As he watched Parma’s Gianluigi Buffon glumly pick the ball out of his net 19 minutes into a Serie A title decider in Rome, Francesco Totti knew the Scudetto was close. That was 16 years ago.
The boy raised near the Eternal City’s Aurelian Walls only won one Italian championship in his 24-year career, but it was not an early achievement he failed to repeat.
Instead the crowning glory had arrived eight years after his debut as a teenage substitute at Brescia.
Some say Totti had already peaked when Roma won the league in 2001. A year earlier ‘Er Pupone’ (The big baby) went to Euro 2000 with Italy in tremendous form but lost in the final to France.
He made up for that disappointment by firing the Giallorossi engine – driven by future England boss Fabio Capello – to domestic dominance with his endless goals and unbridled creative spark.
He was not yet 25 and had already worn the Roma armband for three years, inheriting the captaincy from Aldair shortly before scoring the first of his 11 goals in Rome derbies with Lazio.
Totti, in his trademark free role as a number 10, helped Argentinian hitman Gabriel Batistuta and emerging talent Antonio Cassano flirt with another title over the next two seasons.
Real wanted him to become their latest ‘Galactico’ in the summer of 2003 – a move Totti regrets only because he never got the chance to play alongside Brazilian striker Ronaldo.
The one-club man status was preserved, though, and the Roman further delighted his adoring fans by treating them more often to the sight of his famous ‘cucchiaio’ chipped finish as the decade wore on.
An ankle injury and his conversion to a lone striker by new coach Luciano Spalletti meant Totti’s influence was altered forever, if not reduced, and in 2006-07 he scored a career-high 32 goals.
But the top of the arc had been reached. Shortly after marking his 500th overall appearance for Roma in March 2009, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament.
Never a quitter he recovered from that setback to overtake Amedeo Amadei as Roma’s all-time highest goalscorer before the capital club headed into a wilderness period under Claudio Ranieri.
The future Premier League-winning manager clashed with the team’s talisman and Totti even threatened to leave – that ultimatum was a death knell for Ranieri.
Roma’s takeover by an American consortium steadied the ship but Totti’s role was increasingly one of a man who led by example rather than with match-winning performances. Vincenzo Montella and Luis Enrique came and went, neither coach felt able to remove Totti from the starting XI.
Under Rudi Garcia, Totti signed a contract to keep him with the club past his 39th birthday and it was not a conciliatory deal – he still had a major part to play despite the rejuvenation of the squad.
On a rare appearance in the UK he rolled back the years to deny Manchester City all three points in a Champions League group game with a sublime equaliser.
In becoming the competition’s oldest scorer at 38 and three days, he embarrassed City who had been bold enough to tweet: “He’s never scored in England, has he?” just before the match.
In January 2015 he celebrated his leveller in his 40th derby appearance with a selfie in front of the Roma fans – a coach had helpfully stashed his phone in the dugout.
That was, however, his last real moment in the sun and as time ticked down on his Stadio Olimpico dynasty he found himself confined to the bench more frequently.
Some super sub displays earned him a lap-of-honour contract that expires in June. Although he has appeared almost 30 times, returning boss Spalletti has largely waited until the result is secure before asking the veteran to enter the fray in stoppage time.
Totti will not have liked it when incoming director of sport Monchi announced there would be no new playing deal this summer, but a directorship has been proffered.
Before Sunday’s curtain call against Genoa, Totti confessed he was ready for a new challenge. Wherever he chooses to go, he will never leave the fabric of Roma.