"Totti – The Captain" at Sky: Who is the eighth king of Rome?

Doutside the high prison walls with the barbed wire and the aging white gate, Lorena is waiting for her husband. He should have been free again for an hour. But he does not appear. Negotiations are still going on inside – for ten more days that Lorena’s husband would like to stay in prison. Why? Because then the “only true Capitano” will visit the prisoners: il grande Francesco Totti.

The six-part series “Totti – Il Capitano” begins with a scene that is intended to illustrate the importance of the Italian football icon. Totti, that is the living legend from Rome, for which people would even forego their greatest good: their freedom. Is that absurd? Only conceivable as a prelude to a film production? Maybe. With Totti, whom they like to call “the eighth king of Rome”, one must be extremely careful with such claims.

For kings, obedient vassals did the most absurd things long ago, after all. And what they are ready to do in the modern age when their highness’s reputation becomes the goal of a supposed dismantling, the series now shows again with six episodes of 40 minutes each. It is not a chronological tale of Totti’s glorious professional career, in which he never pulled on a jersey other than that of AS Roma.

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The film adaptation of his autobiography “Un capitano” focuses on the most difficult time of his career. It tells the story of his last two years as an active footballer. With the thought that Totti gradually emerged, but difficult to accept, that his career is as good as over, and the dispute between him and his coach Luciano Spalletti, they provide sufficient material for a dramatic staging.

The fans are on Totti’s side

Spalletti had been Totti’s coach from 2005 to 2009. Back when Totti was still one of the world’s best in football, the relationship between the two is said to have been excellent. When Totti was seriously injured once, Spalletti came to the hospital late every evening to help him plan the team for the next season – at least that’s how the series tells this story in a flashback. But when Spalletti was released in 2009, he would have liked more support from Totti. That disrupted the relationship between the two for a long time. When Spalletti returned to train Roma in 2016, Totti was 39 years old and had just returned from a long break from injury. Spalletti hardly ever uses Totti, who is played by Pietro Castellitto. He complains publicly about it – and remains a substitute.

If you break this narrative down to the facts, it all sounds pretty familiar: an old player who gets less time under a new coach. In the football business, where new talents push in year after year, this is a process that happens again and again and is nothing special. But this is not just any player, but “the eighth king of Rome”, who is not dealt with correctly. At least that’s how Totti sees it. And that’s how most Roma fans see it, who mercilessly whistle and boo Spalletti.

In flashbacks and sometimes with original pictures, it is cleverly told how Totti became who he is and what that did to him: Despite all his down-to-earthness, for which he was adored by the fans, above all it created a great height of fall . Totti, who was at the top as world champion with Italy in 2006 and as Italian champion with AS Roma in 2001, gradually has to accept that he cannot stay there forever. Because he’s getting older. Because the body can no longer do what it wants. Not just because there is a trainer who seems to have an unresolved bill with him. That he has to give up what he loves; the imponderables that the end of his career brings with it – all of this triggers uneasiness in him.

“You think about it like someone who has to die,” his wife tells him. It is in such scenes that the strength of the series, narrated from a single perspective, lies. Because these sequences do not focus on the soccer star, but on the people and how to deal with an unwanted end. This can also be worth seeing for spectators who are not interested in football.

The only open question is how Spalletti sees it all. Like Totti? Hardly likely. “Love and laziness”, he once said, were the reason why he never moved to another club. Actually, he was overqualified for the club, who appeared in 25 seasons for Roma and scored 307 goals in 786 games. The Tifosi gave him great credit for staying. It made Totti one of them. And Spalletti, although his success with two consecutive Champions League qualifications proved him right, for many an enemy. Both left AS Roma at the end of the 2017 season. There was one person in particular mourned: Totti – Il Capitano.

Totti – The Captain runs Thursdays on Sky Atlantic and on demand on Sky Ticket.

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