TOTTI BIDS ROMA GOOD­BYE

Skip­per plays last match with club af­ter re­mark­able 25-sea­son ca­reer

New Straits Times - - Sport -

ROME

IT was a cel­e­bra­tion tinged with tears, fear and love. Francesco Totti bid an emo­tional farewell to Roma af­ter a re­mark­able 25-sea­son ca­reer with his home­town club on Sun­day, con­tribut­ing to a 3-2 win over Genoa in Serie A that se­cured the Gial­lorossi a spot in the Cham­pi­ons League.

Al­most 60,000 fans in­side the Sta­dio Olimpico stood up and cheered when the 40-year-old Totti re­placed Mo­hamed Salah in the 54th minute. And even if Totti didn’t score or set up any goals, his mere pres­ence was what the sup­port­ers came to see.

“Un­for­tu­nately the time has come. I’ve cried ev­ery day,” Totti said in a post-match speech from the cen­ter of the pitch. “It’s a de­ci­sion I made with my wife and my fam­ily. I would stay here an­other 25 years. Thank you Roma.

“I would have liked to write a poem or a song but I’ve tried to ex­press my­self with my feet,” Totti added.

Totti then put to rest spec­u­la­tion that he might end his ca­reer with an­other club.

“Ex­cuse me if re­cently I haven’t talked much or cleared up my thoughts,” Totti said. “I’m tak­ing my shirt off for the last time and fold­ing it up well and good. The lights are turn­ing off now and I’m afraid. Al­low me to have a lit­tle fear. Now I need your help.”

Dur­ing the elab­o­rate post­match cer­e­mony, a huge No 10 jersey with Totti’s name on it was un­veiled at the cen­ter of the pitch. All of Roma’s play­ers put on shirts fea­tur­ing Totti’s No 10 while the elec­tronic pub­lic­ity boards lin­ing the pitch read, “Gra­zie

Cap­i­tano.”

Totti then walked around the sta­dium’s ath­letic track while hold­ing third child Is­abel in his arms, with his other two chil­dren and wife Ilary Blasi ac­com­pa­ny­ing him.

At one point, Totti stopped and leaned on the pub­lic­ity bar­ri­ers and just stared into the stands. Then he cried on Blasi’s shoul­der.

Totti also signed a ball with the words, “I’ll miss you,” on it and then kicked it into the “Curva Sud” — south­ern end — of the sta­dium where the hard-core “ul­tra” fans sit.

At the con­clu­sion of his speech, Totti told the fans, “I love you.”

Roma’s vic­tory, cour­tesy of a 90th-minute goal from Diego Perotti, se­cured sec­ond place.

Roma coach Lu­ciano Spal­letti re­ceived a long se­ries of boos and whis­tles — linked to how he has used Totti spar­ingly this sea­son — when he was in­tro­duced be­fore the match.

Fans also re­acted neg­a­tively when James Pal­lotta, Roma’s Amer­i­can owner, greeted Totti af­ter the match.

There had been spec­u­la­tion that Totti wanted to play an­other sea­son and the club was urg­ing him to re­tire.

Pal­lotta has of­fered Totti an un­spec­i­fied man­age­ment po­si­tion.

Thou­sands of fans wore Totti’s No 10 shirt — in white or red — while oth­ers had T-shirts that read sim­ply, “cap­tain for­ever.”

“Let it be known that I

lived in the times of Totti,” one fan ban­ner read.

Roma wore spe­cial shirts fea­tur­ing a ded­i­ca­tion to Totti, and so did Genoa.

On the back of Genoa’s shirts, a mes­sage read, “25 sea­sons with only one shirt, 785 ap­pear­ances, 307 goals, world cham­pion in 2006. Francesco Totti is part of foot­ball his­tory.”

Born in the work­ing-class San Gio­vanni sec­tion of Rome, Totti made his de­but for Roma at the age of 16, way back in 1993.

In 1998, at the age of 22, Totti be­came the youngest ever Serie A cap­tain. AP

EPA PIC

Roma’s Francesco Totti gets a farewell from his team­mates.

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