KEIR RADNEDGE in ITALY —- The 30-year love affair between Francesco Totti and Roma has ended amid bitterness, anger, sorrow and recriminations.
Totti snapped shut his three decades with the Italian Serie A club at a press conference which was streamed live from the Italian capital for more than an hour.
Fans have reacted angrily to the fall-out between the former captain and Italy forward and Roma’s Boston-based American owner James Pallotta. The latter has insisted Totti was to blame for turning down an offer to continue as technical director. Totti denied this and said leaving Roma after 30 years was “like dying.”
The 42-year-old spent his entire professional career with Roma. He joined the youth academy in 1989, made his senior debut at 16 in 1993 and scored 307 goals in 785 appearances in all competitions.
For all his popularity with the club’s ultras, Totti’s career with Roma brought ‘only’ one Serie A title (in 2001) and two Italian cups.
He also scored nine goals in 58 games for Italy in an eight-year Azzurri career scarred by controversy when he was sent off in a World Cup defeat by South Korea in 2002. The former Roma captain had been technical director since retiring from playing two years ago.
Roma have almost always been superior in the capital to Lazio, with whom they share the dated Stadio Olimpico, but have always lagged behind the giants of the north – Juventus, Milan and Internazionale – in terms of domestic and international achievement and status.
Even this past season, during which Totti’s relationship with stay-away owner Pallotta declined, Roma finished sixth and missed out a Champions League place. They were also knocked out in the second round in Europe’s elite competition by Porto.
Totti’s departure followed that of former team-mate Daniele de Rossi who quit the club at the end of last season after 18 years. The club’s American ownership and Franco Baldini, a former friend and now director and football consultant to Pallotta, came under fire.
The fans’ hero pulled few punches in his exit statement, saying: “I am resigning as a Roma executive. I never had the chance to work on the technical area with Roma. I was hoping that this day never came, instead this ugly and heavy day has arrived.
“This is far worse than retiring as a player. Leaving Roma is like dying. I feel like it’d be better if I died.
“This is a club to be loved and supported. There shouldn’t be pro-Totti, pro-Pallotta or pro-Baldini factions. Just Roma fans. As I said, presidents pass, coaches pass, players pass but the flags do not.
“They knew my intentions and what I wanted, to give so much to this club and team but they never wanted me to, in all honesty. They excluded me from every decision. The main focus of certain people has been to remove Romans from Roma. In the end, the truth came out, because they achieved what they wanted.”
Pallotta, whose consortium became Serie A’s first foreign owners in 2011, has not been seen in Rome for a year. Only his departure and the arrival of new owners could persuade Totti to return.
He said: “If I were the president of Roma and had two icons like Totti and De Rossi, I’d put them in charge of everything. Pallotta surrounded himself with the wrong people and he only listens to them.
“For eight years here, since the Americans came, they’ve done everything they could to sweep us aside. When the boss isn’t around everyone does whatever they feel like. That’s the case anywhere. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you make the same mistakes for eight years, you have to ask yourself some questions. Something clearly is going wrong.”