Julio Cesar on Neymar, Messi, Brazil's World Cup hopes, life under Mourinho
LISBON -- Julio Cesar is one of the most successful goalkeepers of his generation. The 38-year-old Brazilian international has been with Benfica since 2014, winning three straight Portuguese league titles. Before that, he won the Italian league five times in seven seasons with Inter, as well as the 2010 Champions League.
Capped 87 times by his country, the man from Rio de Janiero state won the 2004 Copa America and two Confederations Cups and was part of Brazil's squads at three World Cups, including the most recent one in his home country.
Cesar spoke exclusively to ESPN FC earlier this week.
How do you see Brazil's World Cup prospects?
I think Brazil has a very good chance of winning the World Cup. We have a coach who is doing a great job since the moment he joined. We're one of the favourites. For me, Neymar is the best player in the world today. [Lionel] Messi? I said the world; Messi is from another planet! But I think this is Neymar's moment now. The whole world is following him and seeing how he does, even people who don't follow football are interested in Neymar.
They admire him, not only for what he does on the pitch but for how he carries himself off it. I've got a lot of respect for Neymar and I've had the pleasure of playing with him, of winning with him and, like a friend, I wish him all the best to win the Ballon d'Or. Every time we played together and won, I would go to the centre of the pitch and lift him up by the legs before we went to the dressing room. That became a tradition, a superstition so that we would win the next game, with Neymar scoring.
Now tell us about some of Brazil's other key players, starting with Ederson.
He's a goalkeeper, who is improving all the time. He's ready to play in the World Cup and he's got all the ingredients to be the best goalkeeper in the world. He's already a complete goalkeeper who is really strong coming off his line. People enjoy watching him.
What about Gabriel Jesus?
He's a young guy who progressed quickly at Palmeiras and won the Brasileiro, one of the most difficult titles in the world because there are so many strong teams. He won the cup, too. He went to Europe young and straight into the Premier League, but he did well immediately. He's a player who we will hear a lot about.
How has Brazil's coach Tite has turned things around?
He's given an identity to Brazil. After the World Cup in 2014, Brazil need to find its way again; Tite understood this. He worked hard, got Brazil playing well. We were very strong in the qualifying group; a very tough qualifying group. Losing only one game from 18 when you play all those really strong countries is fantastic. Every other team lost at least four games and this Brazil team is respected around the world.
How often do you think about the 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014?
Unfortunately, I'll have to reply to this question for the whole of my life. It's a situation that, until now, the people who played could not find an answer to what happened. We met a very strong team who had been prepared since 2006 to win this World Cup in 2014. Germany had been building this team for a long time, their coach explained that. I respected this Germany team a lot. They were very well organised and every player contributed to making them a great team. We lost our concentration for 10 or 15 minutes. In that short time we were penalised by the team who would win the World Cup.
Despite losing, the World Cup was considered a success in Brazil.
Everybody was afraid about this World Cup in Brazil. Afraid of the social problems which could happen. We have a lot of violence in our country and when you have thousands of tourists there can be problems, but everything was fine. The tournament was beautiful and Brazil showed the world that we have the capacity to do this type of event. The only sad thing is that we were not the champions. It would have been wonderful to win the World Cup in Brazil, but we didn't have a good experience when we staged the final in 1950 and lost to Uruguay. It was our opportunity to erase that. Sadly, we couldn't.
Your club career started in Brazil at Flamengo.
Flamengo opened its doors for me to start my career. Everything I have achieved, I owe to Flamengo. That club is my second skin and I have so many positive memories from my time there. The game against Fluminese is a beautiful game to play, one of the local classics in Rio and I thank God that I had so many chances to play Fla-Flu. The emotion can only be described by people who have played in this game.
You then spent seven years in Italy, with Inter, winning the Champions League under Jose Mourinho in 2010.
Mourinho was more than a father to me when I was at Inter. In only two years, Mourinho and his staff helped win everything. Inter contracted Mourinho to win the Champions League. Inter had success in that period winning Serie A, but the Champions League was different. The club had not won it for 42 years. Within two years, Mourinho had won it. It was a heroic win. That Inter team and Mourinho will be in the hearts of Inter supporters forever.
You went to London to play for QPR in 2012 and then to Toronto to play in MLS in 2014.
I went to Toronto because I was in a complicated situation in London. Queens Park Rangers was still an experience I enjoyed and I loved playing in the Premier League; every top football player should play in the Premier League. London remains my wife's (Brazilian actress and model Susana Werner) favourite city.
Who are the best goalkeepers in the world right now?
There are so many that I don't like to pick them out because I know I will miss some very good goalkeepers out. I like Jan Oblak at Atletico Madrid; he's been excellent working with a team which does not concede many goals. Ederson, who I've mentioned, is formidable. And I have to mention [Gianluigi] Buffon, who is still playing at the highest level at his age, playing in two Champions League finals in three seasons. He's older than me! And finally I must mention Manuel Neuer, another one of the best who takes my attention.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.