JC out to play the devil
Inter Milan matches magnetised the paparazzi during Ronaldo's spell at the club. There, a sea of photographers would snap relentlessly at a stunning blonde in the crowd; the girlfriend of the man pivotal to the team's determination to re-emerge as Italy's footballing superpower.
O Fenômeno was unable to inspire the realisation of this goal, but Susana Werner's current partner has succeeded where her former one failed. Indeed, it is hard to present a case against Julio Cesar, the actress and model's husband, being the chief contributor to Inter's recent monopolisation of Serie A. Given the handsome donations the likes of Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have made, it is a firm testament to the goalkeeper's magnificence.
Agile, commanding and unhesitatingly courageous, the Duque de Caxias native has provided a formidable barricade between the sticks since usurping Francesco Toldo as Inter's first-choice goalkeeper, helping them win three straight scudetti. He was consistently lauded by ex Inter coach Roberto Mancini, whose successor, Jose Mourinho, has also been immutable in his praise.
According to Luca Marchegiani, formerly the sport's most expensive custodian, Julio Cesar has no equal. "Being the best [goalkeeper] is always dependent on a particular moment but his current performances make him the best in the world," the former Italy international recently told La Gazzetta dello Sport."
Julio Cesar's performance in the first leg of Inter's UEFA Champions League last-16 tie with Manchester United certainly endorsed Marchegiani's judgment. He denied the visitors a precious away goal with a series of outstanding saves en route to a 0-0 draw. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson lamented his impregnability; Mourinho embraced it, relieved with a result that, he believes, gives his side "a 50 per cent chance of going through".
Afterwards, Julio Cesar said: "I am very happy for what I did tonight, and it always pleases me to contribute in the way I did. When the team needed me, I was ready, so we will all go home happy. I think 0-0 is not a bad result and certainly better than 1-1. We can make the most of the counter-attack in Manchester with [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and other fast players to use that space they leave."
However, if Julio Cesar had his hands full at the San Siro, he will likely be snowed under at Old Trafford tomorrow. Wayne Rooney, who only played the last six minutes of the first leg after recovering from injury and whom the Brazilian described as the "biggest threat to our chances of qualifying", will likely form an irresistible attacking trident alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Dimitar Berbatov. Moreover, the Italians will be without injured defenders Nicolas Burdisso, Cristian Chivu and Marco Materazzi.
Such has Inter's dependence on their No12 become that former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi has advised against "relying on the miracles of Julio Cesar". However, the 29-year-old turning in another immaculate display is seemingly a prerequisite to I Nerazzurri having any chance of eliminating the reigning English, European and world champions.
Inter Milan have, nevertheless, benefited from some exquisite goalkeeping in crucial games over the years, provided by, among others, Lorenzo Buffon, Giorgio Ghezzi, Lido Vieri, Giuliano Sarti, Ivano Bordon and Gianluca Pagliuca. Success and supremacy have already cemented Julio Cesar's place alongside them in the club's pantheon of great glove-wearers.
Furthermore, he is running the marathon towards becoming the club's all-time greatest goalkeeper at a ferocious pace. Helping Inter past the Red Devils would certainly edge Julio Cesar closer to Walter Zenga's throne.