yet again, earning a 2-2 draw away to Napoli before going into the final game of the season against Parma at the Olimpico. Roma led Juve by two points and thus a win would secure the title for the Lupi. It was an afternoon that would go down in history and etch Francesco Totti’s name in Roman history forever.
17th June, 2001, is the historic date. The Olimpico was packed to the rafters, Giallorossi flags and pyro creating an electric atmosphere. To this raucous backdrop, Francesco Totti emerged from the tunnel, completely focused on the task ahead as he led his gladiators into battle on a sun soaked Olimpico field.
Roma flew out the traps and Totti immediately dictated the pace of the match, setting up Montella early on, only for the aeroplanino (little aeroplane) to fire wide of Gianluigi Buffon’s goal. Parma’s star studded defence just couldn’t come to terms with the lethal Roma front three and on 15 minutes Capello’s side took the lead. This time Batistuta turned provider for his captain, Roma’s number 10 firing past the helpless Buffon to put the home side 1-0 up. Wild celebrations commenced as Totti ran to celebrate under the Curva Sud, shirt off, grabbing camera men, press, and substitutes, anyone he passed. If anything encapsulated the reciprocal passion between club and player, it was this celebration. It was as though he was still the 10-year-old boy who used to watch his idol, Giuseppe Giannini, from the Olimpico stands with his father Lorenzo.
Buoyed by the goal, Totti toyed with Parma and he almost set Montella free once again, the forward just failing to latch onto his captain’s pass. But Montella was not to be denied and after doubling Roma’s lead before half-time, Totti’s childhood dreams were a step closer to becoming reality.
Gabriel Batistuta made it three in the second half before the Scudetto winning match ended 3-1. Roma were champions. The Olimpico surface was a sea of red as people covered the hallowed turf and the famous running track. Tears ran down faces, as the fans embraced brothers, fathers, sisters and strangers. It was an emotional scene as Roma lifted the Scudetto trophy for only the third time.
That afternoon, the man from Porta Metronia, Roma, achieved what every fan sitting in the Curva Sud could only dream of; leading the club to which his heart belonged to a famous Scudetto win.
Totti’s incredible form during the 2000/01 campaign would see him named Italian footballer of the year, and was drawing attention outside of Italy as he received his first ever Ballon’Dor nomination. His performances during this memorable season well and truly cemented his reputation as an idol to the Roma faithful. He was one of their own, a son of Rome and a lifelong Romanista.
Some might say that it’s a terrible shame a player of such stature and talent has but a single league title to his name. But for Francesco Totti, this solitary title means everything - perhaps even more than his 2006 World Cup winner’s medal. Loyalty to his club and to the capital city trumps all. Indeed, Totti could have joined Real Madrid’s galacticos when he was in his prime. However a league medal with Roma was worth more than any Champions League or UEFA Cup winner’s medal he may have won elsewhere. That’s why he’ll always be the people’s ‘King of Rome’. As is often the cry from the Curva Sud, there is truly ‘Solo un Capitano’!
Follow Giovanni Dougall on Twitter: @giovannid86