This past Sunday marked the conclusion of the Serie A season, in a weekend that featured few meaningful results but a multitude interesting individual stories.
Gonzalo Higuain scored a stunning hat-trick to break the longstanding record for most goals ever scored in a Serie A season; Paulo Dybala netted a pair to put his season total above that of Carlos Tevez’s tally from last year; legend Luca Toni hung up his boots for good; Miroslav Klose played his final match in a Lazio jersey; and Francesco Totti essentially told the fans not to worry, because he would be seeing them again next year.
If you are a regular listener to the Bigsoccerhead Podcast, you recently heard about the rumors linking Totti to various destinations, most notably the MLS or perhaps Leicester City. This past week, however, there were strong signs from the club that they were interested in bringing “Er Purpone” back for another season, which seemed to be Totti’s preferred option all along. And despite some recent vacillation from the Roma legend regarding the terms of his contract, he will almost assuredly be back in Roma colors next year – the only colors he has ever worn during his professional career.
Indeed, Totti’s longevity and loyalty have spurred a lot of conversation recently, but one can’t help but notice that very few outside observers seem to fully grasp just what Francesco Totti truly means to AS Roma and its supporters. Many comparisons have been made to level of adoration and worship Napoli supporters reserved for Diego Maradona, and we have all heard stories of the back alley shrines to the Argentine legend that can still be found on the streets of Naples, but actually the two cases can’t really be compared. While Maradona is viewed as something of a deity in Napoli, a heavenly spirit that descended upon the city and blessed it with some of the best football the world has ever seen, Totti is astonishingly human in the eyes of the Romanisti. He is very real to them precisely because he is one of them.
Roma supporters don’t see a soccer superstar out on the field, they see themselves out there. In their eyes, he is exactly what they would be had they simply been lucky enough to have such tremendous natural talent. Totti walks like his fans, he talks like his fans, he shrugs like his fans, he complains like his fans, he loses his temper like his fans, he gestures like his fans, he jokes like his fans, and he even cried like his fans after losing the famous May 26th derby. No other star player in the modern game can claim to have played his entire career from start to finish in his birth city, and this unique quality is what elevates his relationship with the fans beyond mere hero worship.
Because Totti really and truly is one of them, he also has the unique ability to give them a taste of their dreams that no other player can offer. Roma supporters don’t have to wonder what they would do if they could wear the number 10 jersey for their beloved team and the Italian national team. They just have to look at Totti. Living vicariously through him is so easy and natural that he invites a passion and intimacy that is unlikely matched in any footballing stadium in the world. You really do get the feeling that his fans share in his triumphs and defeats as if they were him. As if they were the ones on the field. They don’t worship him, they are him.
It is somewhat fitting then that Miroslav Klose, who plays for city rivals Lazio, lies on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Klose hasn’t spent his entire career in one place. He doesn’t even play for the national team of the country in which he was born. He is known for his coolness and restraint both on and off the pitch, and he is an incredibly hard worker. He holds the record for number of goals scored in World Cup play, and has been an astoundingly efficient scorer over the course of his career, yet his play is never flashy and most of his tallies are omitted from highlight reels. And while his relationship with the Laziali is very different to that of Totti and the Romanisti, he has still managed to build up a tremendous amount of respect and admiration from the club’s faithful. Klose played more professional matches in a Lazio jersey than any other kit, and his time in the eternal city will be indelibly etched into the fan’s minds and club’s history books alike.
In a brilliantly symbolic moment that only the beautiful game seems capable of providing, Klose’s final goal in his final match for Lazio transported us back 2,000 years to the ancient city where modern civilization was born. When Lazio were awarded a penalty in the 74th minute of play, penalty taker Felipe Anderson immediately brought the ball over to Klose to have him take the kick. And, in classic Klose style, he declined to do so. He doesn’t normally take penalties, and he didn’t see why this occasion should be any different. But then, in the tradition of Roman Coliseum crowds determining the fates of gladiators in the arena, the Stadio Olimipico crowd immediately made it inescapably clear whom they had decided would take the penalty. Klose, dutiful to the end, obeyed the wishes of the fans and did what Klose knows how to do best: he calmly buried it in the back of the net. He may not be one of them, but he will be missed. Danke Miro!
Sean Sedacca covers Italian soccer for Bigsoccerhead. You can follow him on Twitter@lazialeaNY
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