As the occasional absurdities of modern football go, there are few better tales than that of Julio Cesar: first-choice goalkeeper for Brazil, third-choice for Queen’s Park Rangers and not even on the bench for the visit of Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
In fact, Cesar has not been on the bench once this season. The club’s reserve goalkeeper has been Brian Murphy, a 30-year-old from Waterford who numbers among his former clubs Peterborough, Swansea and Ipswich Town – none of whom he played for very much – over the course of a 10-year career during which he was only ever a regular in his time at Bohemians in the League of Ireland.
Murphy got the shirt for the two Capital One Cup ties QPR played, against Exeter and Swindon, the latter a 2-0 defeat. In the league this season, Robert Green has been ever-present under Harry Redknapp. The logic has simply been that Green has been too consistent to leave out of the side and you only need to look at the plummeting fortunes of Shaun Wright-Phillips under Redknapp to see he doesn’t care much for reputations.
As for Cesar, who played seven seasons at Internazionale, winning Serie A in five of them, as well as the Coppa Italia three times and the Champions League in 2010 – he has played once. That was this month’s defeat to Everton in the FA Cup third round in which he conceded four and was promptly left out of the squad for the win at Ipswich in the league the following week.
One does not feel the need to check the record books to say confidently that Cesar is the first QPR player who has turned out more often for Brazil in the course of a season – three times so far, the last against Chile in November – than he has for the club in W12.
There was a move lined up for him to Napoli in the summer but he turned it down on the basis that he did not want to return to Italy. In the meantime he has kept on banking a salary of around £70,000 a week, as that World Cup draws ever closer. The best goalkeeper in Brazil is free to spend Saturday afternoons at Westfield shopping centre rather than the other side of Wood Lane at Loftus Road. Either way, it all adds up to a terrible indictment of Cesar’s ambition.
Aside from a broken finger, sustained in mid-September, which did not prevent him playing for Brazil on 19 November, Cesar has been fit. In September, Luiz Felipe Scolari declared Cesar his country’s No 1, no matter what, come the home World Cup in June, although the feeling in Brazil is that even Scolari now is concerned at how little Cesar has played.
What might yet save him is that his two main rivals for the goalkeeper’s position, Victor from Atletico Mineiro and Jefferson of Botafogo, are not regarded as having made much of a case. Even so, they are at least playing for their club sides.
By the end of the summer transfer window, QPR had already played seven games in the Championship and the Capital One Cup, and Cesar had not made the match-day squad for a single one. You might have thought that he would have got the message and taken the move to Napoli.
That was the time for Cesar, whose adviser is Kia Joorabchian, to recognise it was an imperative to find a club where he would be playing regularly. Indeed, the process should have started when QPR were relegated. This is, after all, the goalkeeper of Brazil in a World Cup season – and not just any World Cup, but the first in Brazil for 64 years.
As things stand, the January transfer window is 20 days old and, as of yesterday, Cesar was still a QPR player – albeit in the loosest sense of the word. Given that he has played one club game since April, one might reasonably have expected him to have a move ready to go through as the rest of the country cheered in the new year.
Still nothing. The expectation is that Cesar will move this week, but if that is to be the case he is certainly taking his time over it. QPR have played four games since the window opened, only one of which he has featured in; his first of the season. That is four games he could have played elsewhere. Four games that would have taken him some distance down the road to rediscovering his form ahead of the biggest tournament of his life.
In Brazil, they are perplexed as to why a key player with 77 caps is wasting his time not playing at a club that is not even in the Premier League. Less highly rated, but similarly stranded on a big contract and no game time in the first team, is Heurelho Gomes at Tottenham, another Brazilian goalkeeper whose career has fallen off a cliff.
Of course, all footballers pursue the best deal and, once they have signed the contract, they are under no obligation to tear it up. But there are limits and in the case of Cesar, the non-playing Brazilian goalkeeper, one can only feel that the limits of what is sensible have been reached.
On 12 February the squad for Brazil’s friendly against South Africa is named – their last game before Scolari announces the squad for the World Cup in May. Cesar surely cannot afford still to be kicking his heels at QPR by then.
It may be that he turns up in Brazil this summer and recaptures his form, having missed most of the domestic season. But everything we are told about modern sport is that form is not accidental. That preparation, practice, consistency are crucial – and there is nothing more fundamental than making sure you play every week.
If Cesar needs to be told that in this season, of all seasons, playing regularly is more important than being able to live like a millionaire in west London then there really is a problem. But he only has to ask the man who occupies the No 1 shirt at QPR to know what it can be like to have a miserable World Cup.
Green suffered from Fabio Capello’s last-minute decision to install him as England’s No 1 for the first match of the 2010 World Cup against the United States and his error in that game has blighted his international career. He has won one cap since. But that has never stopped Green fighting for his club career, culminating in him wresting the goalkeeper’s position at QPR back from Cesar.
Green will not be going to the World Cup this summer but, come June, he will at least be able to look back on the season and say that he played, week in, week out.
Even if Cesar moves this week, the last five months of idleness have been embarrassing for him – in this season of all seasons.
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