AS Roma legend Francesco Totti made headlines this week when he discussed his acrimonious exit from his boyhood club with Luca Toni on Instagram Live.
After 25 seasons with I Giallorossi, Totti retired at the age of 40 in 2017 as the club's all-time leading scorer with 307 in 785 appearances. The club legend and long-time captain had intended to keep playing, but felt he was forced out, saying the club hierarchy took the decision out of his hands and reneged on promises they had made him.
"I didn't want to ruin my time at Roma, so it was better to just retire rather than go somewhere else for a year," Totti told former Italy teammate Toni, alongside whom he won the 2006 World Cup. "There's an end to everything, I'm not dumb, but the problem is that some people told me it would be my decision and then shoved me to one side. I was upset, because I would've cut my leg off for Roma."
While there may have been some bad blood between Totti and club owner James Pallotta as a result of Totti's "early" retirement, he stayed with the club as a technical director. After two years in the role, though, Totti announced his complete separation from the club in June of 2019, feeling he had been sidelined once again.
He expected to be consulted on issues of hiring coaches and player transfers, but said in a press conference at the Italian Olympic Committee: “I never had the chance to express myself. They never involved me. ... They kept me out of everything. It's a day I hoped would never come.” For Totti, this amounted to another instance of ownership failing to keep its word.
“Presidents come and go, coaches come and go, players come and go, but not emblems,” Totti said. “This is far worse than retiring as a player. Leaving Roma is like dying. I feel like it’d be better if I died.”
He continued with a direct shot at the ownership group, saying: “For eight years here, since the Americans came, they’ve done everything they could to sweep us aside."
Totti's accusal would seem to have some merit; not long after his own departure, his successor as captain, Daniele De Rossi, was seemingly forced out as well. De Rossi, who had also spent the entirety of his career with Roma until the end of last season, joined Boca Juniors in Argentina after the club decided not to extend his contract. It was another own-goal committed by those who run the club and was greeted with outrage by the Romanisti.
"DDR (Daniele De Rossi) is only the latest in a long line of unclear behavior toward those who love these colors; we cannot just stand and watch as our values, our fundamental points and our certainties are erased," the ultras decried in a statement in front of the club's headquarters.
Even then-manager Claudio Ranieri, himself a lifelong Roma supporter, joined the fans in criticizing the club.
"With Daniele, being the captain and an historic figure here, it should have happened in a different way," he said. "Certainly for a figure as big as the Roma captain, and with the Roma fans having such an unbounded love for Roma, a bit more careful consideration may have suggested a different behavior."
According to Totti, he will not return to Trigoria, the club's training ground, until and unless Pallotta departs.
"Every time I drop (my son) Cristian off for training, I stay outside the gate," he explained to Toni. "Sometimes I sit in the car and feel like crying to think that after 30 years, I can't even set foot in there now."
Roma has suffered the departures of those who understood the club best, having grown up attending the Stadio Olimpico and gone through the team's youth academy. De Rossi's successor as captain, Alessandro Florenzi — another born-and-raised Roman — also departed earlier this season on loan to Valencia, though in different circumstances to his predecessors. In dire need of playing time in order to remain in contention for a spot at the Euros, Florenzi left for LaLiga.
The decision was made on his own, but even so, former sporting director Walter Sabatini included Florenzi with his ex-teammates when he lamented, "When you lose players like these, you’re left with only the periphery. These are players who make up the pulsing heart of the city — the Colosseum, the Imperial fora. ... The rest is really just outskirts.”