MILAN – Some things in football are inevitable. When Lionel Messi bears down on the penalty spot and unleashes that familiar left boot, for instance, the ball duly whips into the back of the net.
The Camp Nou faithful must have seen it hundreds of times. They already know how the story ends. The ball makes a beeline for the bottom corner, the crowd ready to celebrate. Yet this time, on 28 April 2010, it didn’t. The ball was met by a hand.
The gloved hand belonged to one Julio Cesar. But that hand didn’t make it to just the right spot to deny Messi alone. The keeper was roared on by an adoring public who willed him to reach out and deflect the ball behind for a corner. Those fans had been waiting for the most prestigious trophy of them all for too long to be denied now. Julio Cesar did stop that unstoppable Messi strike, yet as he picked himself up from the Camp Nou turf, he knew he had not done it alone.
The miracle of the Camp Nou became one of the enduring images of Inter’s 2010 Champions League triumph. It is a memory that will never dim, just like that of Julio Cesar himself, a keeper who produced a flood of important saves for the Nerazzurri during his time at the club. And yet Julio Cesar wore the No.12 shirt – at one time the reserve goalkeeper’s jersey – as if to remind everyone that many had doubted his ability in the beginning.
Julio Cesar came from the other side of the world and, more importantly for the doubters, he was Brazilian. Yet while there have certainly been a few nightmare keepers to come out of the South American country over the years, Brazil has also produced some of the finest goalies ever to play the game: not least Gilmar dos Santos Neves, who played for Santos during the Pele era and helped Brazil win their first World Cup in 1958. Just like Julio Cesar, Gilmar’s left foot was good enough for him to have become an outfield player – in goal, it made his team-mates and fans feel confident in their keeper.
Julio Cesar undoubtedly belongs to the pantheon of great goalkeepers. His career began at a very early age at Flamengo, the most widely supported team in Brazil. Julio Cesar quickly became an idol for the Flamengo faithful.
It was Julio Cesar’s telepathic intuition that prompted Inter to sign him. Yet the Nerazzurri were aware that the young Brazilian needed to continue his apprenticeship elsewhere before he could replace the great Francesco Toldo. A loan move to Chievo was the chosen solution.
In Verona, Julio Cesar – full of humility and eagerness to learn – set about studying first-choice keeper Luca Marchegiani. "Straight away, we were struck by his ability," recalled Marchegiani years later. "His movement was quick and he had a knack for reading the game, which meant he was always well positioned. He was also a fabulously acrobatic keeper and could pull off some spectacular saves. It was just a question of time for him."
At the end of the loan agreement, Julio Cesar linked up with Inter and set out on a journey that would lead to glory. The Brazilian’s time with the Nerazzurri is dotted with unforgettable moments: the double save to deny first Cafu and then Clarence Seedorf one of his first derbies, in the 2006/07 season, or the penalty save against Ronaldinho when Inter were down to nine men, or the slew of majestic performances during Inter’s triumphant 2010 Champions League campaign, capped off by a couple of stunning saves in the final. For many, however, his heroics in the miracle of the Camp Nou remain his greatest hour.
Thank you for everything, Julio. You proved that even a Brazilian goalkeeper wearing the No.12 jersey could scale the heights. Nobody who saw Inter’s treble success will ever doubt you again.