IT’S the end of an era.
Football’s loyal hero, Francesco Totti, will retire from the sport he has given so much to at the end of the season, it has been revealed.
‘Er Bimbo de Oro’ — The Golden Boy — has been with Roma, his boyhood club, throughout his entire career.
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However, at the age of 40, his effectiveness on the team was beginning to wane.
Francesco Totti was part of Italy’s superstar Under-21 side which won Euros in 1996Totti made his first-team debut against Brescia over 24 years ago as a 16-year-old on March 28, 1993.
After establishing himself as an integral member of the team, he became the youngest club captain in Serie A history when he inherited the armband from Aldair at the age of 22 in 1998 — a year before he won win his sole Young Footballer of the Year award.
He travelled with Italy to Euro 2000 for his first major tournament and famously chipped Edwin van der Sar from the penalty spot during a semi-final shoot-out en route to Golden Goal heartbreak in the final, against France — where he was named man-of-the-match.
Alongside the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Nesta and Christian Vieri, Totti helped the Under-21s win the European Championships in 1996, with victory in the final over Raul’s Spain.
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The Giallorossi icon scored the winner over Scotland in the semi-finals.
When Fabio Capello was hired as manager in 1999, Roma were slowly building a team capable of competing for a first Scudetto since 1983 — and Totti was the centrepiece, as well as the icon.
Vincenzo Montella and Gabriel Batistuta completed a star-studded attack line.
In 2000-01, Roma were crowned champions with all three netting in a 3-1 victory against Parma as the Giallorossi clinched the title on the final day of the season.
The image of Totti passionately celebrating after netting the clinching second will etched on the minds of all Roma fans for eternity.
It was made even sweeter by the fact they took the title from great-rivals, Lazio, who had won Serie A the previous year.
Totti scored and provided an assist as his side beat Fiorentina 3-0 in the Italian Super Cup to hand the Italian ace what seemed like the first of a flurry of trophies.
However, only a final day collapse by Inter Milan allowed Roma to sneak into second-place behind Juventus.
Totti played his part in one of the club’s finest-ever performances — scoring the fifth as they tore neighbours Lazio apart, winning 5-1 ‘away’.
The playmaker arrived at the World Cup in Japan-South Korea as one of the stars, but it ended in failure.
Totti was sent off as Italy were controversially eliminated by hosts, South Korea, on the Golden Goal rule.
He recovered to make history with the only goal as Roma beat Real Madrid 1-0 at the Bernabeu. It was the first time in 35 years that an Italian side had won in the Spanish capital.
The Giallorossi struggled in 2002-03, finishing in ninth-place and losing in the Coppa Italia final — despite Totti three free-kicks over both legs.
But he still won his second Serie A Footballer of the Year award.
In 2003-04, he enjoyed arguably his most productive season.
Roma missed out on the title to AC Milan but Totti netted 20 goals for the first time.
He appeared set to win his first Ballon d’Or until an ugly incident involving Denmark’s Simon Poulsen at Euro 2004 cost him his chance.
Totti developed a trade mark cucchiaio goal — which is where he lobs the goalkeeper.
Capello left for Juventus in 2004 and Roma’s form dipped.
But Totti still made history as he became the club’s all-time leading goal scorer in Serie A with his 107th strike.
He scored arguably his most famous goal of all-time when he dribbled past Inter defender, Marco Materazzi, before lobbing Julio Cesar.
He broke his leg in a match against Empoli in early 2006 which looked set to rule him out of that summer’s World Cup.
Although, he returned in time and played a key role — netting an injury-time penalty against Australia in the last-16 — as Italy were crowned champions.
Juventus were relegated that summer, while Milan, Lazio and Fiorentina all had points deducted following a match-fixing scandal.
However, Inter were just too strong — finishing 22 points clear of Roma.
The Nerazurri had bought several of Juve’s top players, something the Giallorossi could not allow due to a long-held rivalry with the Turin giants.
It was still a stellar season for Totti as his 26 goals were enough to see him crowned top goal scorer and win the European Golden Shoe.
He even scored in the Coppa Italia final as victory over Inter yielded a third trophy — a won a penalty which was converted by Daniele De Rossi to claim the Italian Super Cup.
In 2007-08, he broke Roma’s Serie A appearance record in his 387th game, against Inter, before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament shortly after reaching 500.
He would go on to miss the final as they retained the Coppa Italia. Totti still lifted the trophy, however.
Roma finished second to Inter in 2007-08 and repeated the trick a year later.
In all, Totti has finished as a Serie A runner-up on a mammoth EIGHT occasions.
No can ever take away that one title he won back in 2001.
At his peak, he could have played for any top team in Europe, but CHOSE to stay loyal to his boyhood club despite the fear his trophy cabinet would not be as full as it should.
Francesco Totti achievements
Serie A title — 2000-01
Coppa Italia (2) — 2006-07, 2007-08
Italian Super Cup (2) — 2001, 2007
Under-21 European Championship — 1996
World Cup — 2006
European Golden Shoe — 2007
Serie A Young Footballer of the Year — 1999
Serie A Footballer of the Year (2) — 2000, 2003
Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year (5) — 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007
Serie A Goal of the Year (2) — 2005, 2006
His balance, passing range and accurate shooting made him one of the best of his era — a pioneer of the ‘false-9’ role.
In his autobiography, it was claimed he could do unlimited kick-ups with a football at the age of five.
But extreme talent is only a small part of Totti’s genius.
He epitomises all that is good about football. He is worshipped by the Roma fans and it is unlikely we will ever see his like again.
His Serie A’s second all-time goal scorer and third all-time appearance maker.
A true football legend.