In 2005, I was yet to turn 29, and it was the period in my career in which Roma were paying me the most: €5.8m a year and image rights that were entirely mine. My contract had another year to run, until 2006, which meant that while Roma could ask Real Madrid for a fair amount for the transfer, as it should be, it would be hard for them to say that I wasn’t for sale.
Florentino Pérez, the Real president, had pursued me since 2001. The name that he had chosen to continue his collection of galácticos – enriched in the meantime by David Beckham and Michael Owen – was mine once again. Real Madrid offered me €12m a year and hybrid management of image rights, both personal and the club’s. The percentages dropped as the numbers rose, but a first estimate indicated possible earnings of €15m, even more than my salary. Absolute madness. I’d definitely have become the highest-paid player in the world. The offer was accompanied by the €60m initially offered to Roma for my transfer. Initially, I’m told, meant Real could have gone up to €70m without a problem.
What do you want to do with your life, Francesco? You’ve got the chance to become a “normal” star player: a big transfer, victory after victory in a team of superstars, world fame and fabulous riches. Moreover, Real are also selling Figo, which will also free the No 10 shirt that Florentino Pérez has promised you. The star of Real Madrid, their No 10, their projected captain. You never even dreamed of a career ending like this. Too big even to conceive.
But have you done enough to repay Rome before leaving? Of course, you guided them to the scudetto, and that’s a rare feat. But the river of love that you’ve been swimming in since the day of your debut, the affection with which it supports you and protects you, the faith that it has in you – not trust, faith! – can these know their end? The season that’s just finished has been the most absurd of all, and there are no new projects on the horizon. Can you leave it with a light heart? What will you do on a Sunday evening, before taking to the pitch at the Bernabéu, when someone tells you Roma have lost the derby? Or that they’ve slipped into the bottom half of the table? You’ll hit the locker, making a dent in it, you’ll massage your sore fist, and you’ll murmur something in your hesitant Spanish to your shocked teammates… You’ll want to be 2,000km away from there to organise the Giallorossi’s rescue. You’ll want to, but you won’t be able to.
I wouldn’t go to Real Madrid, because it wasn’t my story. My story was Rome, Roma, and a series of reference points that allowed me to express the best of me as a man and therefore as a footballer. Forever my family. Both the one that was being born, because my wife Ilary was expecting our son Cristian, and the one at our training base, Trigoria, which wasn’t an ordinary sports complex but an entity made up of individuals, of people who had loved me from day one, from before I became a champion. I’m talking about the masseurs, the kit men, about those who woke up early in the morning so that I could find towels folded neatly in front of my locker and the pitch in perfect condition for training. They did it because they receive a salary, of course. But believe me: they felt a particular pleasure in doing it for Totti. I could tell from the way they looked at me. I couldn’t tell them that I was leaving, they’d feel like I’d betrayed them. I couldn’t do that to them.
source : Guardian sport