OPINION: Totti’s Tale – Grealish misses out on immortality

Are one club players a thing of the past? Calum Muldoon examines Jack Grealish’s record-breaking move and how it contrasts with the unwavering loyalty of an Italian legend.

(Photo Credit – Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)

Close your eyes and think about your childhood club. Imagine playing for that side. Now imagine being the captain, one of their greatest players. That was Jack Grealish at Aston Villa. 

The Englishman became the most expensive player in English football history after his £100 million move to Manchester City was confirmed last week. The 25-year-old had been with Villa for 19 years and has seen a relegation, a promotion and two cup final appearances. While many thought the England international would move on to a top side at some point, Aston Villa fans were hoping that Grealish’s loyalties would remain in Birmingham. The Villans’ dream did not become reality as he made the move to the Etihad ahead of the new season. 

The move has sparked a range of debates. For example, “Does the City cash pot ever run out?” Another is “How has a player who scores six goals a season become an £100 milliion deal?” But the most important debate that has arisen from this display of financial might is what has happened to one club players?. Ryan Giggs played over 600 games for Manchester United across 24 seasons and won 34 trophies. Carlos Puyol commanded the Barcelona backline for 15 years, an integral part of a side widely considered to be the best in football history. These players had incentive to stay, they played for champions. Perhaps the only true one club man was Francesco Totti.

Playing for a club your whole career is easy when you have silverware to give yourself a reason to put on the same shirt every week. Many top clubs had players who grew up in the youth ranks and would give their career to that one side. It is a rare occurrence for them to stay when the success dries up. That was not the case for Roma’s greatest ever player, Francesco Totti.

(Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

The Italian spent 25 years at AS Roma and in that time won five trophies. There was no European glory. No spectacular grasp of power, nor a stranglehold over top spot for year upon year. Totti just loved football and Totti just loved Roma. While being one of Italy’s greatest players, “the eighth king of Rome” never stepped away the Stadio Olympico. His loyalties to the Romans has been mentioned several times in the wake of Grealish’s move and it is easy to see why. Grealish came to the point in the road that Totti came to back in 2004. 

In the summer of 2004, Totti was fed up. Roma hadn’t won anything since 2001 and Totti saw a slippery slope ahead of them. He believed that Roma were at a dead-end and a reshuffle of the coaching staff and squad was the only way to bring success back to the Stadio Olympico. The board believed everything was fine coming off the back of a second-place finish but in reality, the gap between Roma and the top Italian sides was widening. AC Milan finished ahead of Roma by 10 points and Juventus and Inter Milan were starting to find their feet ahead of the next season. 

Totti predicted another dry season and started to think about greener grass elsewhere. Meanwhile, Real Madrid were in the midst of forming the Galaticos, a super team fit to conquer Europe. After purchasing Luis Figo from bitter rivals Barcelona for a then world record fee of £37 million in 2000, “Los Blancos” broke their own record just a year after, bringing Zinedine Zidane into the squad from Juventus for £46 million. Club president, Florentino Perez had a policy of bringing at least one world class player a year into the club and he had his eyes on Totti. It was rumoured that Perez sent him a Real Madrid shirt with his name & number 10 on the back and the promise of glory if he made the move to the Santiago Bernabeu. 

(Photo Credit – Marca)

While the offer was tempting for Totti, he considered what he is leaving behind and what it would mean to leave the club he gave everything for. He was Roma and Roma was him. He was a prevalent goal scorer and playmaker, and it was unlikely Roma could dream about keeping up their chase for silverware without him. While the offer was tempting, he could not leave his club like that and so he made the decision to turn Perez down and secured his legacy. He was no longer going to be Roma’s star; he was going to be a club legend.

You cannot blame Grealish for wanting to make the move. He will be earning a huge wage at the Etihad and will have a real shot at domestic and maybe even European trophies. He is joining the fastest growing football team in the history of the game but when you do that, you throw away an opportunity to stamp a different type of footprint on the game. Like Totti, Grealish was not winning the trophies that he deserves with his boyhood club. The difference between these players is that Totti fought through the dry years and disrespect to make himself an integral part of Roma’s story. 

Grealish will be remembered as a quality player who passed through the club in the pursuit of success, like all the other top class footballers who did the same. To call Grealish a traitor or a snake is just foolish as most people would do the same if they were in his position, but what this does show is that we will not see another player like Francesco Totti; a man whose only incentive to stay was his love for his club.

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