“I have worn many Roma shirts, but this will be my last one.”
Those shocking words were uttered last week by Francesco Totti, who is entering the final year of a contract with the only club he has ever known, AS Roma.
And for many Roma fans, the thought of the Giallorossi without their hometown hero wearing the captain’s armband is unimaginable. I, on the other hand, believe that there has never been a better time for Roma to move on and bid adieu to a player who has held onto the leading role for too long.
At 36, Totti is still Roma’s leading man, a demi-god to their supporters, and in many ways this has been the club’s biggest problem. Since manager Fabio Capello left for Juventus in 2004, Totti has become the leading voice as their captain, and has risen to heights that few players ever do — Il Capitano has become bigger than the club itself.
Roma's only scudetto with Totti came during the 2000-01 Serie A campaign. A plethora of supremely talented players, led by Capello, culminated in the Giallorossi’s third Italian league title. Capello left in 2004, and since then 11 managers have come and gone, with Frenchman Rudi Garcia the latest to take charge of the Roman outfit.
Is the team’s title drought due to a lack of ambition from ownership? Hardly. On March 31, 2011, Thomas Di Benedetto bought AS Roma, and immediately vowed to turn the team into a global brand. Since taking over the club, Di Benedetto has spent more than $200 million US on transfers.
The one constant with the Giallorossi has been Totti as captain. In terms of statistics, his play has yet to dip. However, the same can be said about Alessandro Del Piero who was immense in Juventus' championship winning season in 2011-12. At the time Del Piero was 37, and believed in the team’s rebuilding project. He realized he had to take a new role at the club, a 'super-sub' if you will, and he played that role to perfection by coming off the bench to score big goals in key games.
The difference? Del Piero accepted a lesser role for the good of the club, something Totti refuses to do.
Luis Enrique tried to mould Totti into a similar 'super-sub' role during the 2011-12 campaign, but it failed miserably. Totti was upset with not being a starter, and it became more of a distraction than anything else. Enrique eventually left his post as after just one season, realizing he would not make a breakthrough as long as Totti was around.
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Totti is a legend of the club; there is no doubting that. He was local boy who became one of the best players in Italy while at Roma, and remained loyal to his hometown club despite offers from Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s a wonderful story, but it has been the story for too long. Roma should be a club challenging for the title, not battling it out for a Europa League position.
Totti has to be let go, by the club and its fans. It will be hard at first, but a new player will rise to steal their hearts. Lord knows there are a few players in the Roma squad with the talent to do so; all they need is the opportunity. Erik Lamela and Mattia Destro will always remain secondary to Totti until he leaves the club.
No manager will ever have full control of the squad because if Totti does not take that man seriously then no one else will either. The buck stops with Totti at Roma - everyone knows that, and Roma will continue to struggle until he leaves.
Yes, Totti is still putting up great numbers – he bagged 12 goals this past season - but he has put up great numbers for 12 years without it resulting in a Serie A championship. At some point, Roma must realize it can’t win titles with Totti leading the line.
It is time to move on, and start a new chapter. Treat this season as his last, enjoy it, marvel at the player he was, and look forward to the uncertainty his vacancy provides. It's time to start thinking about the good of the club, rather than for the good of the club's legend.
Ownership has changed, management has changed, but Totti has remained the one constant. It is time to say goodbye to the King of Rome.