We all knew this day would come: the one we’ve been dreading and denying, the one that has caused anguish and tears. We face the first Serie A season since 1992 (!!!) without Il Capitano, Er Bimbo de Oro, Er Pupone Francesco Totti on the AS Roma roster. And after countless seasons of depending on Totti, romanisti must face up to the sad future without their talisman, and football fans both in Italy and worldwide will miss everything he brings to the game. We know that Totti grew to be loved by everyone, not just romanisti, and his retirement will be felt by all of us this season, whether you are a Serie A fan or if you simply enjoyed Totti’s exploits in the European competitions over the years. The good news is that Italy has been fostering many players who can follow in Totti’s footsteps and make an impact for their club and the league and I am here to help you discover that there is a little bit of Totti in countless footballers currently playing all across the league.*
For those looking for more hometown heroes we romanisti still have Daniele De Rossi, Capitan Futuro for all these years, another born & bred romanista, and Alessandro Florenzi is waiting on the sidelines to follow in his footsteps. Outside of Roma, check out AC Milan’s Manuel Locatelli, who at only 18 is already becoming a fan favorite, especially after scoring against Juventus last season, or new boy Patrick Cutrone who dazzled on Serie A’s debut weekend. Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa, one of their youth products, is now hot property. Then there’s Marek Hamsik, who may not be from Napoli, but has been embraced by the fans as their own, and marked 10 years with Napoli by writing a love letter to the fans, the city, and the club.
Looking for another elder statesman of Italian football? Then Gigi Buffon is the obvious answer: almost 40, captain of both his club and country, and a known leader on and off the pitch. And as this will probably be his last season in Serie A, now is the time for all football fans to embrace the league in honor of Gigi’s greatness. He quickly demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his touch by saving a penalty in the first game of the new season.
Or if you are more interested in watching young players develop and lead their teams to glory, check out 24-year-old club captains Mattia Perin of Genoa and Mauro Icardi of Inter; neither break Totti’s record of the youngest club captain at 22 but both are close. Serie A has plenty of young players looking to develop, many seen starring at AC such as the aforementioned Locatelli & Cutrone, so don’t be surprised when you see transfer rumors linking a youngster from Serie A to a big-name club in England come December.
Totti became a standard bearer for his preferred positions on the pitch; journalists worldwide have written odes to Totti’s favored trequartista position where he both created and scored many goals (250 in Serie A alone). You can find another similar ‘false’ 9 in Napoli’s Dries Mertens who has grown into his new role so much so that he almost won Serie A’s Golden Boot last season, and already has six goals in this one. Or Juventus’ Paulo Dybala, who will be wearing the fabled number 10 this season and looks prepared to live up to the club’s high expectations.
Of course, all lovers of the beautiful game will miss Totti’s style of play: the perfect touches, flicks, passes, and goals. He had perfect vision and understanding of the game and was mesmerizing to watch. Without him dazzling on the pitch you could turn to Mertens for some chipped goals or Nikola Kalinic at Milan for more Totti-esque back heels. Maybe the combination of Miralem Pjanic, Blaise Matuidi, and Claudio Marchisio at Juventus might satisfy your need of pretty passing if you require anything other than the still-dynamic midfield at Roma.
And while Totti was the last player from Serie A to win the European Golden Shoe, maybe Roma’s own Edin Džeko, with 29 goals last season, or Napoli’s Mertens, who was one shy of that, can break up the duopoly of Messi/Ronaldo and win the title for Serie A once again.
Sadly, after scoring many fantastic goals, we will no longer enjoy Totti’s equally fantastic and inventive goal celebrations. We do still have Mertens entertaining us (in many ways, it seems) but the players of Serie A need to step up their selfie game if they want to make a splash the way Totti did in this category.
Of course, it hasn’t always been fun and games in Totti’s career; in his younger days, he was a little more reckless and racked up some red cards or had several well-publicized spats with managers. If you’re looking for drama maybe follow Gonzalo Higuaín, Leonardo Bonucci, or Gianluigi Donnarumma who all made headlines for the wrong reasons this past year.
And if you are craving a good anti-Juventus rant the new king is still at Roma (take a bow, Radja Nainggolan) but certainly a player at Inter or Fiorentina will let loose at some point in the upcoming season. Or maybe even Bonucci’s young son if we’re really lucky.
For the more superficial charms of Totti (ahem) we still have Claudio Marchisio to enjoy on a weekly basis, Marco Borriello is improving with age, and Roberto Gagliardini is certainly easy on the eye. And that’s just to name a few. While although no one can come close to Totti’s signature golden locks, Federico Bernardeschi, now at Juve, looks like he might aspire to such greatness, depending on his latest haircut.
Or maybe Totti’s ability to laugh at himself and his image is what you’ll miss most; he famously collected all the jokes about him for several books with the proceeds going to charity. Luckily, Atalanta’s Papu Gómez released a single for charity based on his signature dance moves. If you haven’t seen “Papu Dance” you are most definitely missing out. It is almost as good as the numerous television adverts and skits Totti took part in, most notably one years ago, in which he pretended to be a gas station attendant to the confusion and surprise of everyday Italians (if you have a link to this seemingly-impossible-to-find video, please–share!)
We’ve been lucky enough to watch Francesco Totti emerge and grow and develop into a worldwide phenomenon; he was a true entertainer, on and off the pitch. And we’re also fortunate that this season in Italy, our first without him, looks to entertain us in different ways. We have the Milan clubs back in the spotlight, a new dawn at Roma, another strong title-challenge from Napoli as they attempt to finally dethrone Juventus, as well as the usual cast of plucky surprises, like watching Atalanta continue to impress by demolishing Everton in Europa League play. And we haven’t seen the last of Totti, as he’s now a director for Roma. Maybe now he can enjoy meeting up with his former scoring partner Vincenzo Montella, now managing Milan, and concentrate on raising his children to be the next stars of Serie A, just like his former Italy teammate Paolo Maldini. While we will still miss the presence of Francesco Totti on the pitch, it’s certain that his legacy will live on at Roma and throughout the league.
*Note: I did not and could not justify recommending any Lazio players for you to follow; just don’t. Totti wouldn’t want that for you and neither do I.