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Football Whispers
 By Terry Daley

Francesco Totti reaches landmark but Roma icon is approaching the end

Francesco Totti scored his 300th career goal in Roma's draw with Sassuolo on Sunday.

It wasn't his best ever goal. In fact, it shouldn't have even stood as he was at least two yards offside when Miralem Pjanic fed him the ball. But Francesco Totti finally has his 300th career goal, 21 years almost to the day after his first and a week before his 39th birthday.

Back in September 1994 a low, powerful shot with his left foot in a disappointing 1-1 draw with lowly Foggia, who finished that season in 18th place and were relegated, marked Totti's appearance in the big time. Sunday's strike came in another underwhelming home draw with one of Serie A's theoretical minnows -- although 2-2 with Sassuolo isn't a disaster in the current Serie A -- but this time there was no freewheeling celebration in front of 59,000 fans.

Instead a half-empty Stadio Olimpico stood to salute its idol, who simply raised three fingers and jogged back to the centre circle.

After over two decades of both inspiring Roma to victory and pulling them out of innumerable fires, it looks like Totti's legs are finally going. There was an odd look on his face after levelling the scores at 1-1 nine minutes before the break; it might have been embarrassment at having hit his milestone with a goal that should have been disallowed, but it was hard to escape the feeling that he knows he's coming towards the final moments of his career.

His 300th goal marks the beginning of the end of his reign as the King of Rome -- one of the world's most important No.10s and the one club man to end all one club men.

"The captain will complete 39 years in a few days, and when someone of that age plays in attack it is difficult for them to play all the time," said Roma coach Rudi Garcia after the draw.

"But 300 goals in incredible."

There were flashes of inspiration and Roma could desperately do with some other players with his coolness in front of goal, but despite Garcia's nice words Totti seems to be on another frequency to his coach's favoured 4-3-3 system.

Play seems to pass him by rather than run through him, and with two wingers who like to hug each flank, Totti doesn't provide the target they need in the middle of the area, while also not being physical enough to lead the line on his own. Too often he would drift out wide only for there to be no-one to cross to, and when others' crosses came in, he was no-where to be found.

There's no doubt a player as experienced and talented as Totti can still make an impact, but not every week, not as a target man, and certainly not against a team as well drilled as Sassuolo.

Sunday's opponents are not level with Roma on eight points -- four behind league leaders Inter Milan -- by luck. A Scudetto winner alongside Totti in 2001, Eusebio Di Francesco could have seen his Sassuolo side two goals to the good at half time had it not been for Morgan De Sanctis' save from the impressive Gregoire Defrel only seconds after Roma loanee Matteo Politano had put the away side 2-1 up.

Instead goals from Defrel and Politano saw them to the break ahead and it was a more than deserved scoreline against a Roma team that featured six players who didn't play in Wednesday night's exhausting 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League.

The point was saved by Mohamed Salah, who was his usual bright but frustrating self on the right. His goal, a wonderful volley, was the hardest opportunity he had but despite his wayward finishing he's slowly starting to influence games with his pace.

Roma should have had a penalty in the final minute of normal time for Federico Peluso's rugby tackle on Antonio Rudiger, but even though they dominated in the second half a defeat would have been harsh on Sassuolo, especially given the manner with which Totti reached his third century of goals.

What will worry Garcia ahead of Wednesday's difficult trip to Sampdoria is the inconsistency of his side's displays.

Magnificent against Juventus and Barcelona, they've underperformed against Verona, Frosinone and now Sassuolo, all sides that teams with title aspirations should be expecting to beat.

Juventus' slow start to the season has allowed Roma breathing room but the reigning champions got their first league win of the season at Genoa on Sunday after beating Manchester City in the Champions League in midweek, so they can't bank on Massimiliano Allegri's side dropping too many more points.

If they're to get a result in Genoa, they're going to need a much better showing than on Sunday, as it looks like the days of il capitano saving the day are drawing to a close.

Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC's AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley


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