King Of Rome Who Won’t Abdicate

By Andrej Mrevlje |
Francesco Totti, l'Ottavo Re Di Roma, Foto AS Roma

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the seventh and final king of Rome, reigning from 535 B.C.E. until the popular uprising in 509 that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. The latter lasted about 500 years until Julius Caesar was appointed as dictator to end the civil wars and political conflicts. After his assassination, disorder continued, culminating in the annexation of Egypt and the victory of Octavian, Caesar’s adopted son, over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C.E. After that, Octavian’s power was unassailable, and in 27 B.C.E., the Roman senate formally granted him overarching power and the new title Augustus, effectively marking the end of the Roman Republic. From there, the new Roman Empire lasted 1,400 years.

Kings returned to Rome only in modern day – in abundance, as Stefano Di Michele wrote for the Italian newspaper, Il Foglio, two years ago. “As pigeons that are never missed, artichokes during their season or vagabonds assaulting free buffets that are offered at inaugurations of mediocre cultural events in city, Rome is never short of kings of any kind,” wrote Di Michele.

And since the mythical kings of ancient Rome were seven all together, every king of the present time is called the Eighth King of Rome.

Francesco Totti, the 39-year-old soccer player of Roma,  is one of the kings of Rome. He has played for Roma since he was 16, and he has scored more than 300 goals for the team. Totti is considered one of the most talented players of all time, yet during his 23-year-long career, his team only won one Italian championship. Talented as he is, Totti could transfer to any of the big European clubs, like Real Madrid, but Totti decided to stay in the city he loves, where he is considered “L’ottavo re di Roma.” According to some reports, Totti — who has been captain of the team for almost two decades — has a net worth $101,6 million. However, it’s not clear if these estimates include his heavy investments in real estate.

Totti is married to Ilary Blasi, a showgirl. When they got married in 2005, their wedding was aired on national TV. The couple now has three kids: Chanel, Cristian and newborn Isabel. Totti is a staunch Catholic, but faith did not stop him from having his first sexual experience at the age of 12, as he confessed a few years ago. Still, Totti is not a womanizer. Family is as important to him as Rome, where he was born and raised. Aside from being the king of Rome, Totti is also the most precious part of the Roma brand.

In 2011, Roma was purchased by a group of American investors from Boston, headed by James Pallotta. The new owners came to the capital with very ambitious plans. Convinced that Roma was one of the most underestimated brands on the market, Pallotta signed sponsorship deals with companies like Disneyland and Nike, while starting to make plans for a new stadium that was supposed to be one of the most modern sports arenas in Europe. But only if the new owners could get permission to start the project.

The project is facing big delays, and the stadium, which was supposed to be finished this year, still awaits all the necessary approvals from city authorities.

In the meantime, the captain of “la maggica” Roma has gotten older and is becoming nervous. Totti was hoping to finish his career playing in the new stadium and winning something. The last two years, the club finished second in the Italian championship, but still very distant from its arch rival, Juventus from Turin. However, Roma’s second place finishes and its participation in the Champions League brought millions of dollars into the club’s coffers. The club has also gained a lot of money by trading players. While, according to the sources here in New York, James Pallotta totally fell for the club at the beginning, his partners in the U.S. started to complain that he is spending too much time on Roma. The reality is just the opposite. The president’s absence from Rome started to create frictions in the club on several levels. Last autumn, Roma was playing well and found itself in the lead. But then the team started playing badly and could not get out of its rut for several games in a row. Its lead was lost, and Roma’s standings started to sink.

Aside from affecting the team’s performance and ranking, by working from afar, Pallotta could not understand how to handle the team’s supporters — called “ultras” — who traditionally occupy the south side (curva sud) of the Olympic stadium that hosts both Roman teams, Roma and Lazio. Pallotta, for instance, did not defend Roma’s supporters when they refused to accept new security measures that city authorities imposed on the club. The American management correctly wanted order, while the fans — that is, the ultras — always felt that the club belonged to them and not to the club’s management. At least, this is how the club was handled in the past.

The hardcore Roma fans typically live in Testaccio (an area where one would hardly see a fan of Lazio, the city rival team), and support  the club both financially and logistically. Roma has an anthem and many radio stations that discuss the club’s policies and the game’s players, coach and tactics in a 24/7 stream of chatter. These radio stations are much more powerful tools than social networks. Besides, up until a few years ago, Roma was the only club in the country that had its own daily newspaper, not to mention its own TV channel. All this machinery serves to mobilize fans and fill in the the 70,000-seat stadium, creating the atmosphere that propels the team towards the adversary’s goalposts. The flags, the music, the chants that fill the stadium are extraordinary.

But this winter, the stadium went silent. The ultras wanted to show Pallotta their distaste for a president who sides with the authorities of the city and not with them. For the last few months, the ultras ignored the the stadium, watching the games on big monitors in their quarters in Testaccio, while their team was struggling without support in a half-empty stadium. The ultras even banned the use of the anthem during their absence at the stadium.

The power of the ultras is scary. In 2004, during some incident outside the stadium before the city derby, the ultras managed to scare the players to the extent that they were afraid to play. The city derby that Rome lives for was cancelled. “If we play on, they’ll kill us,” the players later told the police. Among the players who negotiated with the ultras was Totti, l’ottavo re di Roma. Some of the leaders of the ultras were later arrested, and the club’s new management is trying hard to resolve this difficult situation that made the club and its less fanatical fans dependent on the mob.

At the beginning of this spring season, Roma changed its coach again. The former coach, Rudi Garcia, lost touch with the team after his initial success. The management in Rome was hesitant at first, but the team’s games in front of an empty stadium were embarrassing. Pallotta gave the job to Luciano Spalletti, who has led Roma in the past, but left the team in 2009, after some undisclosed disagreement in the locker room. The rumors at the time were that it was the King of Rome who made Spalletti resign. Totti was quite capable of doing this.

After Spalletti’s return, the team started working hard again and playing much better. In fact, Roma has won almost all its games and is, two games before the end of the championship, fighting for second place again. Roma is fun to watch now.

In the meantime, the old disputes between Spalletti and Totti surfaced again. But this time, the mandate that Spalletti got from Pallotta was stronger, and the coach has resisted the public pressures that Totti was putting on him, demanding more respect and requesting to play more. Turning 40 in September, Totti no longer manages to dribble past defenders, but he is still very precise in his passing shots and his kicks on goal. With the power of management from across the ocean behind him, the coach defended the team, telling Totti not to ask for special treatment, but to stand in line with the other equally important players. At the same time, Totti publicly demanded the extension of his contract for another year, before he joined the ranks of the club management. Considering the frictions on the team, President Pallotta offered Totti a job in the club, but tried to convince the captain to stop playing, because he’s slowing down the team.

Totti went silent, but trained more than ever. Clubs around the world started to offer Totti lucrative contracts. Would he go to China? To the cosmopolitan New York City? Would the King of Rome abdicate?

Not Totti.

What was more important for young Totti: his first kiss, or the first goal he scored? It was the goal, Totti told the journalist who asked. Totti would not leave. He cannot leave. And when Roma was losing its home game against Torino three weeks ago, Totti entered the game five minutes before the end and scored two goals, turning the defeat into a victory. The fans were in delirium. Spalletti came under more pressure, but he is now using Totti towards the end of every game. It sounds like a deal. Especially because Totti continues to engage the team’s other players with his beautiful passing shots. So much that the ultras are coming back to the stadium this weekend. And perhaps Totti will finally get his contract extended for another year. And will the new stadium be built? While the King of Rome is reigning again?

Also published on Medium.

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