Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

After 2 Decades of Creativity, Why Stop Now?

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

After 2 Decades of Creativity, Why Stop Now?

Article excerpt

Francesco Totti first played with Roma in 1993, and only one person has scored more goals in Serie A.

As Italy's clubs, by their own admission, lag behind the powers of the European giants, one player goes on and on, extending his own chapter as a Roman god in his game.

Francesco Totti was born a Roma fan and probably will die an idol in the city where, for 20 years now, his profile has been higher than that of any rock star or politician.

Totti is 36 now, but age cannot wither his desire to go on playing for his club, and maybe even for country.

His role is what the Italians call a fantasista -- a creator on the field. Of course, the lungs and the limbs slow with the years, but last month, when Totti passed the 20-year milestone in continuous service in the top league, Cesare Prandelli, the national team coach, refused to rule out the fantasy of recalling Totti to the Azzurri.

That would be extraordinary, because it has been seven years since the Roma playmaker played on an Italian team that won the World Cup.

He was coming back from injury then, but still he was able to produce moments of invention after spending barely any time to recover properly from a broken leg. Totti was able to give moments - - inspirational moments -- to that World Cup squad. He can still produce flashes of skill, of creativity, of finishing experience beyond the scope of ordinary athletes.

That is why Roma clings to him, and he to Roma.

Last month, he eclipsed the Serie A scoring feat of one of Italy's most revered goal artists, the Swede Gunnar Nordahl. Before that, Totti had passed the records of Giuseppe Meazza and Jose Altafini.

Totti's current total of 227 goals in 530 appearances in Serie A puts him second on the all-time scoring chart behind Silvio Piola, who notched 290 goals in 556 games for five Italian teams between 1930 and 1954.

False modesty is unlikely ever to afflict Totti. "If I had played as a center-forward for my entire career," he said, "I would have scored more than 300 goals and already have overtaken Silvio Piola."

Indeed he might, because from the moment that Totti began playing organized soccer, at the age of 8, he was never just a striker. His many team coaches since then have toyed with his versatility, with his breathtaking quality to pick out a pass, with his imagination to shape a game and not simply to strike.

His role is defined as a "trequartista." The Italians have a word for everything in soccer. The trequartista is the pivotal role in attack, though it is neither a striker nor a creator, per se, but three-quarters of both those positions.

Lionel Messi would be a trequartista in Italian eyes, just as Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero have been, and as Dennis Bergkamp so elegantly proved in the Netherlands, Italy and England. …

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