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  • Francesco Totti: Smarter Than We Think?
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    As Americans, over the last few weeks, flocked to see Italian soccer clubs Juventus and Milan participate in friendly matches organized by Manchester United in U.S. stadiums, and the Italian Supercup that pit the Italian rivals against each other at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Italians in Italy found another way to get a summer soccer fix. They were excitedly buying copies of a little joke book put out by one of soccer's elite, Francesco Totti. Just what message is this ragazzo trying to tell us? Find out here:

    On the field, professional athletes should be magnificent - graceful like gazelles, strong like bulls and omnipotent like God Himself. But off the field, we fans hope our favorite athletes are just like us - flawed but fabulous. After all, if these field stars are imperfect too, then everyone has the potential to be spectacular at something. We all can aspire to the sort of greatness that these athletes possess, but first we have to believe that they truly are one of us. And that we are one of them.

    That is why, Francesco Totti, the captain of the A.S. Roma soccer club and a regular on the Italian national team, is the ideal star. He is swift and sassy with a soccer ball, but he has a reputation for being somewhat dim off the pitch. Folks make fun of his style of speech (sometimes close to mumbling), his preference for the Roman dialect as opposed to universal Italian and his tendency to inadvertently put his foot in his mouth.

    How close to reality are these put-downs? Totti, a man of few words (perhaps out of fear of feeding fodder to these entertainers) has never discussed whether he is offended by his place as the butt of Italian jokes. Apparently, however, he is a man of action - on and off the field. Recently, Totti handpicked his favorite jokes about himself for a book, Tutte Le Barzellette Su Totti Raccolte Da Me, demonstrating that we might have underestimated him, after all. Proceeds from book sales go to UNICEF, the United Nation's Children's fund, a group that protects the rights of children worldwide and provides less fortunate kids with medical care and education when possible. (In March 2003, UNICEF officially named Totti its goodwill ambassador.) In just two weeks, booksellers sold nearly 150,000 copies of the Totti joke book, almost a record in Italy, according to America Oggi. Now, the buffoon of Italy is a best-selling editor. Che ironico!

    Poking fun at Totti, sometimes called "Pupone," has become a national pastime. Italian comedians have lambasted his lack of intelligence, his near obsession with being Roman and his roller-coaster love life. "Totti Gol," a recurring skit about Totti, was the highlight of Convenscion, a popular Saturday Night Live-like Italian program that satirizes the country's biggest characters - from journalists and politicians to singers and actors. The "Totti Gol" bits from right before last year's World Cup in Asia, which also aired on RAI International, have become classic. They featured Totti ineptly trying to simultaneously understand the Asian culture and the mysterious Alessandro Nesta, who was a defender for Roma's arch nemesis, Lazio, at the time. (Nesta now plays for Euro Champions A.C. Milan.) The best of all the Totti jokes, from a range of programs, skits and comedic monologues, appear in the book. Here, an example:

    Totti intervistato da una delle lene
    Nome? [First Name?]
    Francesco.
    Cognome? [Last Name?]
    Totti.
    Professione? [Profession?]
    Calciatore. [Soccer player.]
    Sesso? [Sex?]
    Non tanto, ultimamente! [Not much, ultimately!]

    Many of the recent headlines about the book's success have commented on how "Totti is getting the last laugh." Frankly, we should have seen this coming. Your smarts on the field inevitably spill into other arenas as well. And Totti certainly has proven to be a genius with his feet. Born in Roma on September 27, 1976, he started playing soccer at age 7. By 13, he already was wearing red and gold, the colors of his native city. In 1993, at only 17, he first appeared for the Roma squad in Serie A, Italy's top soccer league. On his way to greatness in 1996, he helped the Italian under-21 national team win a European championship.

    In an era, where professional athletes are sold and traded for the highest bids, Totti, almost 27 now, is an anomaly. Recently, Totti answered questions from children and when prompted about a possible move to another squad, he responded by saying, "Spero che non arrivi mai questo momento." ("I hope that moment never arrives.") Last season, when he suffered injuries, so did Roma. Without its true leader, Roma was lost and finished only eighth in the scudetto, which was disappointing for a team that only two seasons ago captured the championship, thanks in large part to Captain Totti. Fans can be even more convinced of his unequivocal loyalty, however, when they see him participate in the derby matches against city rivals Lazio. Perhaps, he puts his best feet forward in the Roma/Lazio matches because he has always been the number one fan for the giallorossi. He still plays his sport with heart, which is becoming more and more of a rarity in a sports world driven by greed.

    I don't know the man personally, so I may be reading this all wrong. But, perhaps, we all mistook Totti's innocence for ignorance. That was our sin, not his. With his joke book, he has taught us all important life lessons: don't take yourself so seriously and don't be defined by what others think of you. Even the most intelligent among us are often unable to actually do that, to rise above the perceptions our peers have of us. Sometimes, we fans just have to accept the fact that some athletes -- like Totti -- are destined to understand more than us regular folks. Ringrazio Dio!

    Order your copy Online from the Internet Bookshop Italia Web site.

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