News Column

The Scot who rebuilt the last line of defence for home hopes

June 7, 2014

interview Brazil No.1 Julio Cesar's confidence restored at Toronto FC by goalkeeping coach Stewart Kerr derek miller

WITH the opening game of the World Cup finals little more than a week away, a curious scene plays out at Brazil's training camp. Julio Cesar, the feted veteran goalkeeper, is surrounded by members of the media while he patiently spells out a name to which he has just referred.

Once they have finally deciphered the lettering, the bemused Brazilian journalists scurry off to find out more about Stewart Kerr.

Their investigations would uncover that the former Celtic goalkeeper is now a member of the coaching staff at Toronto FC, the club at which Cesar has spent the last six months on loan in an attempt to regain his sharpness ahead of the World Cup. He might only have played seven MLS matches before joining up with the national squad, but the effect Kerr has had on the 34-year-old has been profound. "Their goalkeeper coach is the best I've ever had," Cesar told the gathering in Goiania last week.

Word soon got back to Kerr, whose Caledonian character ensures his reaction to such praise is one of acute discomfort. "Aye, it was, eh, very nice of him," he says, speaking to Herald Sport a couple of days later. "But it's down to him because his mentality is incredible and he's worked so hard for it."

He might be dismissive of it, but Kerr's own contribution should not be overlooked. Brazil's first-choice custodian had endured a miserable 16 months after being lured to London by QPR upon the expiry of his contract with Serie A side Internazionale; he made just 24 appearances before being loaned out as the npower Championship club attempted to cut costs.

As a consequence, when Cesar was convinced to come to Canada by former Loftus Road team-mate and current Toronto coach Ryan Nelson, he was low on confidence and in poor form. "He came at the start of our pre-season in January and I knew I?had to sharpen him up a bit," explains Kerr. "But he was receptive to that and a really humble guy and we clicked straight away.

"He's done everything I've asked of him and he's got himself to a great level to go back to Brazil. That's great for me and for the club, too, because it's not often you get the Brazilian No.1 - a guy who's won the Champions League, Serie A and been European goalkeeper of the year - coming through your door."

Not that Cesar came cheap, mind. Toronto are believed to have taken on the bulk of his pound(s)50,000-a-week wages, adding to the eye-watering pound(s)60m they committed to transfer fees and contracts in their successful attempts to attract Roma's US international midfielder Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, Tottenham'sEngland striker, to the MLS last winter.

Kerr points to those deals as evidence not only of the money sloshing around the game across the Atlantic but also the increasingly enhanced reputation of the competition. "The investment is frightening," the 39-year-old says. "It's unbelievable what we're spending at Toronto - pound(s)65m is going into redeveloping the stadium and pound(s)18m went on the training complex last year.

"But then you see Thierry Henry at Red Bulls, David Villa signing for New York City, and maybe Frank Lampard, too, and that's another level again. The thing is, they can afford it because most of the clubs are run by huge organisations, the league is backed by all these blue-chip sponsors and even the new TV deal is five-times as big as the old one. It's massive and it's only going to get bigger."

Such progress is not going unnoticed, either. Kerr discloses that barely a week goes by without an email or text message reaching him from a player in Britain interested in emulating Toronto's Scottish centre-back Steven Caldwell in making the move and playing in front of 22,000 at BMO Field and in front of even larger crowds in places like New York, Chicago and Seattle.

Certainly those trips are "more exotic than going to St Mirren or Falkirk", as Kerr was doing before leaving a similar position at Motherwell in December 2011. At that time, his wife Louise had only just moved to Toronto with their son and daughter after being transferred by her employer - a pharmaceutical company, for whom she works as an HIV specialist - prompting Kerr to search for a coaching role in the region. He is thrilled at how things have transpired.

"It used to be regarded as a retirement home but those days have gone because now, as well as having the travelling and differences in time zones and temperatures to deal with, the standard has improved as well," he says.

Kerr equates that standard to the top end of the Championship or bottom end of the top flight in England, and appreciates that could make it impossible to retain Cesar for the remainder of his one- year loan after the World Cup. With two years left on his QPR contract, and the club now back in the top flight, it might be that the Brazilian returns to Loftus Road, although a fine showing this summer could earn him a move elsewhere.

"He could go to any club in the world and do a job," adds Kerr. As far as Cesar is concerned, the feeling is mutual.


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Source: Herald, The (Scotland)


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