Roma’s Francesco Totti smiles prior to the start of a Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Roma, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Saturday, May 14, 2016. Totti has finally announced that the Sunday, May 28, 2017 match against Genoa will be his last with Roma after an incredible 25-season career with his hometown club. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
ANDREW DAMPF, AP Sports Writer
ROME (AP) — Francesco Totti has finally announced that Sunday’s match against Genoa will be his last with Roma after an incredible 25-season career with his hometown club.
Whether the 40-year-old Totti will continue playing with another squad remains anyone’s guess.
The 2006 World Cup winner opened his future to questions by releasing a carefully worded statement on Thursday.
“Roma-Genoa, Sunday 28th May 2017. The last time I can wear Roma’s jersey,” Totti said. “I can’t tell you in a few words how much these colors meant, mean and will always mean to me.
“I just feel that my love for football never fades; it’s a passion, my passion. It’s so deep I can’t imagine not fueling it any longer. Ever. From Monday I’m ready to go again. I’m ready for a new challenge,” Totti added.
The first part of Totti’s statement inferred that it wasn’t his decision to end his Roma career but that of the club, by not offering him a contract for next season.
Totti has not hidden his difficult relationship with Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, who has used Totti mainly as a last-option substitute.
However, Spalletti is widely expected to follow former Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini to Inter Milan; while Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco, a former teammate of Totti’s, could move to Roma.
The second part of Totti’s statement, when he mentioned a “new challenge,” inferred that Totti is considering ending his career with another club.
Miami FC, which plays in the second-tier NASL and is managed by Totti’s former teammate with the national team, Alessandro Nesta, and co-owned by Paolo Maldini — another former Italy teammate — appears to be the most attractive option.
James Pallotta, Roma’s American owner, has offered Totti an unspecified management position.
As for Sunday, Totti is not expected to start.
While the match at the Stadio Olimpico was sold out for Totti’s goodbye, Roma enters the final match of the season still looking to seal second place in Serie A and a direct berth into the Champions League.
Roma is one point ahead of third-place Napoli, which will play at Sampdoria.
Totti has appeared in 785 matches in all competitions with Roma, third all-time in Italy for most games with a single club behind only Maldini (902 with AC Milan) and Javier Zanetti (858 with Inter Milan).
Totti is also second all-time in goals scored in Serie A with 250, 24 short of the record that Silvio Piola established from 1929-54. No other active player has more than 200.
But statistics don’t tell the entire story for Totti, a cultural icon perhaps more linked with his club and city than any other player in Italian history.
Born in the working-class San Giovanni section of Rome, Totti made his debut for Roma at the age of 16 way back in 1993.
In 1998 at the age of 22, Totti became the youngest ever Serie A captain.
At the 2000 European Championship, Totti’s chipped “Panenka” penalty against the Netherlands highlighted his talent and audacity.
A year later, Totti led Roma to its third Serie A title and was the centerpiece of a celebration inside the Circus Maximus attended by a crowd estimated at 1 million.
After a spitting incident with Denmark’s Christian Poulsen at Euro 2004 slightly tarnished his image, Totti regained respect within the national team by returning from a broken leg to help Italy win the 2006 World Cup — playing with a metal rod and about 10 support screws inside his left ankle.
In 2007, Totti led Serie A with a personal-high 26 goals and earned the Golden Shoe award as the top scorer in Europe.
In 2015, Totti scored twice as Roma came back from two goals down to earn a draw with Lazio in the city derby, then took a selfie with Roma’s fans in the background.
A final highlight came in February, when Totti scored in added time to give Roma a 2-1 win over Cesena and a spot in the Italian Cup semifinals.
On Sunday, Totti’s career will be honored with an extensive post-match celebration at the Olimpico.
Whether or not there will be more highlights next season — somewhere — remains to be seen.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf
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