Soccer / totti

The Francesco' s Dream [An Extraordinary Feat]
It's 19 February 2006 and, at the Stadio Olimpico, the match between As Roma and Empoli FC is played. The afternoon is sunny, the day is almost vernal, the match seems favorable to the home team, but also very important. It's the first year of Luciano Spalletti as coach of AS Roma and the Giallorossi have started badly, but they are in great comeback, thanks to a record sequence of 9 victories in a row. In short, it seems the right day to get the tenth. And so the team starts strong, immediately in search of the goal, led by his captain Francesco Totti, a conductor who always direct the unpredictable midfielder's insertions of the Spalletti's 4-2-3-1. But, ready, go! and something goes wrong. When it's the sixth minute, Totti goes back towards the center of the field to receive a pass. In pressing on him there is Richard Vanigli, a tough, mangy defender, who tries to control him closely. The Empoli player, in the first minutes, has already made clear with a couple of fouls that he will not spare anything to the Captain. So, on that harmless ball and on the player who was going to take it, even if far away from the box, Vanigli slings with the vehemence of whom must save a ball on the goal line. The intervention is not so bad, but the action is fast and the contact makes losing the balance to the Giallorossi's Captain. His left foot remains pointed in the ground and makes an unnatural twist while Francesco's body goes down, dumping all the weight on it. The stadium breaks out in a roar of protest and then falls silent. Totti stays on the ground, holds his ankle and screams in pain. Then he raises his head and immediately asks for the substitution. He is immediately transported to Villa Stuart where the diagnosis is the worst: fracture at the level of the middle third of the left fibula with associated complex capsule-ligamentous lesion of the left instep. It is urgently operated by Prof. Mariani, who applies him eight screws and a metal plate. The match now makes little sense...AS Roma, although shaken and anxious for the conditions of his captain, will manage to bring home the tenth victory in a row, thanks to a goal of Perrotta and even to hit the eleventh and the record all time in Serie A (until then), in the Derby of the following week. But now nobody thinks about it. A day of exultation has suddenly turned into a bitter moment, not only because the season of number 10 has practically ended, but above all because just over 100 days after that damn 19 February, the FIFA World Cup in Germany will have begun. And Totti, without a miracle, will have to give it up. The story of Totti with the Italian National Team until that moment, is full of ups and downs, of dualisms, harsh criticisms, some satisfactions, but also many disappointments. In 1996, he is European Champion with the Under-21 of Cesare Maldini, a team in which, together with him, there were many players who will then become great champions (Buffon and Cannavaro, but also Nesta, Panucci, Tommasi and Delvecchio). Four years later, in 2000, he is one of the great protagonists in the European Championship of Belgium and Holland. This time he is in the National Team of Dino Zoff, he is 24 years old and despite being still young, he is at the top of his career. He is a leader in the team, and he scores one of his most famous and beautiful goals: the lob on penalty-kick in the semi-final against the hosts of Netherlands. Thanks also to an extraordinary Francesco Toldo, Italy conquers the access to the Rotterdam Final, then lost from France, when Italy seemed to have already got it, thanks to Marco Delvecchio's goal. France, however, does not give up and reopens the match with Wiltord in the last minutes. Then they close it definitively with the Golden Goal of Trezeguet in extra time. A bitter disappointment, both for Francesco and for all Italian supporters. He could have the opportunity to immediately recuperate, at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. The Italian team is strong, Giovanni Trapattoni is a winning and pragmatic coach, once again he is in great form and he plays very well. Italy overcomes the group, but the Round of 16 is a farce in favor of the Koreans, that play home and are shamelessly helped by the referee Byron Moreno. Totti is sent off for an alleged simulation and the National team returns home, after an experience that leaves a sense of anger and injustice in all the players and even more in the fans. And then the damned European Championship of 2004, remembered for the spit to Poulsen, certainly the lowest point of his experience in the Italian National Team. For all these reasons, the 2006 World Cup is too much important. And this injury is a psychological stroke that is really difficult to surmount. But yet, Francesco is a man who does not give up, especially when he feels the affection of the people around him. The whole AS Roma tightens around his captain, all the Italian football fans want to see him in the field as soon as possible, his coach Spalletti spend four nights with him at Villa Stuart, his wife Ilary and his family members never leave him alone. But is Marcello Lippi, Italian national Team coach, to do the most important thing of all. From the first moment, when only a few hours have passed since the serious injury, Lippi promises to Totti that he will take him to the World Cup, whatever happens, and explains that he absolutely needs him, even with only one leg, to win that. Francesco is downhearted, but he is surprised by the assurance of the coach and this demonstration of esteem gives him a great motivation. The dream of becoming World Champion has not yet vanished. On 3 March, just 12 days after the surgery, Totti starts rehabilitation. The sutures are removed and the work of hydrotherapy in the pool begins, with massages and physiotherapy, all regulated by examinations and medical checks about the stability of the tibia and fibula. The intent of Doctor Mariani is to return him to the AS Roma staff exactly two months after the surgery. And the mission succeeds. Totti, assisted by Silio Musa and Vito Scala, continues his training in the gym. Gradually he increases workloads, starts running on the tapis roulant and then he finally returns on the field, where he begins to train with the ball. He returns to the field after only 81 days after the injury, on 11 May in the Italian Cup against Inter and three days later, he plays 55 minutes against Milan in Serie A. Marcello Lippi keeps his promise and on May 15th he formalizes the list of 23 players: Totti is in! The debut of Italy is on June 12th. It's clear that Francesco will not be able to be to the maximum form for that date, but at least he has one more month to improve his athletic condition. And in that match, against Ghana, he is immediately in the line-up. He plays about an hour even not being particularly brilliant, but these are minutes useful to give confidence to him, and to reassure the staff and the fans. Lippi continues to make him play and he shows small signs of improvement, match after match. Against the Czech Republic, with one of his corner, he crosses the ball that becomes the assist for the decisive goal scored by Marco Materazzi, in a fought and difficult match, in which Italy achieves the qualification for the Round of 16. But the most important match, that of the breakthrough, is against Australia. Totti is not in the line-up for that match. Italy suffers, in 10 from the 50' for the red card to Materazzi, against an opponent not particularly talented, but with good athletic skills and a coach, Guus Hiddink, of great level. At minute 75 comes his time, he enters to replace Alex Del Piero. Someone fears is not a good strategy, since the match seems destined to extra time. But it's a wrong. When everyone is ready to go to the 30 minutes extra, Totti, from the midfield, invents a long pass to Grosso. The fullback goes inside the area, dribbles, points towards the goal and is stretched by an opponent: PENALTY KICK! It's the 93' minute and on the ball goes the number 10... That close-up on Francesco's eyes will remain in history. Inside that look there is everything...the fear, the desire, the anger, the passion for this sport. The awareness of having the great opportunity, after all the effort and sacrifices to be there, makes those eyes impossible to extinguish. Probably, without that February 19, we would never have seen that look. We already know how it ended. Francesco' s dream has become reality. And it was all even more beautiful, more ecstatic, more extraordinary. _______________________________________________________________________________________ Thank you for reading, I hope you liked it! See you soon! Girolamo Follow me and @scorum-italia