MILAN (AFP) - Roma coach Luciano Spalletti remained defiant on the thorny issue of captain Francesco Totti after the out-of-favour club captain provided his first assist of the season in their 1-1 draw with Bologna in the Italian Serie A on Monday.
Totti's future at the club for whom he has played 23 seasons is a hot topic in Italy, as the Serie A giants stall on offering the 39-year-old an extra year's deal.
Partially due to injury, Totti has made only a handful of appearances this season, but when "Il Re di Roma" (the King of Rome) replaced Iago Falque at half-time he made an almost immediate impact.
Roma were trailing 1-0 after a 25th-minute opener by Luca Rossettini, who capitalised on a moment of hesitation from Wojciech Szczesny at a free kick to beat the Roma goalkeeper at his far post.
Lively Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah had already hit the post in the opening half and found the woodwork again minutes after the restart.
But Salah made no mistake when he collected Totti's through ball moments later. With only the goalkeeper to beat after Bologna's offside trap malfunctioned, Salah slid the ball easily past Antonio Mirante to pull the scores level on 50 minutes.
Lacking pace and looking quickly out of breath, Totti's vision and pinpoint passing to players in better positions helped make amends, all to no avail. On 54 minutes he curled in a delightful ball towards the back post but Miralem Pjanic slid in just too late.
When Salah collected Totti's through ball towards the end of the match, he unleashed a drive that brushed the bottom of Mirante's upright.
Roma dominated a resolute Bologna throughout, but had to settle for just their third draw since Spalletti took over from sacked Frenchman Rudi Garcia in February.
"We didn't win tonight but the lads played good football and Bologna did well to take a share of the spoils," Spalletti said.
The Roma coach got irked when it was suggested Totti had made a positive contribution. Two months ago, a spat between the pair erupted after Totti claimed he should be playing more and deserved more respect by the club, prompting Spalletti to declare the club captain was "no better" than many other players at his disposal.
Spalletti added: "It's you who says it. I've always had Totti available, and when I feel he can give me something then he plays, as happened tonight. He strengthened the team and gave the fans a little boost."
Juventus remain top and on course for a record-equalling fifth consecutive scudetto after a 2-1 win at AC Milan on Saturday maintained their six-point lead on second-placed Napoli, who beat Verona 3-0. Roma remain third at six points behind Napoli and five and seven points ahead of Inter Milan and Fiorentina respectively.