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Jack: Why Julio Cesar to Toronto FC makes sense

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Kristian Jack
2/7/2014 12:52:45 PM
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It was closing on Midnight and still we waited.

The mixed zone is not a place to make friends. Media stand in one spot and hold their position tighter than moms in line for that Black Friday special at Target.

One by one the Brazilian players came out, many with enormous headphones on, looking down to the ground and heading straight for the bus entrance.

The star of the team was undoubtedly Neymar and his presence was felt even before he appeared, with screaming and awkward shuffling starting around me.

The new king of Brazilian football is a show man, he smiled for the ladies, said a few words for the men holding microphones and ran to his seat on the bus.

Right behind him stood a large man whose presence was just as big for the Brazilian travelling media.

Julio Cesar was smiling ear-to-ear. He had just completed another successful match, in a 2-1 win over Chile, for his country and the joy of playing again couldn't be hidden.

The aggressive Brazilian media wanted a part of him and he was happy to oblige. More than any player he took the time to answer questions, hug media friends and talk his way through his evening.

For the 34-year-old there was some joy in talking about the game. That Tuesday night he would board a bus, take a charter flight back to London and head to training for Queens Park Rangers by Thursday, knowing full well he wouldn't be playing for the Championship club on Saturday.

The Brazilian number one, in a World Cup year, was stuck on the bench at a non-Premier League team and didn't know when he would play again. It is a unique story and one that got even more mysterious when the transfer window closed in England last Friday and the goalkeeper remained a QPR player.

QPR manager Harry Redknapp had made no secret at why the Brazilian wasn't playing. Stuck in the second tier of English football with many players on Premier League size contracts, the London club had a situation where they had two good net minders. Julio Cesar's competition was Rob Green, who just happens to be playing one of the best seasons of his career and is more affordable long-term.

Knowing he couldn't play him, and just importantly not afford him going forward, Redknapp wanted Julio Cesar to leave back in November saying: "We wouldn't stand in Julio's way and we aren't asking a fee for him. He needs to play and he could play anywhere for any team. He's just been unlucky. Rob's been fantastic and I can't take him out of the team.

"However, Julio's a great guy and he needs to play soon, so he can play in the World Cup."

Still the Brazilian waited. And waited. January came and with it came the obligatory Redknapp in a car interview on transfer deadline day.

"He's a fantastic goalkeeper and that's not just a sale pitch to try and move him on," Redknapp told Sky Sports News.

"He's not only a great keeper but also an amazing professional and a great guy. But I think he's a goalkeeper for any big club in the world. He has got every medal there is to win, the Champions League, the lot."

"I can't believe one of the big clubs haven't come in and taken him to be honest," declared Redknapp.

None of the big clubs came knocking. This was not an indictment on Julio Cesar. His wages? Quite possibly. His talent? Absolutely not.

Julio Cesar became the victim of circumstance. Signing a goalkeeper in January is extremely rare. As he can only play one position out of 11 you have to be convinced that the goalkeeper you started the season with is worth disrupting and you have to convinced that the money being spent on the wages is worth it.

Goalkeepers are a not always easy analyse, in terms of their significant impact on wins and losses, and, perhaps, more than ever are looked at in terms of actual value. Are they worth what they are being paid or can someone on far less money do a similar job? Pepe Reina was idolized at Anfield but the moment his wages got close to one hundred thousand pounds per week, when they could get Simon Mignolet for almost half that they felt that was excellent business. Mignolet has been excellent at times, and has made some blunders at times as well, very similar to Reina. Liverpool, meanwhile, used the money saved in that position  to strengthen elsewhere.

Julio Cesar remained a QPR player on February 1st. And still he trained and trained again. His agents continued to work on deals with Brazilian clubs, trying to secure a six month loan to help him get ready for a World Cup on home soil. However, in Brazil the same issues as Europe came up. Big clubs had established goalkeepers like Jefferson, Victor and Fabio. The other clubs are slashing costs and now is not the optimum time to buy, with many of the most important games in their season coming post World Cup.

Five months and counting. On Julio Cesar's calendar inside his London home the harsh reality stares right at him.

He knows what Luiz Felipe Scolari thinks of him and owes him to be at his best. Former Brazilian coach Mano Menezes had pushed him aside, yet when the 2002 World Cup winning coach returned, so did a real, surprise chance for Julio Cesar to put aside the blunder he made against the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup Quarter Finals. Brazilian fans hadn't let him forget that, yet all of a sudden he was in pole position to be the starting goalkeeper in a home World Cup.

"I was as surprised as you," a happy Julio Cesar said back in September when he got an international recall. "Now I need to keep working hard and maintain my form over the next eight months."

Tick, tick, tick, tick...

And now it is five months.

Ryan Nelsen started 16 games with Julio Cesar at QPR last season in the Premier League. The first ten came under Mark Hughes and they didn't win a game. Yet, the very first match, Julio Cesar's Premier League debut, saw them draw 0-0 against Chelsea and the pair were outstanding against the Blues that day. Under Harry Redknapp, results remained similar but when Julio Cesar returned from injury, he was in the starting XI, with Nelsen, to play at Chelsea in January of 2013. QPR achieved a shock 1-0 win and the pair had once again helped keep a clean sheet against a formidable Chelsea attack.

Its a bond that appears to have helped hand Toronto FC, previously the laughing stock of Major League Soccer, an opportunity to get the Brazilian number one before he plays at the World Cup.

No financial details have been reported and we will have to wait and see how TFC can pull this off under the cap but to have an opportunity to get Julio Cesar for around ten games before he joins the Brazilian team is an incredible opportunity. Julio Cesar is a winner and can help play a significant role in changing the culture of that dressing room, a mandate that GM Tim Bezbatchenko has spoken about often this winter.

He can help Gilberto, the club's new Brazilian striker, settle in and can make a huge impact on the club's goalkeeper Joe Bendik. The 24-year-old American is highly thought of by Toronto FC, having recently been rewarded with a new contract, and this signing is in no way a slight against him. What an opportunity he has to work for three months with one of the best goalkeepers of this era, to watch and learn how he prepares and goes about his business. When Julio Cesar departs for the Brazil camp in the middle May, Bendik will be the club's number one again and will be better for having the Brazilian next to him.

And so it appears there are many winners in all of this but, incredibly, the biggest winner of all is Julio Cesar. The odds are 3-1 for him to be one of 23 Brazilians lifting the World Cup in Rio on July 12. Less than two months before that it now appears he will be playing at BMO Field in Toronto.

It is another remarkable chapter in the offseason of this football club. It shows just how far they have come that when the news broke on Friday morning it was now believable. It appeared to be a deal this team would do.

Who thought they could sign a proven Premier League goalscorer at aged 31 or bring back from Europe the heartbeat of the US team at age 26?

"We'll be doing alright if we get World Cup stars, won't we?" Ryan Nelsen told me last October when I asked if his DP's would have to take time away from the MLS season to play in Brazil.

'Alright' is likely to be a massive understatement. TFC have yet to kick a ball in 2014 but the knock-on effect is in full effect. The signing of Jermain Defoe got Michael Bradley's attention and both of them got Julio Cesar's attention.

Now Toronto FC have everyone's attention.

Julio Cesar (Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)
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