Sic semper tyrannis (anche io sono Francesco)

There's a popular saying among football fans; to only support the shirt. Players come, players go, but the club remains. It's a coping mechanism, a way to distance oneself from what are usually players that's impossible to identify with (and it's a rapidly growing trend, too). That way, one can keep on supporting the team and shirt all while expressing your disgust for the spoiled millionaires who are often willfully ignorant of the club's history, and carefree about the pain of losing. It's a nice slogan, solo per la maglia, but as slogans usually go, it's not always more than empty words. The current events in Roma is one of those cases where it does fall short and it's exposed and less than its sums combined.

Normal players aren't like Totti. As fans, we often feel morally superior when it comes to support and love for our club. The players are just employees, and the idea is that they're meaningless in the long run. Not here. Totti is you, Totti is me. Before he was a player and captain, he was a fan. Like you, like me. To try to distinguish between any single player and Roma has never been harder to do than in the age of Totti.

Can we claim he doesn't share the heartache us supporters feel when we lose? Can we say Roma is just another employer for him, and that he'll forget the club as soon as he's out of it? Neither of these applies to Totti, leaving our go-to coping mechanism exhausted.

And so we are forced to re-evaluate this relationship between man and institution. That doesn't mean anyone is expected to choose Totti over Roma, and resign one's support for the latter. Roma is still, obviously, what we will keep watching and supporting ten years from now. But it does mean that it's not as easy as blurting out "shirt over player" and go about our respective businesses. It's not as easy as identifying him as a cancer in Roma, as has happened the last few days when a lot has been said and written. For example an article in Il Messaggero with a made-up quote in its title, to attract readers by creating controversy. And it's kept on and on, to the point where Totti felt the need to write a letter in Il Corriere dello Sport this morning to defend himself and explain that he would, of course, accept whatever decision Ranieri made for the good of Roma. Even if it did mean he wouldn't play. The letter itself is interesting, but much more interesting is the climate which made the captain of the city's team feel as though it was needed. When things have digressed to the point where Carlo Mazzone is your voice of reason, I am comforted by the belief that there are fire alarms ringing nonstop somewhere. There has to be. So, as is obvious by the two preceding sentences, I am not a fan of Mazzone. Yeah yeah, romanista and an ex coach and all that, great. Doesn't mean anyone expects me to defend his often ludicrous opinions and stone age view of football, and it certainly doesn't mean that I do any of those things.

But today, he's the one with common sense in his corner.  Says Mazzone:

I thought the footballing world was made up of intelligent persons, but I was mistaken: if the goalkeeper makes a mistake, it's Totti's fault; if the defense does not anticipate and cover, it's Totti's fault; if the midfield loses the ball and don't apply pressure, it's Totti's fault.

Can't argue with that, because what Mazzone describes is more alike than not the situation we find ourselves in. Or as Totti himself pleaded in his open letter: if that shot against Bologna went in instead of hitting the cross bar (which, you know, could have easily happened) we would be talking about the goal of the year. Not about the ways in which Totti is destroying Roma.

An interesting facet of this caso, but one that's been largely ignored, is the position of those who attack and those who defend. Mazzone knows Totti, so he defended him. Ranieri knows Totti, so he's defended him too. So did his president, so are all of his team mates doing. I'm sure his relationship with Spalletti was more strained than normally when Lucianone resigned little over than a year ago, but I'm equally sure that he would run to defend Totti if needed today. Those who attack him share one thing in common: they're on the outside looking in. The journalists who are inventing quotes and attributing them to Totti, they're looking at this from the other side of a window, trying desperately to read lips to get some handle of it. Or as the perhaps most ludicrous piece of self-aggrandizing and specious deduction I have come across in a good while. Walter Novellino, the serie B specialist with a predisposition for destructive football, today on the radio said, out of the blue:

I'm not fond of Totti. A couple of years ago, when I was one of the greatest Italian coaches, I was headed towards Roma who then took Spalletti. It seemed to me as if Totti made that decision, so because of that I'm not very fond of him.

Let's get one thing abundantly clear, before we do anything else: Novellino has never, ever in his life been considered among the greatest at his job. Not even once, not even by his own mother. He's a coach specializing in getting teams promoting teams from serie B, but is equally ill-suited to coaching once in serie A. Second of all, if Totti did decide that Spalletti was a better option than Novellino, how can I make my appreciation for that known to the captain? Spalletti is one of the most successful coaches in Roma's history and depreciating that, even if done in a self-aggrandizing move, is the sort of thing that makes you lose all credibility instantly. And we haven't even examined the over whelming likelihood of Totti not having been the one to hire Spalletti at all; it's well known Rosella chose Spalletti, and rejected the options presented to her, and supported by, Moggi.

But back to Totti. Even if I personally believe he can still be very useful (for the seemingly forgotten fact of him still having a higher footballing IQ and better technique and passing than just about any other player in serie A), I am open to the idea of his time in the limelight being over. I'm not there yet, but I submit that the possibility exists. Sadly, it was apparently needed for him to express clearly that he would accept that and not insist on playing. Sadly, this has all come about for two instances blown much out of proportion:

• The disappointment at being substituted against Inter. According to the liberators, a sign he believes himself to be entitled to playing, always. According to himself, frustration at not having been able to do more for his team.

• Borriello being substituted against Napoli. According to the liberators, a sign of Totti having made sure that a repeat of the Inter game will never happen again. According to, well, the rest of us just another strange call by Ranieri that day. It's not as if his choice of starting formation, half time subs and every other decision he made that afternoon makes Borriello coming off stand out in any way. It folds perfectly into the mix of oddities.

Given the fact that unlike Spalletti, Ranieri has no official rules regarding players remain on the bench upon substitution, and the fact that Totti is human and as such will make mistakes, we're left with the Napoli toss-up between he and Borriello. That's one case that this entire thing is built upon. No one's saying Totti is infallible, but it seems more like his attackers having their minds made up than something that's built up due to Totti's own actions. As the idea that Julius Ceasar was a tyrant had been so readily repeated and subsequently established among the Liberatores that they chose to ignore his denial and refusal of the powers they accused him of usurping, or indeed what would be the consequences of action. In that case, it was a series of civil wars leading to the complete dismantling of the very Republic they had murdered to preserve. In this case? If anyone, including Ranieri, thinks Totti not playing fixes all the things that are wrong with this team right now, they're cordially invited to be there to investigate the consequences, too. What it Totti being benched doesn't automatically make Lobont a great goalkeeper, or sort out the defense?

Imagine that.