Totti: The greatest of Roman gladiators

FOX Sports takes a look back at the impressive career of Roma captain Francesco Totti, who recently became the second-highest scorer in Serie A history.

Francesco Totti, Roma
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

Following his strike in Sunday's 2-0 win over Parma, the 36-year-old has surpassed Gunnar Nordahl in the record books of Italian football's top flight with 226 goals, and is now only behind the legendary Silvio Piola, who netted 274 times in 537 games with Pro Vercelli, Lazio, Torino, Juventus and Novara.

He is a legend, but the adulation bestowed on others of similar stature has not been accorded to him by almost all stakeholders in the game.

A major reason for this could be that Totti hasn't enjoyed as much success at club level, with just one Serie A title and two Coppa Italia triumphs to his name.

But what he is lacking in silverware, the talented forward makes up for it with his status as a one-club man, an increasingly rare achievement in football, and something even Bianconeri icon Alessandro Del Piero cannot lay claim to, having started his career at Padova before joining Juventus.

In fact, despite being rivals - both on a club and personal level - the mutual respect has always been strong between the two modern greats of Italian football.

"We have a great relationship with plenty of admiration on both sides even if we don't call each other up," Del Piero said. "Francesco is great."

In recognition of what has been an outstanding career to date, FOX Sports takes a look at the story of how a diehard Roma fan idolising the legendary Giuseppe Giannini went on to surpass his hero as the club's greatest ever player.

From Petro Metronia to the Stadio Olimpico

Totti was born to Lorenzo and Fiorella on September 27, 1976 and grew up in Porta Metronia, where he was said to have been enthralled by football at an age when most of his peers were watching cartoons.

According to the club's official website, he travelled to i Lupi games with his friends by scooter, sitting in the Curva Sud of the Stadio Olimpico where the Roma ultras situate themselves.

At the age of eight, he began playing youth team football and was reportedly courted by both AC Milan and Lazio. Nonetheless, Totti's mother - Fiorella - was determined that he would remain in the Eternal City and held out in hope of an offer from Roma, which eventually came in 1989 when he was 13.

After just three years in the Giallorossi youth ranks, he was promoted to the first team and made his professional debut under Vujadin Boskov on March 28, 1993 in a 2-0 away win over Brescia. Despite the presence of several experienced strikers like Daniel Fonseca, Abel Balbo and Ruggiero Rizzitelli in the side, Totti's prodigious talent was impossible to ignore and he began to feature with increasing frequency, becoming a first-team regular by the 1994/95 season under Carlo Mazzone -  the man he has credited as being a huge influence in his career.

But it was under Zdenek Zeman that Totti really began to show signs of evolving into a living legend at the Stadio Olimpico. Handed the club captaincy during the 1997/98 season, the then-21-year-old repaid his Czech coach's faith with a series of sparkling displays, although they ultimately weren't enough to earn him a spot in Italy's 1998 FIFA World Cup squad, with Cesare Maldini opting for Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Filippo Inzaghi, Enrico Chiesa and Christian Vieri.

It must have been disheartening for Totti, but soon the wounds of France 98 would be forgotten for his finest hour was just round the corner.

Roma, champions of Italy

City rivals Lazio lifted the Serie A trophy in 1999/2000 while Roma were a laggardly sixth. When the next season came around, only one team from the Italian capital was considered to be in the running for domestic honours - and it wasn't the one Totti played for.

However, under the presidency of the late Franco Sensi, the Giallorossi delivered a huge statement of intent in the summer of 2000 when they signed legendary Argentinean striker Gabriel Batistuta from Fiorentina for a fee of 70billion lire (approximately US$28 million at the exchange rate of the time).

The prolific marksman immediately took the goal-scoring burden off Totti and allowed him to play in his favoured trequartista role, and the duo, along with Italy international Vincenzo Montella, formed one of the most formidable attacks in the history of Italian football.

By the halfway stage of the campaign, Roma had won 12 of 17 league games but coach Fabio Capello was still not fully satisfied with the strength of his squad, and decided to sign Perugia star Hidetoshi Nakata at the turn of the year.

Although the Japanese was never a key member of Capello's starting XI, he made a vital contribution on May 6, 2001 when, with his side trailing Juventus 2-0, he came off the bench in place of Totti to pull one back in the 79th minute with a cracking 30-yard effort, before setting Montella up for a last-minute equaliser, which was enough to preserve their six-point lead with just five games left in the season.

As fate would have it, Roma were able to stay ahead of the chasing pack and wrapped up the title on the final day of the season against Parma with a 3-1 win. That match is still remembered for the wild scenes that erupted at the Stadio Olimpico even before the referee had blown the final whistle, with the victory all but secured after the hosts took a 3-0 lead in the 77th minute.

Safe in the knowledge that their 18-year wait for a third Scudetto was finally over, the Roma fans invaded the pitch to grab souvenirs of the momentous occasion, stripping the players of their shirts and shorts, with some even digging up pieces of the pitch.

The Parma players weren't spared either, with Gianluigi Buffon looking completely bewildered as he stood in only his underwear, boots and gloves, unsure if he should fend off the feverish opposition supporters undressing him in his own penalty box.

Although Batistuta ended the season as Roma's top scorer with 20 goals, Totti weighed in with an impressive 13 from a supporting striker position, while Montella had 14 to his name.

Francesco Totti, champion of the world

After missing out on selection for the 1998 World Cup, Totti's first taste of a major international tournament came at Euro 2000. Then 23, his form saw him restrict Del Piero - then the golden boy of Italian football - to a substitute role as he started alongside Inzaghi in attack.

Totti proved to be one of the stars of the tournament, inspiring the Azzurri's run to the final, where they ultimately fell to a heart-breaking 2-1 extra-time defeat to France.

The Roma man was also selected for the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, where his increasing influence in the Italy camp was highlighted by him taking over the prized number ten jersey from Del Piero.

But on July 9, 2006, the finest hour in his career came at the Olympiastadion in Berlin when Totti was part of the Italian side that ended a 24-year wait to win the World Cup, defeating France on penalties in a final remembered mostly for Zinedine Zidane's headbutt on Marco Materazzi.

Playing in a more withdrawn role than usual, he provided the link between midfield and attack for the Azzurri and was deservingly named in the All-Star team come the end of the tournament, one of seven Italians who were included.

Marcello Lippi, coach of that World Cup-winning side, was known to be a huge admirer of Totti's talents and had high praise for him on several occasions.

"Totti is the monument of Italian football," the legendary tactician was quoted as saying. "There are no alternatives for Totti in Italy.

"Totti has always been an amazing guy, humble both in dealing with coaches and team-mates. He impressed me by the determination that was put in every day.

"He's a great man and a great player."

A footballing legend in his own right

Given Totti is already 36, it is unlikely he will come close to beating Piola's record of 274 goals and it remains to be seen if he will play on for another season as he's given no clue regarding his plans for the future.

But even if he does decide to hang up his boots when the campaign winds to a close, there can be no denying that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Dennis Bergkamp, Raul, Ryan Giggs and Thierry Henry.

Apart from the Serie A and World Cup winner's medals to his name, Totti's unwavering loyalty to a club that hasn't always had the best of times is deserving of praise, and it's clear the lack of silverware isn't something that's going to bother him.

When asked in a television interview with Controcampo back in 2007 why he never played for another club, his simple reply was: "Because I grew up playing for Roma and I want to die playing for Roma, because I have always been a Roma fan."

Already, Totti's legacy looks set to continue when he retires if midfield general Daniele De Rossi spurns offers from elsewhere in the summer and commits his future to the Giallorossi.

Nonetheless, the best way to see how big an impact he has had the club is whether or not they retire the number ten jersey when he calls it a day. If they do, Totti would follow in the footsteps of only one other Giallorossi hero - Aldair, whose old number six is no longer in use.

Next in line to the throne

Although Totti's eventual departure will leave a big void to fill, both in terms of an idol as well as the focal point in attack, Roma already have a number of candidates who could step up to the task, even though many believe it will impossible to replace him.

"Totti is the greatest exponent of the Roman world," ex-strike partner and current Fiorentina coach Montella said. "He is a player who kids look up to.

"When the day arrives that he has to retire, it will be hard for Roma and the whole environment there because he is a club emblem."

Claudio Ranieri, who was in charge at the Stadio Olimpico from 2009 to 2011, echoed Montella's sentiments, claiming: "He [Totti] is fantastic and, to this club, is as important as the Colosseum is to Rome."

Still, we try our best to pick out the three contenders who have the best chance of replacing the Giallorossi icon.

Mattia Destro

Although more of an out-and-out striker, Destro, still only 21, is a player capable of replacing Totti as Roma's main source of goals.

Currently on loan from Genoa, the capital club can make the deal permanent by forking out an extra €4.5m at the end of the season, and despite his relative youth, the Inter academy graduate has already won four caps for Italy and opened his international account - netting in a 2-0 win over Malta in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

Pablo Osvaldo's record has been prolific since he moved to the Eternal City from Spanish side Espanyol, but given his volatile nature, the club would do well to have a more-than-capable deputy waiting in the wings; one that could just prove to be a key player in the near future

Alessandro Florenzi

De Rossi remains the best candidate as Totti's immediate successor but given he turns 30 this July, the combative midfielder appears to be a stop-gap measure at best, even though he's almost held in the same regard by the Roma faithful as his captain.

Given how the co-ownership situations have made transfer dealings in Italian football a messy business, players that come through the ranks and establish themselves at their boyhood clubs are now almost non-existent.

But one player currently on the Roma roster who could buck that trend is Florenzi. He made his debut back in 2010 and displayed promising signs last season on loan at Crotone.

Since returning to the Stadio Olimpico, the 21-year-old has become a regular in the starting XI and made the most appearances out of the Giallorossi's midfield brigade, surpassing established internationals like De Rossi, Michael Bradley, Miralem Pjanic and Panagiotis Tachtsidis.

Erik Lamela

But in terms of a player who could replace Totti as a creative genius, and one capable of getting the fans on their feet, Roma need not look any further than Lamela, who cost them a fee in excess of €14m when he joined from Argentinean giants River Plate.

Although he is usually deployed in attacking midfield, the prodigious 21-year-old has netted 13 goals in 24 league games so far this season and, on his day, is a match for even the most experienced of Italian defenders.

The most striking similarity between him and Totti is their ability to win games on their own and rise to the occasion in big matches, with Lamela already starring in a couple of crunch clashes against Juventus and Lazio.

It appears Lamela has already benefitted from some one-on-one tuition from his captain, revealing: "You learn a lot from Totti. [He] is the player who gives me the most advice [and] is the one I talk to most."

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