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Stuart Harper On April - 12 - 2011

Totti and Toto: Two Italian Serie A Stars Aligned

Saturday’s match between Udinese and Roma pitted two kindred spirits against each other. Both Librans; the attributes of Francesco Totti and Antonio Di Natale strike a synergistic balance which, amongst the second-half mayhem, was undoubtedly lost upon the Friuli onlookers – therefore, Serie A Weekly reflects gazes upon these stars, most definitely aligned.

Just a year separates Totti and Di Natale, and despite being in the autumn of their careers, both remain significant Serie A forces. Despite a sluggish start to this term, Totti is a resurgent entity under Vincenzo Montella’s stewardship  - three times bagging braces since l’aeroplanino grabbed the Giallorossi controls. Thereafter, at 34, the Zebrette’s own hit man leads the capocannoniere race, an accolade already bearing his name, along with that of his Roman counterpart.

Fundamentally, Totti and Di Natale’s respective role differs in a tactical sense and yet the ostensible function of Totti and Di Natale is the same – leadership and goals. Both carry the weight of the fabled number ‘10’ shirt, although it is Totti’s midfield machinations that best honour the prerequisite demands of a true ‘numero dieci’.

Antonio ‘Toto’ Di Natale meanwhile is indeed an assassin with ice coursing through his veins, but nonetheless is capable of playmaking endeavours. Together with Alexis Sanchez ‘Toto’ has forged a partnership which this season alone, has yielded a remarkable thirty-eight goals and twelve assists - Di Natale monopolising those figures with a haul of twenty-goals and seven assists alone.

Both club captains are responsible for a third of their clubs goals this term, more if one includes assists. To say that each forms the fulcrum of their respective sides is stating the obvious albeit it helps substantiate just why they carry the armband with such impunity.

But this said, aside from God given ability, is there a coalescing element which helps propel these thirty-somethings so ebulliently? At the risk of denigrating football’s manly pretensions by becoming all misty eyed and poetic, a monogamous love is undoubtedly driving Toto and Totti forward.

Totti’s relationship with Roma has been comprehensively documented elsewhere, and there is simply no need to embellish that particular legend here. Di Natale however, has all but earned a similar status amongst the Friuli faithful, a reputation built over seven years since joining from Empoli – the synergy between Toto and his tifosi reaching new heights this summer, as the striker shunned the Bianconeri of Juventus, to remain in Udinese’s black and white stripes, following a record breaking, one man crusade of a season last term.

When asked about the potential switch, Toto spoke about the love of the Zebrette supporters and about how much that meant and was reciprocated. At the zenith of his powers, Antonio could have been forgiven for seeking out a final, handsome contract, with one of the world’s, let alone Serie A’s biggest names. Instead, he spoke with candour about the unimportance of money and trophies compared to the love of a club and its people whom he has an affinity.

Before our lips do indeed start to quiver, lest not forget these are not completely selfless acts with handsome remuneration packages regardless of whether it’s Turin or Udine.  That said; such talk transcends by some distance, meaningless ‘badge kissing’ and the club-hopping which has become a feature of a game consumed by avaricious agents and their charges.

Ultimately, when one ignores the obvious parallels between Totti and Di Natale – namely, the shirt number, the captaincy and indeed the goals, we are exposed to a dying phenomenon in football, players who despite the trappings manage to maintain a genuine affection and affinity with their club and its people - a dynamic which could be construed as fundamental in the form and desire of both players.

A cliché which regularly punctuates football banter is one which suggests that the club belongs to the fans. Supporters are the only constant, whereas players, managers and directors are transitory. But as Toto and Totti have proved, not all tenancy is fleeting and loyalty, particularly the goal infused variety, is rewarded with a fervency that leads to Demigod status.

Interestingly, at one point in their respective careers each capitano was managed by Luciano Spalletti. The current Zenit coach spent one season in Udine, sufficient to garner Di Natale’s complete admiration before Spalletti moved to the eternal city. As a Romanista one can’t help but to reflect on this period and somehow wonder if Spalletti ever considered a move for Toto. Almost undoubtedly, the marriage of capocanonieri would have been something to behold, certainly as fruitful as Toto’s current alliance with Sanchez is proving.

Ultimately, there are players who pledge their troth to a club and seldom, if ever, want away. But what helps seal the bond between Francesco Totti and Antonio Di Natale however; is that they have both embellished their patronage with prolificacy that has bought real meaning to their clubs. Single handedly Toto has propelled Udinese from relegation candidates into Champions League contenders; while Totti’s gilt-edged palmares speaks for itself.

Usually, when one excels within a club widely known as a lesser light, the observed protocol is to cash in on one’s stock value by moving. And although Totti’s circumstance is somewhat unique, it is admirable to witness Antonio ‘Toto’ Di Natale follow the lead of his fellow Azzurri, treating the people of Udine with the same esteem in which he is being held. And although it’s overtly sentimental, isn’t love football’s ultimate currency?

Stuart Harper

Freelance sports writer covering football, calcio & futbol. A Villa, Roma & Barca fan. Cycling too.

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