Queen's Park Rangers might seem an unlikely home for a Champions League-winning, Brazilian international goalkeeper, but then again Julio Cesar has the air of being one of life's adaptors. There are no airs and graces about the 33-year-old, which is just as well with his new club without a win nine games into the season.
The foot of the table is unfamiliar territory for a player used to the very top with Flamengo, Internazionale and the national team, and the contrast will be especially apparent when this winner of 26 major trophies lines up in the crunch match with Reading, also without a win, at Loftus Road tomorrow.
"It's a new situation for me," he admits in his native Portuguese. "But I think that in life these things are sent to test you. There's no reason not to be positive. We have a good team, made good signings and have players with good reputations, but unfortunately we haven't managed to win games yet. But the time to talk about this is when we have the final table in front of us. The place to talk is on the pitch. The main thing that we have to improve for now is the confidence. When we win the first game, it'll come."
Cesar is also sure that the right man is leading them on the way. It is a fair bet that he – and the others in Rangers' high-profile recruitment drive – might not have come without such an internationally known name as Mark Hughes at the helm, but the former Wales manager is clearly under pressure with the purchases struggling to yield immediate results. Yet Cesar, who knows a thing or two about high player turnover from his seven years at Inter, sees a long-term vision perhaps not apparent to all outside the club.
"I've had the opportunity to speak with him a few times in last two months," Cesar recounts, "but he's quite a reserved coach. He thinks very actively [about the game], and makes all the players feel respected. He transmits a lot of confidence to the players, which is brilliant. Even though we haven't won this season, there's no confusion about what we're doing. Everyone listens to him, and is training hard with the desire to turn this situation around. That's a sign of a coach that really commands a group."
For now, the finest margins frustrate. "As the English say, we're "unlucky" [in English]," he says, with his infectious smile gently breaking over his face for the first time. "It's the little details; against Everton, for example, we could have had a penalty, which if we scored we could have gone on and got a different result and now against Arsenal [they scored] an offside goal. There are a lot of points still to play for, and I think we're on the right road."
There is something very old school about the scene at the Imperial College training ground where we speak. A handful of spectators crowd on the stairwell of the old brick pavilion, watching QPR's academy side in action. Inside, in the canteen, hairnetted dinner ladies serve lunch from stainless steel trays.
Cesar is clear that he – as well as the club, who will move at the end of the season – is thinking bigger. "There were four days of the transfer window left when Queen's Park Rangers presented me with their project," he says, "and I liked it. I thought it would be great to be part of a club that was thinking in terms of becoming big, and thinking about being internationally respected. I believe that in two or three years, the club can turn the project into reality and if I could be part of that I'd be very proud. It would be like winning the Champions League again. As he says, seven years ago Chelsea and Manchester City were respected in England, but internationally they didn't have the same respect."
The Premier League may be new to Cesar, but a few faces are familiar. One in particular had a pivotal role in the development of his career when he arrived at Inter. "Roberto Mancini put his faith in me," he emphasises. "Though I was respected in Brazil, in Europe I wasn't really known. Replacing [Francesco] Toldo, who everybody knew was a great goalkeeper, was a real demonstration by Mancini that he believed in me."
An understated but firm confidence begins to seep out. "I wouldn't say it was a surprise because I always believed in my potential. That's why I came to Europe; to win. I didn't want to happen to me what happens to a lot of Brazilians who come to Europe; they arrive, stay for a while and then they go back. I worked really hard, and everything that happened for me in Italy was linked to that."
Though he is loath to name a favourite, he is not shy to reiterate his admiration for Mancini and his successor at Inter – Jose Mourinho. "They're two coaches who I really respect," he underlines, "and who both gave me a lot. I don't really like comparing the two. With Mancini I won important trophies, then with Mourinho I lived a passage of making history that gave us the treble. I had the chance to experience some magnificent moments with both of them."
The year 2010 was the ultimate paradox for Cesar; the best of times and the worst of times, going from Inter being crowned champions of Europe and being lauded as the finest goalkeeper in the world to a humbling World Cup quarter-final exit to the Netherlands, during which a mix-up between himself and Felipe Melo allowed the Dutch to equalise.
Cesar was one of a number of Brazilians in tears at the final whistle. It still hurts, but he is philosophical about it now. "For the World Cup, the whole planet stops," he reasons. "There are 32 teams in it, and only one can win, so the other 31 are all going to end up crying. It only happens once every four years, and has a terrific history. To go out was really difficult for all the people involved with the national team, because we were very confident. That group won the Copa America, the Confederations Cup… we were a really fit group of players who got on really well together. Everyone in that group thought that we'd at least get to the final. It was a shock, not just for the players, but for 190 million Brazilians. For me, it was unbelievable. When you arrive in a competition as favourites it's difficult, because it's a big pressure."
That pressure will be multiplied tenfold when Brazil host in just under two years' time – "without a doubt", grins Cesar – but he will strive to be part of it, despite being left out of Mano Menezes' squad since February. "Always," he says, unequivocally. "That's what I'm striving for. To play a World Cup in Brazil, to win a World Cup, is what we're all hoping for but, especially for me, the motivation is to get back into the national team."
For now, he knows the hard work is to come here in London, speaking with authority about the need "to create a strong identity." Ambition must be tempered by reality, thinks Cesar. "We need to get as many points as possible and then we can start looking at where we can finish" – he breaks into English again – "top five, top 10… top 15…" The grin returns. If the confidence of their goalkeeper is contagious, QPR have plenty still to say this season.
Cesar's medal haul
Copa Mercosul 1999; Copa dos Campeoes 2001; Campeonato Carioca '99, '00, '01, '04; Taca Guanabara '99, '01, '04; Taca Rio '00
Serie A '05-06, '06-07, '07-08, '08-09, '09-10; Coppa Italia '06, '10, '11; Supercoppa Italiana '05, '06, '08, '10; Champions League '09-10; Club World Cup '10.
Copa America '04; Confederations Cup '09.