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Friday, 30 March 2007

4340: United In The Path of Totti’s

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by : Hugh Larkin

When Manchester United step out in the Stadio Olympico to begin their Champions League quarter-final they will be facing a Roma team dominated by the personality of one man- World Cup winner Francesco Totti.

Like Alessandro Del Piero at Juventus, Totti has remained a constant with his club through all the relentless and bewildering squad changes that characterise Serie A football- like the Juve man, he’s had his detractors at international level but by staying with the ‘giallorossi’ through thick and thin, he’s acquired legend status in one half of the capital.

Totti occupies a position that is very common in Italian soccer but less so in the English game. Almost everything goes through him and when the occasion takes him he flits between midfield and more advanced roles- ‘a 9 and a half’ or ‘trequartista’ as it is sometimes called.

Whatever the position is called the upshot is that Totti can be difficult to mark and has the ability to adapt his role to where he can hurt the other team most. As the team’s talisman he also has first dabs on any dead ball situations and is the man they turn to for inspiration.

He gets this status only partly for being the club’s leading goalscorer of all time and its most capped player. Despite being a club of the capital Roma have played second fiddle over the years to the giants of Milan and Turin- Totti could have gone to any number of bigger sides but chose to remain in Rome.

For this he has received adulation and indulgence for his occasional wilder antics. Though he has performed brilliantly for the Azzuri at times, he’s also given them some difficulties with his sending off at World Cup 2002 and his infamous spitting incident at Euro 2004.

The Roma fans recognise one of their own in him though. He fell out with Fabio Capello after the coach left the club following their title win in 2001 (only the club’s 3rd scudetto)- Totti called him a ‘traitor’. He’s on awkward terms with former team mate Antonio Cassano for a similar reason.

Having reached 30, Totti’s career in on the upsurge again. He came back from serious injury to play a key role on the 2006 World Cup triumph with a more withdrawn, disciplined role. Now he’s in the last eight of the Champions League with Roma.

Roma’s arrival in the quarter-finals counts as a surprise because their recent form in Europe had been abysmal before this campaign. The worry for United is that Totti is a man on a mission to capture the European crown for his only club and that the squad and supporters would love to deliver a winner’s medal for their top man.

After a moderate performance in their group stage Roma hit real form to eliminate the dangerous Lyon side in the last 16- Totti inevitably was on the scoresheet. The playmaker is rarely out of the action. Thus far this year, he is the Champions League’s most fouled player and the one caught offside the most times- a player always on the edge, always trying things. Not everything comes off, occasionally he infuriates but the end result is never boring.

Roma are far from a one man outfit. Totti has Azzuri colleagues Simone Perrotta and Daniele De Rossi for company in the midfield and bunch of talented defenders. The outcome of the tie though is likely to come down to how well Manchester United can subdue Roma’s talisman.

This is probably his best opportunity to win the Champions League in his time at the club. Already the top scorer and most capped player, Totti would love to end his career as the only Giallorossi skipper to lift the European Cup; it’s a powerful dream which Sir Alex Ferguson’s team have to counter.

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