Francesco Totti: Draw My Life

Hi, I’m Francesco and this is my ‘Draw My Life’. I’m Francesco and I was born in Rome on 27 September in 1976. To many I’m ‘Il Capitano’, to others ‘number 10’. Some call me ‘Cap’, which sounds a bit like a post code. To be safe, some people call me by my first name and surname: Francesco Totti. There have been other nicknames – it’d take forever to remember them all. There are those who insist on calling me ‘Er Pupone’. But I’m Francesco – and there’s nothing nicer than being called by your first name, as you are by your family. I was Francesco when my mum, Fiorella, used to interrupt games of football by our house because dinner was ready. My dad, Enzo, used to tell me I was no good at football. I grew up and I started to get quite good, but according to ‘the Sheriff’, that was my dad’s nickname, my brother Riccardo was better than me. There and then, I wasn’t sure if he was being serious. But after mulling it over, I began to think he was doing it to keep my feet on the ground and to make sure I’d always push myself harder. In other words: Riccardo, don’t get upset but I was the one who was good at football! So you’ve met my family and you’ve heard about how much I loved that time playing football in Porta Metronia, San Giovanni, Rome. I was Francesco then and I’m Francesco now. Whether in local cafes and shops, at school, on the streets of Rome. The greatest gift football has given me is being treated like one of the family by the Roma fans. When I was a young boy, I had a dream and a plan B. The dream was Roma, but it wasn’t clearly visible to me. It seemed blurry and distant, but I could see it: that number 10 shirt, the colours of my city, the captain’s armband. I was still a child and I saw others like me, running hard alongside me. They had that dream too and wanted me to make it come true for them. Along the way they’d call me Francesco, and they have continued to do so. And on the topic of children – I’ll let you in on a little secret. When a young Roma fan asks me for my autograph, I can never say no. Ah, so you wanted to know what my plan B was? It must have been the smell of petrol, which I’ve always liked. Or it was all the money I used to see them handling, when people went to fill up their cars but I could see myself as a petrol pump attendant. But things turned out differently. So buckle up, we’re going on a journey, and I’m taking you with me. At the age of 7, I was at Fortitudo. Two seasons there, before moving to SMIT Trastevere, then Lodigiani. When I was 11, I came up against Alessandro Nesta for the first time. A forerunner of future derbies. We won the game 2-0, which we played at Ruggeri di Montesacro. It was the final of the Trofeo Lenzini. That day I shook his hand, and I have carried on doing so ever since. He would become both a rival and a friend. If someone asks you about fair play, tell them about Alessandro and Francesco, players willing to give everything for their colours, except lose respect for themselves or their opponents. The year after, I had my date with destiny. On 20 July 1989, I received my first registration card as a Roma player. A month later, I had my first training session at the Tre Fontane stadium, where Nils Liedholm had imparted lessons to the greats of the past. I had my first experiences in a Roma shirt and made my way through the youth ranks beginning with the Giovanissimi Romani in 1989, and moving up a level in 1990. In 1991 I was with the Under-17 team, before joining the Primavera one year later. On 28 March 1993, at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti in Brescia, Vujadin Boskov sent me on for my debut, replacing Ruggero Rizzitelli. The boss turned to the bench and whispered that it was “the kid’s time”. I didn’t realise that it was in fact my time. Thinking back to it afterwards, if you’re 17 years old and you’re in the first-team squad, are you a kid? The power of dreams… in one instant I was back to being a child again, as well as a Roma player. My legs took me out onto the pitch, while my head was up in the clouds. Now, what fairy tale would it be without a wise master to take the boy’s hand and guide him, giving him the power to face life in the adult world. My wise master was Carlo Mazzone. He kept me out of harm’s way and protected me from my own success. I grew step by step. My dad Enzo carried on saying that Riccardo was better than me. Carlo Mazzone tried to keep me out of the limelight, in a tough environment, at Roma, where you can be hugged so hard that it takes the air out of your lungs. I remember the time he caught me giving interviews in the press room. He told me to go and have a shower. “I’ll take care of this,” he said. Gradually I grew more mature, with the support of my family, as my dream began to take shape. On 4 September 1994 I scored my first Serie A goal, at the Olimpico against Foggia. I scored and put my hands to my face, went red, then went to celebrate with the fans. In that moment there, I was the happiest lad in Rome. After Mazzone, things got a little more difficult for me. It was set up for me to leave Roma, but Franco Sensi, a club president to whom I owe a great deal, intervened at the last moment to stop me joining Sampdoria. Shortly before the transfer, there was a three-way tournament at the Olimpico, involving Borussia Monchengladbach and Ajax. Our opponents toppled with ease; it felt like the ball was being guided by destiny. I scored goals, produced moments of skill and got the crowd on my side. I felt I’d gone back to where my heart belongs: Roma. Then Zdenek Zeman joined the club and I took another step forward in my growth. He gave me the captain’s armband and the number 10 shirt. He pushed me to challenge myself, both in training and in games. Zeman gave me a lot of responsibility and I, for fear of letting him down, made sure that I followed the path he traced out for me. For the time being, it didn’t lead to the Scudetto but to the national team. So I’ll now tell you about the only thing in my life that isn’t yellow and red: the Italian national team. My first game for the Italian national team was for the Under-16 side. We played in Colombo, on 15 September 1991. As part of the youth team, I won the European Under-21 Championship in Spain, in the summer of 1996. In the summer after that, I played at the Mediterranean Games in Italy. I made my first appearance for the senior team on 10 October 1998. It was the start of a special eight-year period, of true friendship and magical nights. Del Piero, Nesta, Cannavaro, Buffon, Gattuso. We were opponents in the league but so united when we represented our country. If you say Italy, it casts my mind to those guys and Marcello Lippi. If I had to sum up the thrill of Italy in two photos, they’d be of two penalty kicks. In the first, Edwin Van der Sar goes one way as my dinked penalty sweetly glides over him and nestles in the net. It was in the semi-final of Euro 2000, hosted by the Netherlands and Belgium. In the other, I went for a corner and hit the ball with all the power and accuracy I could muster. Then I was mobbed by my team-mates in blue. It was a massive step towards winning the World Cup, in the summer of 2006. I see Fabio Cannavaro hoisting the cup aloft, into the Berlin sky, and myself and Daniele at the Circus Maximus, kissing the trophy in our city. I think it’s right when people say that the emotions you experience on your journey are as intense as those you feel when you get there. It was half miracle, half determination that I got to play at that World Cup. Three months before the squad would meet up, I picked up a nasty ankle injury. For a moment, I thought I’d completely missed my chance, but only for a moment. After the operation, performed by Professor Mariani, I knew I could do it. Everything was pushing me towards Germany, starting with Marcello Lippi. He was one of the first to come and visit me in hospital and he said he was prepared to wait for me. The rehabilitation period was really tough, but I never felt alone. The city was right behind me, as well as my team-mates whose support was priceless. Then, like today, Vito [Scala] was there by my side: my fitness coach, a friend, a brother to me. He’s been a loyal confidant for me and always given me good advice, sometimes only by using his eyes, or telling me things I didn’t want to hear. He’s someone I can count on. Now go back to what I just said and listen to it again. That’s how I would describe friendship. So now you know how it all began. You know who offered their guiding hand. We’ve already gone as far as the World Cup win in 2006. Now if we wind the clock back a few years to a place and time where my dream was inextricably linked to that of all Roma supporters: 17 June 2001, when we played Parma. The Stadio Olimpico was ablaze, with flags everywhere, and the Italian national flag emerging. There were even more on show in the days that followed, everywhere. At the age of 24, I had won the Scudetto in my city, wearing the shirt I’ve always loved, and with the captain’s armband. You play football to experience a day like that, at least once. It was like a carnival in Rome in the days that followed, yellow and red everywhere. It stayed like that for a week: people sounding horns, going crazy, flags hanging from apartments until the party at Circus Maximus. Our people, the people of Rome, saw us as true heroes. You can guess what my dad Enzo reminded me of then. I want to talk to you about other ties. The one I had with the Roma shirt was unique. One team, one shirt – pretty straight forward right? But when the season comes to an end, like every Roma fan, I’m always excited to see the new kit. I guess that’s one of the small things that brings us together. Like the sticker album. Even though we’ve all grown up in the meantime. There were a few T-shirts too. The first one was in a derby – and I hope I wasn’t too disrespectful. The last one too – I hope no one got offended by ‘La Grande Bellezza’! In between, there’s the one that I’m fondest of: ‘6 UNICA’. Hear that, Ilary? And you lot listening, take note and say the same thing to your own girlfriends occasionally. By then I’d realised that my girlfriend would become my soul-mate and 15 years have passed since then. In the meantime that young couple have started a family and now we have three little nippers: Cristian, Chanel and Isabel. They’re what makes my heart beat – nothing I’ve achieved would make sense without them. I owe a few words to the people I’ve shared a room with. I’ve had hundreds of team-mates, I’ve met lads from all corners of the world and I’ve heard all sorts of languages. But there’s only one language of football. Dressing room law is the same everywhere: there are no differences in there. If only life were a dressing room… At a certain stage of my career, I had the good fortune to meet a lad called Daniele. Daniele De Rossi. To me, Daniele. Just as I’m Francesco. I could tell you all sorts of anecdotes about the many battles that have forged our friendship but I think all I need to say is that when the armband ended up on his arm, I felt it was in a safe place. Daniele is a safe place. Dear friends, one of these days I think I’ll come and visit you at school so that I can tell you more. Make sure you’re ready. I hope my story hasn’t bored you – I’ve tried to make it as enjoyable as possible. However, there’s one thing I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words and that’s the sound of habit. Lacing up my boots before taking to the pitch, the sounds of my studs, or of the fans when I manage to pull something off. There are other sounds too: the training ground, breakfast in Trigoria, the grass, depending on how you touch it. Then there’s the routine of away games, both when we mess about and when it’s time to be more serious and rally the troops. It’s hard to say goodbye but how about we make a promise? That we’ll meet again in the street and call each other by name. Just keep calling me Francesco.

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