Francesco Totti isn't a rock star, but he makes a very good impersonation of one. The soccer icon and his teammates from AS Roma paraded around a newly opened Toronto wine bar on Monday night while adoring fans trailed them, grabbing their collars for photo ops destined for Facebook and indulging in a moment of revelry with their heroes.
For the fans, it was a highlight that will last for years. For the players, it was part of the routine of being a member of a celebrated European soccer club. Totti is considered a soccer god, one of the best players of his generation and the greatest player to wear a Roma jersey. Fans at Cibo Wine Bar cheered and whistled when he stood on a platform and said, "Buongiorno."
The private event at the month-old restaurant commemorated the exhibition match to be played Wednesday night at BMO Field against Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Although the local team has the most devoted fan base in MLS, the players aren't in the calibre of Totti & Co. The Roma players make millions, several members of the TFC squad make less than $50,000 a year. While Roma isn't a powerhouse like FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Manchester United, it is an esteemed franchise and, with 500,000 people of Italian descent living in Toronto, one of the most loved within Canada's largest city.
"This is just a great event for the fans and for the players. We wanted to do something very special, because it means a lot to the Italian community here in Toronto," says Pat Di Donato, co-owner of Cibo Wine Bar and a big Roma supporter.
See Vacay.ca Photos of Francesco Totti and AS Roma in Toronto
About 250 people showed up to the event at the 8,000-square-foot restaurant with attractive stone walls made to resemble a Roman grotto. The players from both Roma and TFC spent a bit of time interacting with the fans before heading off. The game is part of the Italian Soccer League team's summer tour of the US and Canada, which included a stop last week in Kansas City, Missouri. While Roma's squad is primarily European and South American, there is one North American player on their team and he is enjoying his moment with the vaunted Serie A club.
"It's a huge honour. I'm proud to represent AS Roma and the city. You realize quickly what it means to play for this club. I'm loving every second of it," says Michael Bradley, a World Cup hero for Team USA. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Bradley signed a four-year, 3.75-million euro contract ($5.15-million Canadian) last July to play in the Italian capital. He's appeared in 30 games for the Giallorossi -- Roma's nickname -- and scored one goal.
"Travel is a big part of what we do," he says. "You learn to adapt to different things and to different places and at the end what matters is what happens when you step on the field."
For one night, what also mattered was that Bradley, Totti and the others from Roma showed up to meet fans in Canada who have spent many other days admiring them from afar.
Visit Vacay.ca to find out how to get tickets to the game and to read the rest of the article by Adrian Brijbassi, Vacay.ca's Managing Editor.