As Francesco Totti leads yet another Roma side to victory after victory, chipping in with three goals and six assists in seven games this season at the age of 37, his place in Italian football history is starting to solidify.
Just as it is impossible rank Lionel Messi among football’s greatest (although many have declared that the 25-year-old has already won that particular race) at this stage of his career, it is becoming easier to to see how Er Pupone stands alongside the greats of the Italian and world game.
The difficult question (or, to be more accurate, one of) is to try and define him in the first place. Is he a striker? A centre forward? A winger? A midfielder? At times in his career he has been all of these and more, transitioning seamlessly every time a new coach brings a fresh outlook.
Doing something new is tediously old for Francesco Totti, who could probably do a job in centre midfield or even at full back (although you wouldn’t really get the best out of him by doing that).
With such a conundrum with even defining Totti’s position, an equal one is married to it when deciding how his contribution is judged. If he is a striker, then his goals are the best way to match him up to his historical counterparts. If it’s midfield, it’s his assists – anywhere else maybe it’s his astonishing appearance records and the length of time he has served as Roma captain since being handed the armband over a decade ago.
Statistically speaking, Francesco Totti is the second best Serie A forward of all time with 230 goal if you have decided that goals are the way to judge his success. Although, his 541 appearances in which he has got to that point make him the most capped player on that list with four more appearances than Silvio Piola(537) and a huge 63 more than the next most capped player on that list; Alessandro Del Piero. To compare, Gunnar Nordhal has 225 goals in 291 appearances.
He sits in third, five goals shy of Totti’s tally. Totti’s goals come at an average of 2.35 games, which is surpassed by Nordhal (a goal per 1.29 games), Giuseppe Meazza (1.69 games), Jose Altafini (2.12) Roberto Baggio (2.20) and Kurt Hamrin (2.11). You’d have to go as far as Alessandro Del Piero in joint eighth to find an inferior goal average. Is Totti the second best striker in Italian history? Probably not. Give Nordhal 541 games and he’d have approximately 418 goals, which would be far and away the highest total in Calcio history.
Is Totti a better overall player than Nordhal, Piola, Altafini and Hamrin? Analysis suggests he would be, as the majority of the names mentioned were prima punti, or “first striker” in Italian. Goals were their primary, and often only objective during games. Totti’s contribution goes far beyond how many times he’s beaten a goalkeeper, and his accomplishment is more a testament to his stamina than his finishing.
In fact, looking at Totti’s career through the statistical microscope conflicts everything Totti has been for Roma in his 20 year career. Totti only has one Scudetto, so is every player who has played for Juventus last season and the year before superior? Is Emanuele Giaccherini better than Francesco Totti? He has a statistical advantage.
If Totti one day overtakes Piola that doesn’t mean he was a better goalscorer than the Lazio legend, just as Diego Maradona’s absence from the top 25 goalscorers in Italian football history doesn’t mean there are 25 players better than Diego Maradona.
You can’t quantify leadership, you can’t record influence and there is no known figure of the amount Italian or world children who have chipped the ball into their back garden and placed their thumb in their mouth pretending to be Francesco Totti.
Because that’s just it. Over the years, Totti has evolved not just as a footballer but as an image, an idol. The now 37-year-old is almost an obvious a symbol of Rome as the Colosseum, Julius Caesar or the wolf that fostered Romulus and Remus. There arguably isn’t a closer bond in sport between one man and a team; never separated, simultaneously co-dependent and equally transcendent.
He is a footballer in the purest sense of the word that has embodied Roma football and the emotion of it’s sentiment. Totti’s continued service and loyalty despite Real Madrid, Chelsea, paychecks and father time trying to end his career is as pure a representation of Roma’s struggles with the richer and more powerful teams in Italy than any other.
He is a footballer in the purest sense, and his career is a microcosm of some of the greatest things about the sport; loyalty, technique, leadership and character.
Is Francesco Totti one of Italian football’s greatest strikers? In the strictest sense, no. Is he one of Italian football’s greatest players, images and characters? Indisputably.
Don’t define him, enjoy him. You’re running out of time.