Back in the late 1990s, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero were chatting after an exam at a remedial school for college drop outs. “How did it go?” Totti asked the Juventus ace. “Not so well, Francesco, I handed in a blank sheet,” said Del Piero. “You too?” replied the Roma captain. “Now they’re going to say I copied.”
That was a well known joke, but, in real life, it could be said that he and Del Piero have mirrored each other throughout their careers. One makes his debut, the other makes his debut, one becomes the Capocannoniere and so does the other, one scores 200 goals and the other scores, well, you know what I mean.
For instance in Week 32, four minutes after Del Piero scored a crucial second goal for Juve with one of his cracking free-kicks, down in Rome his friend scored the Giallorossi's second, typically by being in the right place at the right time. Just another example of the way the veterans' careers have seemingly corresponded since making their Serie A debuts in the same year, Francesco in March 1993, while Del Piero, six months later in September.
Del Piero currently stands on 207 goals in 509 League appearances [Serie A and B], while from 496 games played, Totti has scored 212 goals. Once again not dissimilar stats.
The pair of jokers meet up for what could be the last time this weekend as two of the world's most outstanding No 10s share the same pitch, and neither will want to miss the occasion. Certainly the riveting sub plot of the duel between the only two true flag bearers, of a generation brought up on fantasisti, has caught the public’s attention.
Coincidentally it was almost a year ago to the day that a similar situation arose, I even wrote a blog on it but they never met. Unfortunately Alessandro picked up an injury and only Totti played, as Juve ran out 2-0 winners.
This weekend neither is injured, but again whether Del Piero starts the game is debatable. One of the few differences between them, at least this season, has been that Francesco has started 21 games and scored five goals, while Del Piero has started just three matches, scoring twice.
But it's the similarities between them that stand out and none more emphatic than the examples they have set to youngsters with their passion, skill and above all singular devotion to the shirt, a loyalty far and beyond the normal call of duty.
Other affiliations include both winning World Cup medals, both wearing the Azzurri No 10 shirt, with Alessandro selflessly giving the celebrated jersey to Totti and switching to the No 7. Both have won League titles, both have won countless other trophies and personal awards and both are their respective clubs' record appearance holders and goalscorers. For anyone else to come close to these outstanding records will be like making melanzane alla parmigiana without cheese and a frying pan, impossible.
Sadly, for football fans there is one more important difference, the way Juve and Roma have treated their respective bandieri. Roma rewarded Totti with a long contract with improved wages. Yet Juventus treat their own devoted flag-bearer shabbily and in comparison to Roma's handling of Totti, downright disrespectfully.
Yet all these statistics, similarities and friendships will matter not one iota when the two meet for what should be a great game. Both will have one thought and one thought only in their respective minds, to win for the shirt.