AS Roma's former captain and record goalscorer Francesco Totti left his job in the management team on Monday, bitterly complaining that the club's U.S. owner had never given him a proper role.
During a dramatic news conference at the Italian Olympic Committee, the 42-year-old Roma great said during his two years in a technical role he was repeatedly excluded from strategic decisions and felt obliged to walk out of his only club.
"It was not my fault... Today is like dying. It would have been better to die," Totti told reporters. He said he would be ready to return to the club if President James Pallotta left.
Widely recognised as one of the greatest ever Italian footballers, Totti won the 2006 World Cup with Italy and spent all his club career in the yellow and red Roma strip, scoring a club record 307 goals in 786 games.
He retired as a player in 2017 and was given a job on the Roma technical staff but without a clearly defined role.
In May, Roma did not renew the contract of club captain Daniele De Rossi, Totti's life-long friend, fuelling the fans' bitterness towards Pallotta, who they accused of getting rid of club legends.
"Some people have always wanted Romans out of Roma. Now they achieved what they wanted," Totti said. "De Rossi and I will go to the stadium next year, into the stands with the fans."
The born-and-bred Roman, Totti joined the club's youth set-up in 1989, becoming captain of the first team in 1998 and leading them to their last Serie A title in 2001, one of only three they have ever won.
The relationship between Il Capitano and the U.S. management led by Pallotta has often been tense, especially in the run-up to his final match as a player in an Olympic stadium full of crying fans.
"They forced me to quit football as a player. They have made many promises, never fulfilled," he said, adding he could no longer work with Franco Baldini, a club consultant formerly at Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid.
The club issued a statement later on Monday disputing Totti's claims and said they'd offered him a defined role but he had not given them an answer.
"The club is extremely disappointed to learn that Francesco Totti has announced that he has decided to leave the club and not take up the position of Technical Director of AS Roma. We offered this role to him after Monchi's exit, for which we were awaiting his answer.
"We believed that the role offered to Francesco is one of the most senior positions at the club and obviously requires total dedication and commitment, something that is expected of all senior managers within the club.
"We were prepared to be patient with Francesco and help him achieve the transition from being a great footballer into a great manager. To demonstrate this commitment to Francesco, the role of Technical Director was offered to him -- a role that we believed he could grow into and one in which we offered to support him in while he adapts.
"While we understand how hard it must be for him to take this decision to leave AS Roma after 30 years, we believe that his perception of the facts and decisions made at the club are both fanciful and far from reality.
"Regarding the repeated references to a possible comeback with a new ownership, combined with information about interested parties collected by him around the world, we hope that this was not meant to be an inappropriate anticipation of a takeover attempt of the club, a scenario that would be very sensitive as AS Roma is a listed company. The club's investor group have absolutely no intention of putting AS Roma up for sale, now or in the future.
"We wish Francesco only good luck with what he decides to do next."
Pallotta's group of American investors acquired AS Roma in 2011, after almost 20 years during which the club was headed by the Sensi family of local businessmen who were close to Totti.