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“In life, we have to collect moments. We are all just passing through.”
My cousin told me this a few years ago. I think it is a wonderful way of saying that you have to savour the highlights in life, because time goes so fast and there comes a time when you will want to look back at them.
For my part, however, I have always thought of my life as a series of chapters. So here I’d like to share some of them with you.
They might appear to be in random order, but this is the way they make sense to me.
Chapter 3: Mourinho at the Piazza del Duomo
In 2009 I won Serie A with Inter. We had spent a long season playing games, training, travelling, staying in hotels and missing our families. Now we were finally champions.
So, you know, we had plans to go and celebrate like mad.
That’s what champions do, right?
But our coach was the one and only José Mourinho. And, well, let’s just say that The Special One had a very different plan in mind!
This is what happened: We were in a hotel in Milan on a Saturday, preparing to play Siena on Sunday. We knew that if Milan lost to Udinese that night, we would be champions. So we were all watching the game together. When Milan lost, we went crazy.
INTER, CAMPIONE D’ITALIA!
Where to go? Easy. We have a place called the Piazza del Duomo, which is the main square of Milan. This is where Inter celebrate their titles with the fans. But when I spoke to Javier Zanetti, our captain, and some of the other players, they said that Mourinho didn’t want us to go there.
Mourinho wanted us to rest before the Siena game. It didn’t make sense! We had won the title. We had no other competitions left to play.
Then I realised that Mourinho wanted to break the record for the number of wins in a Serie A season, or something like that. It was a milestone that would make him look good.
So I got really mad, hahaha. I told Zanetti, “We have to go to the Piazza. We deserve it.”
Just then Mourinho walked past. He shouted, “Júlio César, why don’t you go there by yourself?”
I shouted back, “Everyone wants to go. They’re just afraid to tell you, but I’m not.”
Mourinho kept walking towards his room. I wasn’t going to just accept this, so I went after him. When he went into his room, I followed him. He lay down on the bed and I told him, “Look, if you don’t go to the Piazza, you will never win a championship again.”
Suddenly Mourinho got up and began swearing at me. He was calling me every name under the sun. I’m not sure, but I think he might have taken what I said seriously.
In either case, two buses soon arrived to take us to the Piazza del Duomo.
Moments later we were in the square singing and celebrating with the fans. At one point — I was pretty drunk — I grabbed Mourinho by the neck and said, “So you really wanted to stay at the hotel?! Look at this! This is for you!”
He just began to laugh. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was 5 a.m. We went straight to bed.
And then we beat Siena 3–0.
Chapter 4: Tears in Madrid
In 2008–09 my relationship with Mourinho was like father and son. And then it got more … well, let’s just say it got more complex.
Come spring 2010 we were fighting for the league title, the Italian cup and the Champions League — the treble. I was playing terribly. My confidence was gone. One day, as I was warming up before training, Mourinho walked over to me and said, with a voice as cold as ice:
“Look, you have gone from the world’s best keeper to a Serie C keeper.”
That was his way of encouraging me, you know? The idea was that I’d be provoked to do better. And with most of our players it would have worked. That team was so successful because Mourinho treated us in a direct and transparent way. No matter who you were he would criticise you in front of the group. But the thing is, not everyone reacts well to this kind of leadership. And I didn’t. I lost confidence. Out on the pitch, I became even more insecure.
Look, you have gone from the world’s best keeper to a Serie C keeper.- José Mourinho
Still, another great thing about Mourinho was that if you felt unfairly treated, you could talk to him. So that spring we had a long chat that cleared the air.
Before that I had felt heavy and sad.
Afterwards I was back to normal.
A few months later UEFA named me the goalkeeper of the year in Europe. We won the league and the cup. But the big one was the Champions League. Inter hadn’t won it in 45 years and the club president, Massimo Moratti, was obsessed with it.
We played the final against Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid. I had invited about 70 or 80 people! All family and friends — from the U.S., Italy, Brazil, everywhere. When the ref blew the final whistle, I walked across the pitch to celebrate with my family and friends. I especially wanted to see my mum, Maria de Fátima. She was the one who had encouraged me to stick to 11-a-side football as a kid, even though I liked futsal better. I kissed her and hugged her.
It’s wonderful to enjoy such moments with the people who supported you on your journey.
Out on the pitch the players and the staff were hugging each other, kissing each other, tears rolling down … I found my son, Cauet, put him on my shoulders and walked back out with my teammates.
He was able to celebrate that moment with me, too.
Chapter 2: The Mengão Family
I’m not gonna lie: Whenever I’ve had to choose my next career move, finances have always mattered to me. In 2005, the team I was playing for, Flamengo, offered me a contract that was as good as they could afford, which I appreciated a lot. But when Inter made me a better offer, I felt I had to accept it.
Would I have stayed at Flamengo had I been offered the same kind of money?
Yes. No doubt about it.
Look, I’m Flamengo through and through. I’m from Rio de Janeiro. My dad, Jenis, is a Flamengo fan. My two older brothers, Júnior and Janderson, are Flamengo fans. They are all crazy about the Mengão. I began playing for Flamengo when I was nine. They shaped me as a person and as a player. They paid my first wages and put bread on the table. They gave me my professional debut at 17.
My health, my family, my finances … everything that I have today I owe to Flamengo.
Unfortunately, I never won a big title with Flamengo. During the four seasons I was their first-choice goalkeeper, from 2001 to 2004, we fought relegation in three of them.
Man, we suffered so much, haha. Too much!
When you play for a club with 40 million fans, it’s like you’re representing a nation, you get me? They’re so passionate and demanding. At our lowest points we could barely leave our houses because of all the tension. Going to restaurants? Forget it.
Still, the fans always showed me love and affection. I think it was because I came from the academy and understood what it was like to be on their side. And I never hid my emotions, whether I was laughing or crying.
Besides, we never got relegated. The fans take a lot of pride in saying that we have never gone down to Serie B, which has happened to a lot of big clubs in Brazil.
My biggest regret is the Copa Libertadores, the South American Champions League, which is so important to Flamengo. When I made my debut, Flamengo had only won it once, back in 1981 when I was two years old. The only time I got a shot at it was in 2002. We were drawn in a group with Olimpia (from Paraguay) Universidad Católica (Chile) and Once Caldas (Colombia). In Brazil nobody had even heard of Once Caldas. Flamengo’s president, Edmundo Santos Silva, came back from the draw and told us that the group was easy.
He was like, “We’re going to play Once Caldas.”
We were like, “Once who?”
He was like, “Exactly.”
My biggest regret is the Copa Libertadores, the South American Champions League, which is so important to Flamengo.- Júlio César
To be fair, I think most fans were thinking the same. It was easy to take that group lightly. But Once Caldas turned out to be good, and Universidad were a respected team. As for Olimpia, they ended up winning the whole thing.
So yeah, we came dead last in our group … it was a disaster.
Chapter 5: The Boxer in Toronto
In 2012, after seven and a half years at Inter, I never thought I’d play for another club.
I definitely never thought I’d end up at Queens Park Rangers.
The whole thing was very difficult. Inter wanted to cut their expenses and the squad began to unravel. They tried to lower my salary, which I felt was unfair, so I wanted to leave. It was all very sad.
I only had one offer on the table: QPR. As ever, the money was important, but I also believed in the project. The Premier League excited me and London is a great city. Yet nothing turned out as planned. Even though the club invested heavily, the winning mentality just wasn’t there, and we were relegated. For my part, I thought I did well under Mark Hughes. But not long after Harry Redknapp took over, I was out.
Harry and I had a few issues, although always in a respectful way. He chose another keeper, Robert Green. Fair enough. It was weird, though, because he’d always tell me, “You’re such a fantastic goalkeeper.” And I was like, “So play me then!”
The craziest thing is that while I couldn’t even get a game at QPR in the Championship, I was playing for Brazil! In November 2012 the Brazilian Football Confederation had appointed Luiz Felipe Scolari — or Felipão as he is known in Brazil — as coach. He immediately called me back up and started me in his first game, a friendly against England.
But then the press began to criticise him because he had picked a keeper who didn’t play for his club. People were saying that my career was going downhill. As for QPR, they didn’t care one bit that I was playing for Brazil. So what if he plays for the most respected national team in the world? Even when Brazil won the 2013 Confederations Cup, and I was named the goalkeeper of the tournament, nothing changed.
I think I could have gone two years without conceding a goal for Brazil, and would have still been on the bench at QPR.
Anyway, over the next year, Felipão felt the pressure even more. This was going to be our World Cup, at home in Brazil, and anything but the title would be a disaster. Nine months before it started, Felipão told the press, “Even if he doesn’t play for his club, Julio Cesar will be at the World Cup.”
That was a huge thing to say. The final squad announcement was still months away, and yet Felipão had assured me a place. That was his way of taking the pressure away from me, and I will forever be grateful to him for that.
But was I going to play at the World Cup? That was another matter. All Felipão had said was that I would be one of three goalkeepers there.
So any chance I got to show my form, I had to take it.
Then, in November 2013, Brazil were playing a friendly against Chile in Toronto, Canada. It would be Brazil’s last game for three and a half months. My problem was that, two months earlier, I had broken a finger and dislocated two others. It was the worst possible timing. The physio at QPR had said that I wouldn’t make the Chile game.
I just thought, No … I have to be there.
Felipão called me. “Hey, how are you doing?”
I said, “Count on me boss, I’ll be there.”
He said, “How come? You just broke your finger.…”
I said, “Just trust me.”
So I hired a physio from Brazil named Fred Manhaes, who I have known since I was 17. He worked on my fingers at QPR and at home. Within a few weeks I was much better. The key was that I kept working away from the club. At QPR, I was following a pretty conservative programme, while at home I was pushing far harder to recover. I actually went out in a park in London with my son, who would fire shots at me. We did it at home, too.
At QPR I was still working with a sponge ball.
At home I was on fire!
When the day came to announce the squad, I told Felipão that I was 100%. The QPR staff couldn’t believe it. The doctor who had operated on me said he had never seen a quicker recovery.
I played the game. We beat Chile 2–1.
At QPR I was still working with a sponge ball. At home I was on fire!- Júlio César
Not that Felipão had decided to start me at the World Cup. Even though he had told the press I’d be there, he was worried that I wasn’t playing for QPR. He’d call me constantly.
“Hey, guri. Have you found a new club yet?”
The issue bothered me as well. Six months had passed since the Confederations Cup and the press were on me again. When the winter transfer window opened, I had to get away from QPR. But the only club who offered me a deal was … Toronto.
(And no, I did not get an offer from Flamengo, as was rumoured at the time.)
I’ll be honest: Going on loan to Toronto was not my dream move. But if I wanted to play at the World Cup, I had to play. And in the end, it did me good. I arrived there in February, and over the next three months I dedicated every hour of the day to football. My whole life was just home, training, home, game, home, training, home. I was extremely focused.
I felt like a boxer, preparing for the fight of his life.
Chapter 6: The 7–1
Right, so ... I’d be lying if I said that I was over it. It stays with you, especially when you’re a goalkeeper. You might be able to escape people’s memories if you’re a left back or a midfielder, but as a goalie? Forget it. You know how the conversations go.
“Oh, who was the keeper at that World Cup? You know, the one where Brazil lost 7–1 to Germany in the semifinals?”
Ah yes, it was Júlio César!
But what can you do? You can only try to rehabilitate yourself. You do a lot of psychological work. You try to look forward. Today, thank God, people talk less about it, but I have accepted that the game will never leave me completely. Never.
The only other thing I would say is that I never regretted playing in that World Cup. I would have had it all the same way — except the result. I played in a World Cup in my own country. I went to three World Cups with Brazil. That is quite an honour.
Besides, I will never forget the shootout in our round-of-16 game against Chile. When I saved those two penalties, the whole of Brazil froze. The country was with me in saving those shots.
Whatever people say, nothing can take away the feelings I had in that moment.
But then came the 7–1, which shook us. We were devastated, in pieces. I believe that every Brazilian who played that game left the pitch a different person.
Afterwards, I told my family I was going to retire.
I was so low, I had forgotten what had made me fall in love with football in the first place.
Chapter 1: Júnior at the Maracanã
When I was a kid, I would go with my dad and my brothers to the Maracanã to watch Flamengo. We lived nearby, on Visconde de Santa Isabel Street. My heart began to beat faster every time we walked up the giant ramp that takes you inside the stadium. Sensational….
My dad would always be worried about my brothers and me. He’d scream, “Everyone together!” Then he’d order my eldest brother to look after the two young ones. “Hold their hands!” And then we’d push through the crowd. We’d go to the Geral, a historic section of the Maracanã where the cheapest tickets were. We were there when Flamengo beat Santa Cruz 3–1 back in 1987, and Zico scored a hattrick. I was seven years old, but can remember it clearly, especially his last goal, when he curled a free kick into the top lefthand corner. Whoa.
We were also there when Flamengo were playing Criciúma, I think, and Júnior — the great Leovegildo Lins da Gama Júnior — was running with the ball near the halfway line. He was shaping up to shoot, and I remember my dad going, “NOOOOOOO!”
He didn’t want Júnior to shoot from that far out. Then Júnior blasted the ball into the top corner and the whole Geral went crazy. My dad grabbed me and jumped up and down, and I told him, “You told him not to shoot!!” He said, “No, that is a goal! A goal!”
I smiled back at him. Then he took my hand and we jumped some more.
Chapter 7: Coming Home
After the 2014 World Cup, part of the reason why I wanted to retire was my situation at QPR. I had no motivation to play there. I felt useless.
Thankfully, a few weeks later, I regained my sense of perspective, and I chose to continue my career. You can either accept what life imposes on you, or you can react to it. I chose to react.
Soon I had agreed a deal with Benfica.
Why Benfica? At the time I just knew that I loved Lisbon. Today I can say that Benfica will always be in my heart. They helped me win six titles in less than three and a half years. But above all they gave me the chance to fall in love with football again. I will be forever grateful to the president, Luís Filipe Vieira, for helping me during the worst moment of my career.
Still, by November 2017 I felt as if my time at Benfica was over. So I terminated my contract.
And that was basically it for my playing career.
Do I regret any of it? Not at all. I played for more than two decades. I won so many big titles. I’m so grateful for everything I got to experience.
God has given me way more than I expected when I was a little boy.
Yet I didn’t want to finish my career with a terminated contract at Benfica. So in January 2018, I went home. I signed for Flamengo.
I was just there for a few months. That spell was my way of saying thank you to the club and goodbye to the fans. I played one game, as captain — we beat América-MG 2–0 at the Maracanã. There were more than 50,000 fans there and they showed me so much love and affection. I always gave them everything, and they knew that.
To be able to say goodbye like that was a moment I’ll never forget.
Chapter 8: The Final
When I hung up my boots, my relationship with Flamengo became that of a fan. A year later, Flamengo made it to the final of the Copa Libertadores.
We still hadn’t won the tournament since 1981. Now we were playing River Plate in Lima. I went to the stadium with my son, Cauet. He too is a huge flamenguista. We were sitting right in front of Fred, from Desimpedidos, who I had met for the first time earlier that day.
Before the game my son was very, very nervous. When River scored, he lost confidence. As the second half went on, Flamengo kept struggling. I told him, “The game only ends when the ref blows the whistle.”
Yet as the game was about to go into stoppage time, he had almost lost all hope. Suddenly Gabigol scored the equaliser. We hugged each other and jumped up and down. I turned to Fred and hugged him, too.
Then Gabigol scored again. Flamengo had won the final in stoppage time. I grabbed Cauet and started shouting at him, “I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO!”
Then, for a brief moment, time froze, and I was back in the Geral at the Maracanã. I looked at my son and saw my younger self. I looked at myself and saw my dad, going crazy. After all these years, the roles had been reversed.
Suddenly I snapped back into reality. I turned, grabbed Fred and started to shake him hard. Then I began to lose strength. Suddenly everything went dark and I fell backwards.
The doctors would later tell me that I had been so excited I’d stopped breathing, so there was no oxygen coming to my brain. Thank God it was nothing serious. Still, falling down onto the seat behind me was extremely painful. When I regained consciousness, I tried to pretend as if I wasn’t hurt. All I could say was, “Oh my God, what happened?”
Fred and Cauet pulled me up. I began to sob. I was trying to tell Fred something like, “I can’t believe this. I know this club so well, I joined them when I was nine….”
Fred was like, “So you really feel it?”
I said, “Are you crazy? I owe my life to Flamengo.”
Celebrating that victory — with my son — is a memory that will never leave me. It was one of those things that makes you feel young, even at an older age.
And it was yet another chapter that I will look back on with a smile on my face. God has allowed me to write more of them than I had ever imagined.
Overall, it has been one hell of a book. So far.