Roma icon Francesco Totti faces the ignominy of playing possibly his final derby in a virtually empty stadium following a call by fans to boycott Sunday’s fixture against Lazio.
Totti is in his 23rd season with the ‘Giallorossi’ and some, especially his wife Ilary Blasi, expect it to be his last as appearances become rarer and club bosses stall on offering the 39-year-old playmaker a new deal in the hope he accepts a director’s role.
As the ‘golden boy’ of Italian football and the ‘Re di Roma’ (King of Rome), many of Totti’s most brilliant moments have come at the Stadio Olimpico.
In the final derby of last season, the pain of defeat was felt more acutely by Lazio and their fans when Totti was held aloft wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Game Over’.
Months earlier, Totti — who helped steer Roma to a rare title triumph in 2001 — celebrated his 40th ‘Derby della Capitale’ appearance by taking a selfie of himself with jubilant fans in the background after hitting a second-half double to rescue a 2-2 draw.
Images of Totti’s selfie went viral but a repeat could be unlikely if fans heed calls by hardline Roma ‘ultras’.
Thousands have deserted the club’s home games this season in protest at added security measures at the ground, including barriers which separate the ultras’ traditional territory of the ‘Curva’, and on Thursday several banners were seen around the city calling for fans to stay away.
“The Olimpico unites people, barriers divide feelings,” was the message on one banner, while another called for fans to watch the game on a big screen at a popular meeting place: “3-4-16, everyone get to Testaccio!”
But Roma city Prefect, Franco Gabrielli, said: “Until those who are responsible for health and safety say it is fine to remove them (barriers), they will remain.”
It means one of the most fiercely contested derbies in Italian football could be an underwhelming affair that could leave Totti — who is being encouraged to take a director’s role — with bitter memories.
“I hope it won’t be the case,” said Roma defender Kostas Manolas.
Despite the lack of fans, neither side is likely to be swayed as they chase qualification for Europe next season.
Roma, in third, are 10 points behind leaders Juventus and seven behind Napoli, with Fiorentina and Inter Milan both five points further behind in fourth and fifth place respectively.
On loan from Arsenal, Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny told Radio Roma: “We know for the fans it’s worth much more than the three points, but if we want to make them happy we just need to focus on bringing those three points home.”
Lazio, back in eighth, were Italy’s last remaining survivor in Europe this season before their exit from the Europa League recently but their prospects of a return next season are slim.
Juventus fans, meanwhile, will expect the champions to vent any frustration from their recent Champions League exit, to Bayern Munich, on Empoli in Turin on Saturday.
Massimiliano Allegri’s men are on course to equal the club’s feat of winning a fifth consecutive title, last achieved in 1935, but host Empoli with a shored-up defense.
Both Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli are sidelined with knocks, although Allegri welcomes Giorgio Chiellini back to the fray following a one-month injury lay-off.
“I’m feeling good now,” said Chiellini, who barring injury will be at Euro 2016 in France this summer. “I hope I’m on the start list Saturday and keep on going until mid-July.
“I have to say hats off to the lads for keeping Napoli at bay in the time I’ve been off.”
Napoli, gunning for their first title in 26 years, travel to Udinese for the early game on Sunday, when AC Milan are at Atalanta and Inter host Torino at the San Siro.
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