It takes a picture to truly believe the scene staged in Toronto on Friday afternoon. Anything and everything is possible for Toronto FC these days, but the prospect of the likely Brazil number one at the World Cup joining the club on loan even stretches the parameters of those revised beliefs.
And yet there Júlio César stood with former Queens Park Rangers teammate Ryan Nelsen on one side and TFC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko on the other. Another staggering signing completed, another massive star set to play for the Reds this season.
TFC benefited from a series of unforeseeable circumstances in its quest to sign the former Inter Milan goalkeeper to a one-year loan deal. The past 18 months or so have taken Júlio César from a starting job in Serie A to a reserve gig in the English Championship. His plight left him adrift ahead of the World Cup and threatened his chances to feature under Luiz Felipe Scolari in four months’ time.
QPR’s inability to engineer Júlio César’s exit during the January transfer window created an opening for TFC to propose an outlandish temporary union. The enticement of regular match practice under the guidance of a known quantity in Nelsen and the prospect of slipping out of the national team reckoning without it prompted him to swap London for Toronto.
It is a switch poised to strengthen the Reds even further as they search for the club’s first playoff berth. Joe Bendik acquitted himself well last season under trying circumstances and deserved his chance to enter this season as the first-choice goalkeeper, but Júlio César represents a substantive upgrade. All of the expected tools – his athleticism, his positioning and his technique – remain in place from his peak with Inter several years ago.
The lingering question for both TFC and Júlio César: how long will it take him to burnish those qualities into their usual sterling form? His only appearance of the season came in the 4-0 defeat to Everton in the FA Cup last month. He spent the rest of his time wasting away in the reserves and wishing for a chance to move elsewhere to obtain regular match practice. He must spend the next month preparing earnestly with his new teammates to ensure his expected bow in Seattle on March 15 unfolds as expected.
"He's seen the snow and wants to fly to Florida right away." – Ryan Nelsen on when Cesar will join the squad.
By some strange twist of fate, Júlio César’s plan now includes a spell in Toronto and MLS. It is a fillip for both the club and the league, though there are pressing questions for both parties to answer about the propriety of the move within the league rules. There are tenuous and altogether unconvincing ways to explain the signing within the salary budget system (more on the possible mechanics of the deal), yet none of them will leave anyone truly satisfied given the magnitude of this signing.
At this point, the process falls well below the outcome in the pecking order. Júlio César joins Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe on the list of established internationals willing to swap top-flight football for a rebuilding project with Toronto FC. The entire scenario defies any reasonable expectations, but the impossible is turning into the commonplace with TFC these days. And the proof is now there