Friday, July 20, 2007

The Retirement of a Gladiator

Francesco Totti announced his retirement from the national team today, after a year of speculation following the Azzurri's World Cup victory. At his best, Totti had vision, skill, artistry and unflagging devotion on the pitch. At his worst, he was petulant, fraudulent, lazy and absent. Throughout his career, I have both admired him and been terribly disappointed in him, but there is no denying he is one of the greats, an Italian legend.

Totti wore the number 10 for the Azzurri, and I can't think who will wear it now. A creative, attacking midfielder - the Playmaker - is not so easy to replace. Who is the new Totti? Sure, there are Del Piero and Pirlo, but those guys aren't getting any younger. Who is the next brash, fearless, imperfect, brilliant star to streak towards goal, to send in the perfect cross, or to score a free kick that defies the laws of physics?

Totti has said that he is more loyal to his club team, AS Roma, than to the national team. I could never understand that, and I don't think Italian fans or players did either. Totti is a rare player in that he has only ever played for Roma. Most players jump around in their careers to bigger clubs, higher salaries, and better chances at winning titles. Still, everyone knows it is the greatest honor to pull on the blue jersey and play for Italy. Ever since Totti made that statement, I have had mixed feelings about his place on the Azzurri squad. If his heart is not in it, I know how badly he can play. "If Italy is not his highest professional priority, I don't want him on my team," I declared defiantly, all the while watching from the corner of my eye for his return.

Totti, affectionately called Bimbo d'Oro (Golden Boy), was often weighed down by a superstar complex, but on many occasions earned every accolade. Totti: easy to love, easy to hate, impossible to count out. Until now. Now he has counted himself out of the lineup, and I will miss him.

Grazie, Francesco, for your contributions in blue. See you in August wearing red and yellow.

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