Tuesday December 8 2015
Totti: ‘Never imagined being striker’

Roma captain Francesco Totti admits he “would never have imagined playing centre-forward”.

The veteran played on the flank under Zdenek Zeman, and later became best-known as a trequartista for Fabio Capello’s Giallorossi.

Luciano Spalletti then moved him to centre-forward, and the 39-year-old discussed his various roles with Roma’s official website.

“My debut in 1993? I was young and I had a lot of strikers ahead of me. [Abel] Balbo was there and then in ’94 [Daniel] Fonseca joined too,” Totti recalls.

“At that time I liked providing goals for my team-mates. My job was to set up as many goals for them as possible. I enjoyed setting them up more than I did scoring myself.

“[With Zeman] I had a slightly different job. We needed to work even more for the whole team.

“Basically, my playing style was the same but from the wing I had more opportunities to take players on and beat them down the flank. I really enjoyed those two seasons.

“From 2001-02 onwards, I started being picked regularly at centre-forward alongside [Antonio] Cassano or [Gabriel] Batistuta.

“I felt immediately at home. Playing further up the pitch you have more opportunities to score and provide assists and it’s something I liked right from the start. With Spalletti, my position changed once and for all.

“They were two different formations. Under Capello, when I played with Cassano, we were often nominally strikers but playing as attacking midfielders - given licence to roam and a free role.

“In Spalletti’s 4-2-3-1 meanwhile, I played out and out centre forward albeit still in an unusual way.

“I would never have imagined playing centre-forward my whole career as I didn’t think I had the attributes suited to it. Thankfully though, it went really well.

“With Spalletti, I was free to roam and that was the position where I felt best in my career.

“They’re different spells of my career. When you grow up, you gain experience and realise what you’re capable of. They’re two separate phases of my career and I can’t compare them.

“My best game for Roma? I think it was the 4-0 home win over Juve in 2003-04. Cassano and I nailed almost every pass.”

Serie A is famous for its defenders, but Totti struggles to name the toughest opponent he’s faced over the years.

“There’s not one in particular. There have been a few pitbulls who stand behind you and spend all game kicking you.

“It would be easy to say [Richard Vanigli] because his challenge seriously injured me at home to Empoli in 2006. But he was relentless.

“In the first few minutes he stayed tight to me. And that was the same week I’d revealed my battered ankles on television.

“That’s why when he called me to apologise, I got angry. I regret reacting like that because these things can happen in football. Injuries happen.

“I got injured after seven minutes but it was the first six minutes that irritated me. He did more than many other defenders I played against over the course of my career.

“[Paolo] Montero, for instance, was someone who could come scything in on you when he lost the plot but he wasn’t as bad during the game.

"The same goes for [Igor] Tudor, [Marco] Materazzi and [Fabio] Cannavaro. They were more relaxed during matches but they left a foot in at the right time.

“You felt the air move and you realised they were coming. Sometimes, if you’re experienced, at times like that you try to jump just before and avoid the contact, knowing who’s behind you.

“They didn’t do so to be dirty but you really felt it when they caught you.”

Finally, the captain was asked how he’d like to be remember when he finally hangs up his boots.

“That’s not for me to decide. I’ll leave it up to them. Respect would be enough for me.

“That’s the most important thing in the career of a footballer.”