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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 07:09 GMT 08:09 UK
Totti scores with joke book
By Suzanne Bush
BBC, Rome

If there were a David Beckham of Italian football it would be captain of AS Roma, Francesco Totti.

Francesco Totti
Totti's book is the surprise hit of the summer
On the pitch he is the highly respected golden boy of Rome. But off the pitch, it is a different story.

Despite his huge success the 26-year-old is incredibly shy, and is not considered particularly intelligent. The various mistakes he has made during interviews have spawned a wealth of jokes at his expense.

One of the most famous examples is when a journalist told him "Carpe Diem" to which Totti replied: "I'm sorry, I don't speak English."

A tragic story in the newspaper: Totti's library has burnt down. It contained two books. Totti is inconsolable. 'No! I hadn't finished colouring the second one in yet!'
This is now one of the most popular jokes in a book called All the Totti Jokes, which Francesco Totti himself helped put together at the suggestion of his friends.

It went on sale on 16 June and has become the surprise hit of the summer, selling 430,000 copies so far.

It is already onto its ninth print run, surpassing all the expectations of the publishers, and seems to have become a permanent fixture at the top of the bestseller list in Italy.

The three hardest years for Totti? Class one in elementary school
Totti's only stipulations in approving the book were that the jokes reflected badly on him rather than his family, and that all the money raised by the book went to a project helping the elderly in Rome and to a Unicef project helping homeless children in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Last year, Totti became a goodwill ambassador for Unicef. Donata Lodi, head of external relations for Unicef, says they are thrilled with the response to the book.

Totti tries to finish a jigsaw puzzle. It takes him almost four months, then he turns the box over and reads: 'From 2 to 3 years'. He says: 'Ah, so now I'm a genius!'
"No-one expected Totti to react in such a way to all these jokes," he said. "Everyone had a perception that Totti was having a very negative reaction to these jokes and the fact that he collected them on his own was extremely well received.

"It was a surprise in a sense for the public, it gives them a different perspective of him as an individual."

'Something special'

So what did people shopping at one of AS Roma's official merchandise stores think of Totti and his jokebook?

"Totti is a champion. I think people envy him," said Rome law student Gabriele. "With this book he's making fun of himself, so I think that he should be proud of himself."

Totti goes on holiday. On his return Cafu asks him: 'Where have you been?' Totti: 'I went water skiing'. Cafu: 'Did you have a good time?' Totti: 'Not at all... I didn't manage to find a lake that went downhill'
Totti is so well known around Rome that almost everyone has a story to tell about a time they met him.

One businessman buying his season ticket said he once met the footballer in a restaurant. "He really is something special because he seems like a silly person," he said, "but I think he is actually a good person and he does many things for others."

Most of the jokes revolve around Totti's strong Roman accent, but many also pick on his perceived lack of intelligence, such as this joke about the build-up to the war against Iraq:

Totti's girlfriend sees that Francesco is getting wet on the terrace and calls out to him: 'France, come inside, it's raining.' Totti: 'But it's raining out here as well'
A journalist asks Totti: "Francesco, your prediction over a possible encounter between America and Iraq."

Totti replies, "Well, I'd say they're two beautiful nations... well-prepared, but as everyone knows, only one can qualify for the World Cup."

Giancarlo Palese, who manages one of Rome's leading bookshops, is surprised at the book's success, but says Totti is constantly in the public eye.

"The media, the television talk about this book every day and everyone is interested in the life of the football player," he said. "He makes a lot of mistakes when he speaks and it's important that this boy laughs about himself."

Despite the jokes, it would be hard to find anyone more loved in Rome than Totti. It is the place he was born and bred and he is considered a key part of the community here.

As well as proving he doesn't take himself too seriously, this book has only made him more popular. So now who's having the last laugh?

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