Francesco Totti is an undisputed legend. A genius of the game; a maverick who feared no one and was willing to push football to its absolute limits.
Totti had been tearing up Serie A since 1993, when he made his debut aged 16. But he burst onto the international scene during Euro 2000, putting in his best performances for Italy at a major competition, and providing one of the moments of the tournament in the semi-final against the Netherlands.
There was so much to love about Totti at that tournament. The bouncing, flowing, curly locks. The headband. The iconic Italian shirt. And of course, the magic in the Roman’s boots.
The Roma captain lit up the tournament with some dazzling displays, starring in the final against France, which Italy ultimately lost to a dramatic golden goal.
But until that strike from David Trezeguet broke Italian hearts, there was only one man who was in line to become the tournament’s star player. He did earn the Man of the Match award against the French (his second of the tournament), but that would come as little comfort to the maestro.
Totti was a man possessed in that final. The ball was magnetised to his feet, his weight of pass was exceptional, and his ability to see around corners and through walls was typically incomparable.
The Giallorossi star spent plenty of the game dropping into midfield, dancing between challenges and then releasing killer passes over the top and through the French defence.
The number 20’s outrageous back-heel provided the ‘pre-assist’ to Italy’s goal in that final, taking out three players with one majestic touch of the ball. Totti put several more chances on a plate for his teammates, who somehow squandered these incredible gifts to wrap up a match that Italy had no right to lose.
Totti’s display of grace, technique and tenacity in that final was one of the finest individual displays in European Cup history. If anyone merited holding aloft the Euro 2000 trophy in the Netherlands, it was Francè, not France.
And yet, due to Italy’s eventual downfall, he is much more fondly-remembered for one dink of a football in the round prior.
The myth that surrounds Totti’s ‘cucchiaio’ (chip) penalty sums up everything that was special about the great forward. The stones of the man to attempt it, and the technique to pull off something so audacious.
Italy were in the semi-final of Euro 2000, and with a place in the final at stake, the match had gone to penalties. Italy had lost the 1994 World Cup final and crashed out of the 1998 edition via shootouts, so tensions around the team were high.
In goal for the Netherlands was the giant, intimidating figure of Edwin van Der Sar, one of the world’s greatest shot-stoppers. The legend goes, that as the players were waiting their turn to face the giant goalkeeper, Italian teammate Luigi Di Biagio confessed to Totti that he was scared to take his penalty.
Totti replied, “Tell me about it, have you seen the size of him?”
“Is that supposed to encourage me?” responded a further panicked Di Biagio.
But Totti had a trick up his sleeve. In his thick Roman accent, the superstar uttered the immortal line: “Nun te preoccupà, mo je faccio er cucchiaio.”
“Don’t worry, I’m gonna chip him.”
At this point, Paolo Maldini, an authoritative and soothing presence within the camp, spoke up.
“Are you mad? We’re in the semi-final of the Euros!”
To which Totti answered with a smirk, “Yeah, yeah… I’m gonna chip him.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.