Paddy Agnew’s Notes From Italy: Man Stays Extra Week In Prison To Meet Totti
Towards the end of 2006, word got about in the Rome prison of Rebibbia that AS Roma’s charismatic captain, Francesco Totti, would shortly be making a VIP celebrity visit to raise money for charity. When one of the prisoners, clearly a serious Totti fan, got to hear about this, he immediately tabled a special request to the prison Governor.
The thing is that this guy was due to get out of prison just one week before the Totti visit, which took place in December 2006. The prisoner’s request was simple enough. Please keep me locked up for another week, Governor, that way I’ll get to meet Totti, adding:
“Even if I lived for another 100 years, I’ll never again have a chance like this to have my photo taken alongside Totti…”
This is just one of many intriguing stories told by Francesco Totti himself in his autobiography, “Un Capitano”, due to be published this week by Italian publishers, Feltrinelli, with the proceeds due to go to the famous Roman children’s hospital, Bambino Gesù. Written in collaboration with experienced football critic and Sky Italia pundit, Paolo Condò, there is every indication that this book will be the best football read of the Italian year.
Until we get to read the book ourselves, Totti has in the meantime been out on the hustings to promote it. In that context, an interview with RAI prime time programme, Che Tempo Che Fa, last weekend prompted a Totti classic.
Media reports last week had made much of the exemplary sporting behaviour of his 12-year-old son, Christian, during a Roma v Paris Saint Germain game in an UI4 tournament in Madrid. In a penalty area “incident” Totti junior banged into the PSG goalkeeper who was hit on the head. However, with the ball at his feet and the ‘keeper on the ground, Totti jnr. renounced on the chance of scoring, opting to stop playing to check if the goalkeeper was all right. Afterwards, young Totti told Spanish TV:
“For me, the important thing was that he (the goalkeeper) was good, not that I have to score”
Asked about his son’s sporting behaviour, Totti senior joked:
“Well, he’s clearly not my son. I mean I would have scored the goal first and then gone to check out if the ‘keeper was OK”.
41-year-old Totti, who these days works as an intermediary between the Roma first team squad and coach Eusebio di Francesco, is of course no ordinary ex-footballer. In opting to play all his career with AS Roma, some 28 years from underage level upwards, he not only firmly established himself in that rare one-club player category but he also copperfastened his position as the iconic object of unconditional love and admiration from the Roma fans.
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His retirement from football, in a remarkable ceremony at the Olimpico just moments after the last game of the 2016-2017 season at home to Genoa, witnessed a tsunami of gratitude and recognition from his fans. Yet, did he really want to stop playing? Well, of course not. In an interview last week with La Repubblica’s Venerdi magazine, Totti admitted candidly:
“That wasn’t my idea. Rather it was something that the club wanted. That was probably the only real problem ever between me and Roma. Because it is one thing to decide yourself, it’s totally another if someone else puts up the ‘Stop’ signs. Of course, I understand that no one ever wants to retire. But I wasn’t expecting to play 60-70 games per season, I just wanted to be part of the squad. Still it is better to have retired than to sit on the bench and never get a game…”
And why did he not accept any of the many proposals that came his way offering a post-Roma coda to his career in places like the USA or Asia?
“Because I would have ruined a 25-year-long career. I always said that I would play for only one club. I gave my word”.
Totti admits that, for the time being, his future is unclear. For now, he is happy in his Go-Between role, living out the same routine as when he was a player. He still starts his day by taking his children, Christian and Chanel, to school from where he drives on to the Roma training centre of Trigoria, where along with Di Francesco he follows all the first team training. Would he like to coach Roma himself one day, asks Venerdi?:
“Between journalists, radios, fans, there’s a lot more pressure at Roma than elsewhere. After you have been coaching at Roma for a while, the heavy wrinkles start to come and your hair either goes grey or it falls out…I haven’t got the stomach for that, right now”
In a foretaste of what is to come, Totti offered Venerdi some interesting assessments of events and colleagues, past and present. Roma team mate Antonio Cassano was “the best player” he ever played with; the 2001 title winning Roma coach Fabio Capello is “stubborn” and “always has to have the last word”; that 2010 Italian Cup final foul on Mario Balotelli for which he was sent off was entirely premeditated because he was sick of Balotelli’s provocations; and finally to have suggested that Ronaldo was in crisis because he did not score in his first three games with Juventus this season is just “incredible”, adding:
“I mean this is R-O-N-A-L-D-O. You don’t have doubts about a player like him and if you do, it means that you are really in a bad way…”
For more of the same, we will have to await the release of Totti’s autobiography due out on Thursday of this week. In the meantime, in that RAI TV interview, Totti chose to remind us just why and how he is so very much “romano” and sometimes so little “politically correct” when saying of his glamorous TV presenter wife, Ilary:
“Ilary sleeps in a huge big pajama. It takes me an hour and a half to get her undressed…Before I was married, if I heard a noise in the house, I just lay dead. Now, I send her out to see who or what it is. That’s why I married her…”
As we said, this one looks destined to be a best-seller.
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