Italy star Francesco Totti had ambitious plans. “I want to win the European Championship and the European Footballer of the Year Award”, he announced. Hailed by fans as the ‘King of Rome’, manager Giovanni Trapattoni was not shy about heaping praise on his player either. “He will make the Italian team great”, he enthused. “Totti is our Picasso on the pitch”.
All this can now safely be forgotten. The 27-year-old AS Roma play-maker blacked out during the match against Denmark and spat Christian Poulsen full in the face in front of a world-wide audience. Not even one of Italy’s most prominent legal brains, Guilia Bongiorno, was able to help him at the subsequent UEFA disciplinary hearing and he was suspended for three matches. “I am sorry”, Totti said, “that was not the Totti I know” – a sentiment that will not help one of the favourites for the title should they not survive the group stage following draws with Denmark and Sweden. The charge of gross unsporting conduct can be said about several Euro 2004 competitors. Playing England, Swiss players were writhing on the pitch every time a defender even looked their way and the whole Croatian team has been fined for violent conduct. Particularly annoying, especially to the spectator, are players pleading with the referee to give their opposite number a yellow or red card, performing Oscar-worthy roles miming fatal injury only to be seen sprinting down the line seconds later, and pleas of innocence following a particularly vicious late tackle. Football is a sport – whatever happened to sportsmanship?