Every club has cult heroes, no matter how big or small. To earn such a status, a player does not to be the best, most skilful or even that important a figure, but they often symbolise how a fan feels about their club.
There is, though, a difference between a cult hero and a legend. Heroes of a certain era may never have to buy a pint in the local pub ever again, but in reality the memories don’t last, unless they do have some sort of talent. Those players who define eras with their ability, inspiring teams to trophies, or at least exciting times, as well as representing the shirt with the same love the fans would, go down in history.
But sometimes, there is a step above an ‘ordinary’ legend. Not every club can profess to having such an icon, but those who do cannot be mentioned in a sentence without the player’s name following swiftly.
Mostly, but not always, these folk are local and have grown up as supporters, experiencing that same unspoken bond with their clubs and areas that the very best of fans do. The likes of Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, Alan Shearer at Newcastle and Ryan Giggs at Manchester United are prime examples of this exact phenomenon.
Few countries have such a grasp of the concept of the eternal legend like Italy. Each of Serie A’s top sides have at least one, but it can be argued that no one has proven the living embodiment of a football team like Roma’s Francesco Totti.
Money’s stranglehold on football is growing ever tighter, and it is impacting almost every fibre of the game. The days of the biggest clubs buying the best players could be numbered, with Chinese football the latest expensive trend to make an appearance.
It is, therefore, rare for any player to stay at the same club for their entire career, now moreso than ever. Giggs and Totti have managed it, but an increase in financial power has resulted in a severe decrease in loyalty.
Players often get the rawest deal in this argument, constantly accused of looking for a move whether it is motivated by money or playing at a higher level. In this modern day climate, clubs are also showing their propensity to move on quickly from the past, tossing aside even their most adored.
At Chelsea, Frank Lampard’s time was called two years ago, and his career at Stamford Bridge was under scrutiny well before that despite becoming the club’s record goalscorer. John Terry, club captain and the man seen as “Mr Chelsea”, also looks set for a departure when his contract runs out in the summer, regardless of consistently saying he wants to stay.
Gerrard shares similar adulation at Liverpool, a club who certainly takes care of their own. His inspirational performances in the 2005 Champions League final, and FA Cup final a year later, didn’t help when former boss Brendan Rodgers didn’t offer him a new deal in 2014, forcing him to play out his swansong years in the United States with LA Galaxy.
Even with the growing list of legendary cast offs, there has always been something about the mutual love between Totti and Roma which suggested a similar occurrence wouldn’t happen at the Stadio Olimpico.
As much as Gerrard, Lampard and Terry are all revered in Merseyside and West London, they have each either entertained the idea of, or indeed played for, other clubs. Totti, now 39 and still going strong having made his debut for Roma in 1992, has always insisted his heart and career will belong to the Giallorossi forever, despite heavy interest from a number of big hitters over the years.
Last week the striker, who has been playing with a chronic knee problem for a number of years now, accused his beloved club of disrespect by not playing him as much as he wants. He claimed his relationship with new boss Luciano Spalletti, in his second spell at the helm, was not a working one after be sat out the Champions League defeat to one of his biggest past suitors, Real Madrid.
His contract runs down at the end of the current campaign, and he finds himself in a similar situation to those aforementioned. Some may accuse him of arrogance and having overly excessive expectations given his age, but he knows he is a Roman king and understands he is not what he was. Given his loyalty towards the club, in some pretty testing times too, perhaps he deserves the same curtesy.
Francesco Totti is one of the most remarkable footballers to ever live. He is and always will be associated with AS Roma, but his situation is yet another example that loyalty is not just the player’s prerogative.