ROME (Reuters) - Even Daniele De Rossi, one of the hardest men in football, was reduced to tears as AS Roma talisman Francesco Totti brought down the curtain on a remarkable 25 years at his only professional club on Sunday.
A capacity crowd stayed behind for more than an hour after the end of the win over Genoa to bid farewell to a hugely gifted player who, many believed, could have won much more had he moved elsewhere but remained loyal to Roma throughout.
Totti, 40, came on in the 54th minute of the Serie A match and helped his team to a 3-2 win which guaranteed a second-place finish and an automatic place in the Champions League group stage next season.
After that, it was time for the goodbyes.
Totti, who confirmed only on Thursday that the game would be his last for the club, walked around the stadium and stood in front of the Curva Sud, tears welling in his eyes, for several minutes before kicking an autographed ball high into the stands.
His team mates lined up to congratulate him before he addressed the stadium.
“I wanted to write a poem or a song but I‘m not capable of that,” he said.
”It’s finally over. The moment which I hoped would never arrive is here. I‘m taking off the shirt for the last time, although I‘m not ready to do it, and maybe never will be.
“It’s not easy to turn out the light. In fact, I‘m afraid -- it’s not like taking a penalty”, he said, at which point almost everyone in the stadium appeared to be in tears.
Totti made his debut as a 16-year-old in a 2-0 win against Brescia in 1993 and played under 16 different coaches during his 25 seasons at the club in the city where he was born.
In all he made 786 appearances, scoring 307 goals including 250 in Serie A -- the second-highest total by a single player after Silvio Piola between 1929 and 1954.
A World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 when he played in all seven games, his trophy haul with Roma was surprisingly modest -- a single Serie A title in 2001 and two winners’ medals from the largely unloved Coppa Italia.
Totti said earlier this year that he was nearly lured to Real Madrid by the prospect of playing with Brazilian forward Ronaldo but resisted the temptation.
Even so, he hinted in his statement on Thursday that he could still continue playing elsewhere.
De Rossi, who himself has been at the club since 2001, was among those who could not hide their emotions.
“There are people who are not normal. There are careers that are not normal. I saw a banner that said the real battle against modern football is to wear the same jersey for 25 years,” he said.
“After 16 years, I will go into the dressing-room and he won’t be sitting in the same place. That won’t be easy.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Clare Fallon