- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

ROME (AP) - It seemed like a scene from the film “Gladiator.” The Roman fans were calling for their embattled hero and Francesco Totti responded with a vintage performance.

Approaching his 40th birthday, Totti came off the bench to score two late goals in Roma’s 3-2 comeback win over Torino on Wednesday amid intense debate over his future with the only club he’s ever played for.

Totti, who has a gladiator tattoo on his right bicep, also came in late and scored the equalizer in a 3-3 draw with Atalanta on Sunday. After that game, Totti reportedly got into a verbal altercation with coach Luciano Spalletti.

Spalletti supposedly questioned Totti’s dedication, accusing him of staying up late to play cards before matches, while Totti defended the squad in a post-match scolding from the coach.

For the next two days, the discussion revolved over whether Totti was still effective enough to have his contract extended when it expires at the end of this season and whether Spalletti should be removed for losing the players’ support.

After Totti’s latest performance, even Spalletti had to acknowledge the player’s enduring impact on the squad.

“Totti did what I had also asked him to do in Bergamo (against Atalanta). He’s a huge resource for us,” Spalletti said. “Handling him is difficult but with him on the pitch the other players are noticeably more motivated and the Olimpico becomes our stadium when he comes on.”

Totti’s first goal was the fastest scored by a subbed player in Serie A this season, requiring just 22 seconds.

And it was a work of art.

A free kick from Miralem Pjanic was deflected toward Totti by the far post and the Roma captain rolled back the years by spreading his legs apart in midair before flicking the ball in.

Roma was then awarded a penalty for a questionable handball by Torino and Daniele Padelli got a hand to Totti’s spot kick - but it was too powerful for the goalkeeper to keep out.

The penalty was Totti’s 303rd goal for Roma in all competitions and his 247th in Serie A, second on the all-time list to the 274 scored by Silvio Piola, who played from 1929-54.

“When we’re in trouble, Totti is the best there is,” Spalletti said. “The problem is that between what a manager wants and Totti’s history lies a series of stories in which I always end up as the villain.”

Totti, who did not speak to reporters after the game, made his top-flight debut for Roma in 1993. Born and raised in Rome, Totti in his 24th season with the club, embodying what Italians call a “bandiera,” an emblematic player who chooses to remain with one team.

Totti’s latest performance virtually clinched third place and a spot in the Champions League playoffs for Roma.

“It’s a fantastic story,” Pjanic said Thursday. “Totti is Roma. When you talk about Roma you talk about Totti.”

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

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