19 June 2013

Time to sign Julio Cesar

In a highly scientific and rigorous poll conducted at this very site, Julio Cesar has firmly vanquished all other candidates for the role of #1 keeper for the 2013-14 year. Over the course of a grueling two-day election, thousands dozens of votes were cast, delivering Cesar a resounding victory as he gathered 55% of votes cast. In a crowded, four-candidate contest run on American-style "winner takes all" election rules, the only logical outcome is that Cesar will be the keeper for all of our matches next year. Had this been more of a proportional representation-type system used by just about every other democracy in existence, we could keep Szczesny while also signing Mignolet and allotting games to them based on the proportion of the vote they had received. Results of the poll are here, if you still want to cast your vote and change the outcome.

all stats courtesy of whoscored.com
Alas, this is only one winner, and according to those who voted, Cesar will have no choice but to be our keeper next year.

But should we really go for him? Is he still capable of the form he showed with playing for Inter a few years ago? After all, he's 33, hardly ancient by keeper standards but getting awfully long in the tooth. He's no Brad Friedel or Jens Lehmann, playing into their 40s (and more power to them). As far as I can tell, he was released after refusing to lower his salary. This appears to be the same problem that Wesley Sneijder ran into as he left Inter in January to join Galatasaray. As Cesar says here:
Inter suggested that I reduce my salary. No player in my situation would have done thatI am not a hypocrite, and I can talk openly about this. It became a tough situation for both parties.I then spoke to my representative and I thought this was a good choice.I'll terminate my contract with Inter Milan and thank the president, Massimo Moratti, for the seven wonderful years we have had together.
Straight talk. I like that. Unfortunately for him, his market-value has plummeted from a high of around £20m in 2010 to a current £3.5m or so. Is he worth it, even at that price? He's several seasons removed from his best performances with Inter, and a quick glance at his stats this year are hardly enough to set one's heart on fire. However, he did play for QPR, a team so woeful that it only won four games and was outscored by 30 goals on the season. With that as a backdrop, then, we'd be fools not to sign him. Compare his whoscored.com numbers to those of Szczesny's. Nearly identical whoscored.com ratings. Yes, he has fewer clean sheets and gave up more goals than did Szczesny, but look at how much more he had to do. He had to make more than four saves per game, on average, while Szczesny had to make less than three per game. He conceded far more frequently than Szczesny did, but he faced a veritable firing squad each week, worrying about 16 shots per game (a figure that includes teammates' blocks, rebounds off the woodwork, and misses) while being the last man standing on a team that only held the ball for 45% of the time and spent 32% of games in its own defensive third. It must have been hard to get motivated at times, going from an Inter squad that won scudettos and the Champions League to a Queens Park Ranger squad that had to fight tooth and nail to escape relegation. But he did it.

What really stands out to me is that, despite the onslaught he faced every week, he still managed to all but match Szczesny in overall effectiveness, separated by two-hundredths of a point. Most impressive to me is how often he was a game-changer as indicated by his two MotM awards and four games with ratings above an 8, including an 8.12 against us back in October when he held us scoreless for 84 minutes before conceding. We've rarely come out of a game saying to each other, "man, what a game Szczesny had. He saved our hash tonight".  For all of QPR's notable failures, it seems that there have been at least a few occasions when they kept a point or stole all three thanks to Cesar.

I'm not saying I actually do want him as our first-choice keeper, but he would prove an strong addition to the squad. Whereas Mannone and Fabianski had to more or less wait for Szczesny to foul up or get injured, Cesar is certainly still skilled enough to challenge Szczesny for playing time in his own right. No one would ask "what does this mean for Szczesny's future with the club?" when Cesar gets the nod. A second benefit, one that Mignolet (or other keepers close to Szczesny in age or experience), is that Cesar has been around the block a few times. He's faced Barcelona and Bayern and Chelsea, stopping shots from the likes of Drogba, Ibrahimovic, Robben, Messi, and Henry, among others. Mignolet might have more skill in him, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that Cesar possesses far more secrets, tricks, wisdom, and insights of the kind that more than make up for being a step slower and more than a few hairs grayer than younger keepers.  Bringing in a younger keeper might push Szczesny to try harder, but he'd still be fumbling around in the dimliy-lit recesses of his own imagination and experiences. Cesar could illuminate so many aspects to Szczesny, bolstered by real-time demonstrations, that the callow Pole could become a world-class keeper in short order.

He might not be as glamorous a signing as some of the other names we've been linked with, but his impact could be far greater, both on the upcoming season and for years after. What do you say? How much do we bid for the Brazilian?