Fan boycott may mar Totti's final Rome derby

MILAN • 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.

He is in his 23rd season with Roma 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 that he accepts a director's role.

As the "Golden Boy" of Italian football and the "Re di Roma" (King of Rome), many of his most brilliant moments have come at the Stadio Olimpico.

In last season's second derby in May, the pain of a 1-2 defeat was felt more acutely by Lazio and their fans, as he 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 wefie of himself with jubilant fans in the background after hitting a second-half double to rescue a 2-2 draw in the first derby.

The wefie 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".

On Thursday, several banners were seen around the city calling for fans to stay away.

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 fought 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.

However, neither side are likely to be swayed as they chase qualification for Europe next season.

Roma, in third place, 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.

Lazio, back in eighth, were Italy's last remaining survivors in Europe this season before their exit from the Europa League recently but their prospects of a return next season are slim.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


LAZIO V ROMA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'Fan boycott may mar Totti's final Rome derby'. Print Edition | Subscribe