Straight from the dark heart of Italy
If any player was feeling a little uncomfortably about walking out on to a football pitch on Sunday, then it must have been Francesco Totti.
The AS Roma captain had been vilified for his unruly behaviour in the Italian Cup final where he booted Mario Balotelli not once but twice and then had to defend himself from allegations that he had made a racist comment towards the Inter player.
Totti admitted that he had lost his head but his subsequent claims that Balotelli had it coming for, among other things, winding the Roma players and fans up in the league match at the San Siro last season suggested that his actions in the dying moments of the game may have been premeditated.
The fall-out was the sort of bad press someone looking to impress his national team coach ahead of the World Cup could do without - and it is still touch and go whether Marcello Lippi will recall the bad boy for South Africa – a decision that will become clear on Tuesday.
Another concern for the veteran is that, although he has a €5million-a-year contract with Roma until 2014, there are also a number of very lucrative commercial endorsements to be milked.
The last thing he wants is a major mobile phone operator refusing to return his calls come time for the renewal of his biggest cash cow; considering that it is a family affair and his missus also plays a central role in the ad campaign as well.
So it was time to embark on a charm offensive at the Olympic stadium yesterday: Mrs Totti handed the kids over to dad for the afternoon so he could carry them into the work place which just happened to have 60,000-plus people waiting to maybe voice their disappointment at their fallen hero.
He need not have been too concerned as his adoring public were never going to turn against one of their own, especially when they had been told that his only crime had been to act like a true Roman in defending the honour of the city and just as importantly the Roma colours.
In fact, local radio station Radio Roma had been encouraging fans to wear the Totti number ten shirt at the match – Mrs Totti made sure she was caught on camera displaying her figure-hugging version when the teams marched out.
The banners dotted around the stands made it clear that Totti need not search for redemption amongst the faithful – "Thank-you captain, we are all behind you for defending our Roma."
You cannot buy popularity such as this but then again maybe this stay-at-home attitude has come at a price - and we will never know if he would have become universally adored on the back of moving to Real Madrid, which apparently was once an option.
However, remaining a big fish in a small pond has enabled Totti to develop a skewed view of what is right and wrong – and in doing so exposed the flaws that seem to go hand-in-hand with a sporting genius.
There have the petulant kicks, the spitting incident at Euro 2004 and of course the constant baiting of the neighbours Lazio, which at times have offered some comic relief for one side of the River Tiber at least.
And it was along the famous old river that he found the sort of welcome that would have brought a tear to any Italian mama when it comes to forgiving an errant son.
Of course, there was a match to be won to ensure that the title would head into the final weekend – and Totti would have to play his part as a thank-you for the undying fawning showered upon him.
He did in the end but for a long time it seemed that the leading man was going to let everyone down; first by doing little but stand around in the middle of the pitch and then when a goalscoring opportunity arose somehow chipping the ball over the bar from in front of the goal.
Then just when it seemed the Giallorossi season would finally peter-out in the Spring sunshine after Cagliari – yes there was another team involved but they were only meant to be there to make up the numbers – scored; the man with the Roman gladiator tattooed on his shoulder remembered his role as heroic savour.
A smart turn in the area and an angled shot brought the equaliser and then when offered the opportunity to score the game-winning penalty he took it with the aplomb of a conquering Caesar returning from taming the hordes.
Just in case the advertisers and sponsors had not gotten the picture there was a well-choreographed lap-of-honour with various kids in tow – it was Roman theatre at its most extravagant and the sort of occasion that any ancient emperor would have revelled in.
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