In his 760 games - and counting - for Roma, Francesco Totti has proven himself adept in several different roles. Gaby McKay salutes his versatility.
Insofar as any team can be said to “invent” a tactic or a role, Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain are generally credited with the creation of the “False 9” at the 2010 World Cup, at least in its modern variant.
In fact, Totti had pioneered the style years earlier under Spalletti. The Coach was on the verge of being dismissed in the 2005-06 campaign, having collected just five wins from his opening 16 League games. With nothing to lose, he pushed his captain further up the pitch for a game against Sampdoria.
On paper, Spalletti’s system could have been read as a 4-6-0, but it was far from defensive. Roma would deploy two attacking full-backs, two wingers and an attacking midfielder, with Totti as the spearhead.
The captain, used to playing as a trequartista, would drop deep to receive the ball, drawing the defence out with him. That would allow the likes of Amantino Mancini and Rodrigo Taddei to find space in behind, at which point Totti or Simone Perrotta could pick them out with a pinpoint pass. Then, with the defence retreating, the two central players could advance on the penalty area to finish off the move.
The Sampdoria game ended in a draw, but the switch subsequently brought a run of 11 consecutive wins, a record at the time. Understandably Spalletti stuck with the formation, and Totti had the best goalscoring season of his career in 2006-07 with 32 in all competitions, as well as 15 assists.
Despite Spalletti’s resignation in 2009, subsequent Coaches continued to use Totti his new position, and he continued to deliver, only failing to reach double figures in 2011-12 when Luis Enrique returned him to trequartista.
However, aside from a heroic run under Claudio Ranieri which almost pipped Inter, the Lupi struggled in the League and would not get back to challenging for the Scudetto until the arrival of Frenchman Rudi Garcia. With Totti now in the twilight of his career, did he have one more reinvention in him?
Previously the star of the side, the modern day Totti is one of brilliant cameos. The 2013-14 season saw Roma win their first 10 matches, and they finished the campaign on 85 points, beaten only by Antonio Conte’s Juventus who won 33 of their 38 games to take 102 points.
Totti played an average of 65 minutes in his 26 games, making 20 starts. Clearly, he was no longer able to deliver for 90 minutes every week, but he made the most of his time on the pitch by scoring eight goals and setting up 10.
After another second-place finish in 2015, poor form at the start of last season saw Garcia sacked, with Spalletti returning to replace him. However, the returning tactician couldn’t find a place for Totti in his side.
With his contract due to expire at the end of the season and without any playing time, Totti was banished to the stands after criticising the club and Coach in a television interview. “The King of Rome has been exiled” declared Gazzetta dello Sport, as it appeared Totti’s career at the Olimpico was set for an acrimonious ending.
Just as he always had been though, Totti was there when the Giallorossi needed him. 3-2 down at Atalanta in April, Totti scored an 86th-minute equaliser. After coming on at 2-1 down in the 84th minute against Torino, Er Pupone scored twice to win the game. All-in-all, the captain provided four goals in the final six matches of the season, each of them as a substitute.
A one-year contract extension followed, and Totti may not be done there. Against Sampdoria in Week 3 of this season he turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win with a goal and an assist.
“The pitch is what decides,” Totti said after the match. “If I am in this condition and have the right mentality, why stop?”
Gallery – A number of Coaches have taken on the task of managing Francesco Totti with mixed results.
– A number of Coaches have taken on the task of managing Francesco Totti with mixed results.