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
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
"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
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
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
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!For
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