He has not been short of opportunities: A.C. Milan and Real Madrid, to name but two, have made concerted attempts to coax him away in the 23 years since he first appeared as a cherubic teenager in the yellow and red colors of the team he supported as a child.
He could not bring himself to leave.
“I am fortunate to have only worn one shirt in my career,” Totti, 40, said in a recent interview. “It is something that is fundamental to me. It is something I have always wanted, to be one of these few who wear only one shirt, a fan and a player of the same team.”
During his apparently endless twilight — and despite the delicate politics between Rome’s two clubs, Roma and Lazio, as demonstrated in the continuing struggle on the Via della Madonna dei Monti — the city has done what it can to reward that loyalty, to reciprocate his affection.
A few years ago, the street artist Lucamaleonte was commissioned to compose an officially sanctioned mural in the sleepy San Giovanni district. Totti grew up here, in an apartment on Via Vetulonia. He went to school a few streets away, on Via Pascoli.
He was not the best student — “he was only good for one thing, and that was football,” one teacher said — and in a city divided along partisan lines, it is not the ideal recruiting tool for the school to be so indelibly connected to a resolutely Roma idol.
That city officials pushed the mural through anyway is an indication of how much Totti means; the work was part of a series depicting iconic figures in Rome’s modern history. The mural is still there, covering an entire wall, three stories high, unscathed by the unwanted attentions of Lazio supporters. Totti belongs not just to Roma, but also to Rome. In return, there is a corner of the city that will always belong to him.
It is that relationship that has kept him going, long after many assumed his career would have run its course. Totti made his debut for Roma at 16 in 1993. He has played nearly 800 times for Roma and scored 306 goals. He regularly plays alongside teammates not born when he first entered Serie A.
Most of Totti’s peers, the pillars of his generation, have fallen by the wayside. He was part of the Italy of Alessandro Del Piero, Alessandro Nesta and Christian Vieri, and the Serie A of Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Gabriel Batistuta. A couple of peers — Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo — linger on, but in less physically demanding positions or less mentally draining places. Only Totti remains.
“It is a love for both Roma and for football,” he said when asked what has sustained him. “I have married both of those things. Football, to me, is a passion, more than a game. It is everything. But more than anything, it is love for Roma. I have always been Roma. There has never been anything else.