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Totti at crossroads as Spalletti wins spat with Roma legend

22 February 2016, 17:41

Milan - Roma legend Francesco Totti was on Monday left at a career crossroads after a highly-publicised spat with coach Luciano Spalletti that divided Italian football and cast a shadow over his remarkable career.

Now in his 23rd season with the Serie A side, the 39-year-old Totti is expected to wind his career down at the end of this season or next.

But his decision was hastened by events on Sunday when Spalletti dramatically excluded Totti from his squad after the player demanded more "respect and clarity" in a scathing television interview.

While a barely half-full Stadio Olimpico resonated with songs dedicated to the long-serving 'Re di Roma' (King of Rome) as he sat in the stands on Sunday night, Spalletti put the controversy to one side to see Roma dismantle league rivals Palermo.

A 5-0 rout saw the 'Giallorossi' boost their Champions League hopes for next season, and gave Totti a stark reminder the team, despite a rollercoaster season so far, can and will do without him.

Grilled for hours by the media afterwards, Spalletti emerged with a small victory that simultaneously reinforced his position and left Totti looking petulant, insecure and expecting "special treatment".

"The club appointed me to restore order in this squad, and I have to make decisions that are for the good of the club," Spalletti told La Domenica Sportiva programme.

"I have to coach this squad and treat everyone the same. Totti is the captain but that doesn't mean he gets special treatment.

"I don't accept any of my players speaking out like that on the eve of a crucial game for us, especially when we're on a four-game winning run.

"He's Roma's biggest ever player, but it's my duty to make sure there is a balance in the dressing room."

Also read: Totti landmark, but ageing star on borrowed time

Despite winning only one league title with Roma, in 2001, Totti has been a virtual 'untouchable' at the club where he has spent his entire career.

But having fallen down the pecking order due to a troublesome injury that has restricted him to just five appearances so far this season, his influence is on the wane.

Yet the drama, on paper, looked avoidable.

Totti had recently made a full recovery and Spalletti said Friday he could start on Sunday, only for Totti's interview -- which aired on Saturday -- to upset the apple cart.

"After everything I've given to the club all these years I would hoped to be treated with more respect," slammed Totti.

"I'm still a footballer and I want to play. My injury is over, I'm doing fine and if I'm not playing it's the coach's decision."

It was a risky move by the historic club captain. Now in his second spell at the club, Spalletti has done witout Totti and turned fortunes around since replacing sacked Frenchman Rudi Garcia last month.

But as might be expected, Spalletti copped most of the flak on Sunday.

Totti's old coach Carlo Mazzone, told Romaforever.it: "What he's done has destroyed the reputation of an exceptional person - both in football and human terms.

"Any coach with good sense and character wouldn't have done something like this. I'm very bitter and disappointed."

The controversy dominated most of Sunday's sports coverage and the Italian sports press on Monday appeared divided.

A headline in Rome-based Corriere dello Sport called Totti's exclusion an "Insult to History", while the front page headline on the pink-paged, Milan-based Gazzetta dello Sport screamed "The Exile of the King of Rome".

The fact Totti visited the team dressing room after the game, and his participation at training on Monday, suggests the dust is beginning to settle.

But Totti now has to decide whether to play on, or take up a coaching role that, reports say, he has already secured.

Spalletti said Sunday he had offered Totti various positions at the club, but it was now time to decide.

"I have already spoken to Totti about possible roles but it's up to him to decide, not me," said Spalletti.

Totti was offered an assistant manager's position like Manchester United great Ryan Giggs, as well as a more executive position like the one held by Pavel Nedved at Juventus.

"I asked him, do you want to be like Giggs? Do you want to be like Nedved?"

But the 56-year-old added: "Do you want to stay a footballer? Okay fine, but you have to know you won't get any favours from me!

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