With all it’s expanded waistlines, depleted bank balances and overwhelming gloom, January wasn’t one of our favourite months anyway, but it’s transformation into the season of the unfounded transfer rumour has knocked it down a further peg or two. It’s now our 14th most popular month behind Quintilis and Movember.
If January wasn’t already bad enough with speculation about possible January transfer moves, speculation regarding possible summer moves make it even more dreary. Sadly they’re also impossible to ignore and with word coming from informed Old Trafford sources that Van der Sar and Kuszczak will be allowed leave for retirement and a bench that needs warming elsewhere respectively, Manchester United are in the hunt for a new keeper. He may have been told otherwise just as he signed his contract with the club, but Anders Lindegaard will not be the first choice in the United goal for the foreseeable future. That leaves us wondering who will be brought in to replace the excellent Van der Sar. David de Gea and Manuel Neuer were both spoken as potential signings for the Red Devils, but they’ll be expensive and outside the age profile of keepers Fergie has tended to bring into the club. He tends to value experience and on the occasions when he has needed a first choice keeper, has generally gone for players in their late twenties and older with a good deal of first team and international football behind them. Judging by the commencement of clumsy flirting during the week, Julio Cesar is the surprise name to have emerged in pole position.
It’s a surprise for several reason. He wears a snood for starters. It says something about Fergie’s mellowing attitude that this isn’t already a major stumbling block. It’s also strange because a lot of people’s most vivid memory of Cesar will be of his horribly misguided attempts to clear a Netherlands’ cross at the World Cup this summer. The error – along with the error of both taking Felipe Melo to South Africa and then playing him – were in large part responsible for the Brazilian’s surprise early exit from the tournament. But that error must be forgiven because in that season alone, Cesar had already worked wonders for Inter Milan. The idea that he’s some continental style keeper who’s overly fond of the punch and less keen on the physical just isn’t accurate when it comes to the Brazilian.
Cesar has outstanding reflexes and excellent agility. At times his ability to catapult his body across the goal to get a hand to a shot seemingly on an express route to the top corner would suggest his legs are packed with high power springs. There’s an explosiveness to his dives that sees him get across to shots you would have thought were beyond [the much celebrated save from Messi is a prime example]
One off-shoot of his tremendous reactions is an ability to adjust and make saves by whatever means possible. In general is technique is sound, but he’s also very capable of doing the unorthodox and finding some limb to get in the way of a scuffed shot or an attempt that may have taken a deflection. It’s instinctive and uncommon, but for whatever reason he has the happy knack of throwing something at the ball to keep it out. As a bonus, he’s also surprisingly good with the ball at his feet – some may say better than Michael Carrick. It may seem like a triviality right now, but there will be times when the ability to create a yard or two of space to clear the ball will come in helpful. He’s also brave and commands his penalty area well. Contrary to the evidence of the World Cup, collecting crosses isn’t normally a huge issue for him and if he’s capable of doing it in Serie A, there’s no reason to think he can’t do it in England. Another positive is work-rate. Throughout his career in Serie A and with the Samba Boys, he hasn’t always been top of the pecking order, but invariably, he seems to do the work required to break into the first team. He did it to become Inter’s first choice and leap-frogged a whole host of his compatriots to become Brazil’s number one. Attitude does not seem to be a problem.
The major concern is handling. That’s not to say he’s got bad ball handling skills, it’s just we don’t see them often enough. His saves can be breath-taking, but what stands out is a reluctance to hang on to the ball. I’m not expecting him to cling on to every single shot, but there are times when he parries a ball out for a corner when catching it wasn’t out of the question. Of course the main task is to keep the ball out, but in the Premier League in particular, there are plenty of teams that can hurt you from corners and you wouldn’t want to be giving them too many opportunities to test a United defence that has struggled at times this season. If he doesn’t give away a corner, then the chances are the ball is back out in open play and that presents it’s own obvious problems. To succeed in the Premier League, catching the ball more often will be essential. He can certainly do it, it’s a matter of doing it more often. The press will jump on him if they sense he’s another stereotypically ‘continental’ lightweight keeper and as much as I disagree with the classification, that won’t stop the label being applied. This has the potential to undermine both his confidence personally and the confidence of his team-mates. He’s also likely to be expensive. His contract is said to run until 2014 and being just 31 is expected to have the guts of a decade’s worth of football ahead of him. He won’t come cheap, but Fergie will be tempted to spend the money on this proven performer.