ROME: It was a celebration tinged with tears, fear and love.
Francesco Totti bid an emotional farewell to Roma after a remarkable 25-season career with his hometown club on Sunday, contributing to a 3-2 win over Genoa in Serie A that secured the Giallorossi a spot in the Champions League.
Almost 60,000 fans inside the Stadio Olimpico stood up and cheered when the 40-year-old Totti replaced Mohamed Salah in the 54th minute. And even if Totti didn't score or set up any goals, his mere presence was what the supporters came to see.
"Unfortunately the time has come. I've cried every day," Totti said in a post-match speech from the center of the pitch. "It's a decision I made with my wife and my family. I would stay here another 25 years. Thank you Roma.
"I would have liked to write a poem or a song but I've tried to express myself with my feet," Totti added.
Totti then put to rest speculation that he might end his career with another club.
"Excuse me if recently I haven't talked much or cleared up my thoughts," Totti said. "I'm taking my shirt off for the last time and folding it up well and good. The lights are turning off now and I'm afraid. Allow me to have a little fear. Now I need your help."
During the elaborate post-match ceremony, a huge No 10 jersey with Totti's name on it was unveiled at the center of the pitch. All of Roma's players put on shirts featuring Totti's No 10 while the electronic publicity boards lining the pitch read, "Grazie Capitano."
Totti then walked around the stadium's athletic track while holding third child Isabel in his arms, with his other two children and wife Ilary Blasi accompanying him.
At one point, Totti stopped and leaned on the publicity barriers and just stared into the stands. Then he cried on Blasi's shoulder.
Totti also signed a ball with the words, "I'll miss you," on it and then kicked it into the "Curva Sud" — southern end — of the stadium where the hard-core "ultra" fans sit.
At the conclusion of his speech, Totti told the fans, "I love you."
Roma's victory, courtesy of a 90th-minute goal from Diego Perotti, secured second place.
Roma coach Luciano Spalletti received a long series of boos and whistles — linked to how he has used Totti sparingly this season — when he was introduced before the match.
Fans also reacted negatively when James Pallotta, Roma's American owner, greeted Totti after the match.
There had been speculation that Totti wanted to play another season and the club was urging him to retire.
Pallotta has offered Totti an unspecified management position.
Thousands of fans wore Totti's No. 10 shirt — in white or red — while others had T-shirts that read simply, "captain forever."
"Let it be known that I lived in the times of Totti," one fan banner read.
Roma wore special shirts featuring a dedication to Totti, and so did Genoa.
On the back of Genoa's shirts, a message read, "25 seasons with only one shirt, 785 appearances, 307 goals, world champion in 2006. Francesco Totti is part of football history."
Totti appeared in 786 matches in all competitions with Roma, third all-time in Italy for most games with a single club behind only Paolo Maldini (902 with AC Milan) and Javier Zanetti (858 with Inter Milan).
Totti also ended his career second all-time in goals scored in Serie A with 250, 24 short of the record by Silvio Piola established between 1929 and 1954. No other current player has more than 200.
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.
"I still get goosebumps thinking about 17 June, 2001," Totti said, recalling his only Serie A title.
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Updated Date: May 29, 2017 18:48:04 IST