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Rome's Greatest Emperor Made His Debut 24 Years Ago Today

Joe Baiamonte

| Last updated 

Rome's Greatest Emperor Made His Debut 24 Years Ago Today

Forget Augustus, Nero or Tiberius, there's only one true Emperor that modern day Romans care about.

Today, Rome's most battle weary Gladiator celebrates 24 years as a permanent fixture of the Giallorossi first team.

Francesco Totti; Il Capitano, Il Bimbo d'Oro (The Golden Boy), Il Re di Roma (The King of Rome), Il Gladiatore (figure it out) strutted onto the turf of the Stadio Mario Rigamonti 24 years ago as Roma defeated Brescia 2-0 thanks to goals from Claudio Caniggia and Sinisa Mihajlovic, who dispatched a 30-yard free kick Totti himself would be proud of.

On 28th March, 1993, not many people paid much attention to a routine away victory for Vujadin Boškov's men towards the final furlong of a disappointing 92/93 season. Almost a quarter of a century later and a substitute appearance from an unknown 16-year-old now feels like a seminal moment in Italian football history.

"I went out, warmed up for 10 seconds and went on. I only touched the ball a couple of times - I was too excited 
and too happy" is how Totti remembers his replacement of Roberto Muzzi. His excitement hasn't waned since.

In the intervening 24 years, Totti has turned out another 777 times for the Giallorossi, he's scored 307 goals, lifted a Scudetto, two Coppa Italias and turned down multiple advances from Real Madrid, among others. He has become the living, breathing embodiment of the capital club and the city of Rome itself. At 40 years of age, Totti is still more than capable of turning games on their head, as he did numerous times from the bench, against the likes of Torino and Sampdoria towards the end of last season.

With a six year deal on the table to become a club director waiting for him at the end of the season, it is worryingly likely that the current campaign will be Totti's last as a professional. I know, I know, just try and hold the tears back until we reach the end of the article, OK? We're all in this together.

To put into context just how all encompassing Totti's reign in Rome has been, Leeds United were the Champions of England when 'Il Gladiatore' trotted on for a substitute appearance against Brescia. Manchester United hadn't even lifted a Premier League title and David Beckham was still two years away from his Premier League debut. Three of Totti's current teammates - Emerson, Gerson and Leandro Paredes, weren't even alive when their captain was making his bow.

There have been those fans in England who have, foolishly, dismissed Totti in the past. His refusal to leave the capital has drawn sneers of derision from those who doubt 'Il Capitano's' powers. If he was so gifted, surely he could have taken his skills to Spain or the Premier League? Would he not have more trophies to his name?

Take a look at messrs Venables, Souness and Hoddle offering their 'expert' opinions on the Roma number 10 following his winning strike during a Champions League tie with Bayern Munich, in 2010:

You can't help but feel that, had Souness possessed the ability to recognise true talent like Totti's, he'd have maybe made more of himself as a manager. As would Glen 'let's leave Paul Gascoigne at home for the 1998 World Cup' Hoddle, for that matter.

Personally, I'm more inclined to place my faith in Lionel Messi's opinion of players than three overpaid versions of yer da:

To offer some perspective, Totti is a seventh generation Roman and, when he received the captain's armband at 22 years and 34 days of age, he became the youngest ever player to skipper a team in the Italian top flight. That isn't the sort of lineage one simply uproots and transports to Madrid, Milan, Barcelona, London or Manchester. Walking by the time he was just nine months old, the future Roma captain was dribbling through the working class neighbourhood of Via Vetulonia by the age of five, with images of putting the likes of Juventus, AC and Inter Milan and, most importantly, Lazio to the sword in the Stadio Olimpico, dancing through his head.

Not only has Totti lived his dream, he's surpassed it. A sole Scudetto, lifted in 2001 may be he only league title he has to show for his considerable efforts, yet the universal adoration he receives from his people in Rome, those same Romans he grew up amongst, who now idolise their World Cup winning captain as a gladiator and a king, is worth more to the 40-year-old than the fickle white hankies that can greet the under par performance of a Galactico at the Bernabeu.

A five time Italian Player of The Year and two time Serie A Player Of The Year, Totti is outscored in Serie A history by only one man, Silvio Piola, who ironically enjoyed his most affluent period in front of goal in Rome, as well. Although Piola was finding the back of the net for Totti's most despised rivals, Lazio, Piola never lifted a league title during his time in the capital.

"I only had him for a month before he went to play for the U20s," Totti's youth coach Ezio Sella told Four Four Two. "He immediately got my attention. You never see a player this young able to do such special things. From his first training session, I knew I had a legend in the making. He created things out of nothing. I just told him to never feel as if he's made it, because everyone kept lauding him. Over time he's proven this over and over again."

However, while 'Il Gladiatore's' legs may not be able to drag him through too many more battles, he can rest easy in the knowledge that he has made it and, if he doesn't believe so himself, Ezio Scella, Rome and the rest of the world will let him know he has on the day he wages his last war at the Stadio Olimpico.

Grazie, Il Capitano. Any chance of another 24 years?

Topics: Football, AS Roma, Italy, Francesco Totti

Joe Baiamonte
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