Football: Totti facing fan boycott on what could be final derby

Roma's Italian forward Francesco Totti warming up prior the Italian Serie A football match AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina on March 4, 2016.
Roma's Italian forward Francesco Totti warming up prior the Italian Serie A football match AS Roma v ACF Fiorentina on March 4, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

(AFP) - 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.