My affection for Francesco Totti
Most fans here in the States are fans of the EPL. There are a variety of reasons for that, the biggest obviously being the amount of coverage and live games we get here. But that's a result of the growing interest. What sparked that? Maybe the pace of the game, the passion, but I also think it has a lot to do with just sharing a common language. Because of that, it feels like you can just go to a game and feel somewhat comfortable, even though it would be only a little shorter of a trip than getting to a game in Spain or Germany.
But all of us have one team, or one league we at least try and keep an eye on. For a lot, it's now La Liga. That's easy, because you really only have to pay attention to two teams, and as long as you know what's going on with them you have a good handle on the rest of it.
But this past Saturday I returned as I always do, to an affinity that I always forget about but is never too far out of grasp. And that's AS Roma, and more to the point, Francesco Totti.
If you didn't catch Roma-Fiorentina, you really missed out. The whole match was at a very un-Serie A pace with chances galore everywhere. It was an 80's NHL game. Roma ran out 4-2 winners, with Totti getting two of them. It could have been 8-6.
And even at 36, Totti still ran the match. Things just seem to stop whenever Totti is on the ball. The flicks, the moves, the vision, and still the lethal-ness. His two goals were from the top drawer, one a full volley off his own flick and then a 25-yard missile -- the kind that when it hits the twine you feel it in your soul. He ended proceedings by coming up with a nutmeg-through-ball for Osvaldo to pound home. Totti is one of the few with the sheer huevos to try that with his team clinging onto a one-goal lead late.
I've just always had a soft spot for Totti, and I think it's because his career and legacy matches that of our own Steven Gerrard pretty heavily. Also might have to do with that when my Liverpool fascination went from strong to downright psychotic, Roma were a UEFA Cup opponent in 2001 and a Champions League one in 2002.
But Totti is a local, and grew up on the Curva Sud, just as Gerrard did on The Kop. He's been the supporters' hero from the moment they stepped out onto the pitch in their colors, because it sort of felt to them that he could be any one of them. They've also been told that no one can understand their accents -- Italian journalists at one point gave up interviewing Totti because he used so much Roman slang.
They each have one moment of true triumph with their club -- Roma's 2001 Scudetto and Liverpool's Night In Istanbul. There have been cups for each, though Totti has a World Cup Winner's medal to his name. And you may remember Totti tearing Ukraine apart in the quarterfinals of that tournament or his last-gasp, steely-eyed penalty in the group stage against Australia.
They've both had brushes with leaving their hometown club, as Totti wasn't all that far from a move to Juve or Milan or abroad once upon a time. But both couldn't bring themselves to leave. And both will probably look back on their club career and wonder if it shouldn't have earned just a little bit more.
But what connects them most is that their club has revolved around them for more than a decade each now. In both countries, is there a captain who is more his club than Gerrard or Totti?
Sure, there are differences. Their playing style is the most obvious. Gerrard has always been a drummer -- dominating through energy and drive -- whereas Totti is a lead guitarist -- taking the spot light and playing the beautiful things to make it all pop. They've both shifted positions a lot, and they've both been a curse on their in-city rival.
But just on his own, even at 36, Totti remains a joy to watch. Sadly, I only got to see Totti live once, and that was at Anfield in 2002 when Liverpool went through in the Champions League at Roma's expense. And Liverpool were so rampant that night that Totti couldn't get much of a sniff. Gerrard had a lot to do with that.
But whenever they pop up on BeIn, I'll be watching. Because Totti still warrants that attention.
One side story about Totti. I had some friends who spent a year abroad in Rome during college. I went to visit them, and one told me how one night he was leaving work at a restaurant that became a nightclub late, and Totti and Cafu were walking in with about 12 models. I thought, "Hmmm, Francesco Totti. Captain and legend of Roma, in his prime years, and looking that way. Only 12?"