Júlio Baptista at CFR Cluj: the beast of the fair

This summer during the transfer window, SoFoot looks back every day of the week on a transfer that marked his time in his own way. The ninth episode of our saga takes us to Romania. In the summer of 2018, the leaders of CFR Cluj ruined themselves by offering a last dance of 43 minutes flat to Júlio Baptista, the former Meringue to the 47 selections with the Selection. Between financial abyss, trip to London, lint knees and Colgate smiles in front of the trophy cabinet, the passage of The Bestia in Transylvania, at 36, will have caused a lot of coughing.

“What do I want to do in Cluj? I want to play football for fun. At Real, Arsenal, Roma, the pressure has always been immense. I want to live every moment to the full, as if I were returning to childhood. I probably still have a year and a half to go before I finally hang up my boots, so I want to enjoy every day I have left as a footballer. » Júlio Baptista’s wish seems pious, but his fleeting history with Romania and CFR Cluj sums up – almost in itself – the financial follies of the Romanian football magnates, for many professional gravediggers and pitiful wealth managers. A major question tickles outside observers: what does his inspiring CV matter, how a single recruiting manager could believe in the sporting success of a player with the physique of a weightlifter, close to forty, and without an official match in his legs? for two years ?

Belt, golf clubs and liar poker

“La Bestia” . The menacing nickname given to him by his president in Seville, José María del Nido, did not scare Nelu Varga, the boss of the CFR, a former nightclub owner with a rough character, since converted into stone. He should still have given her a clue about her belonging to the distant past. In reality, Varga wanted to hit hard, bring back a name without bothering with its cost. And if in addition it allows to shade Gigi Becali a little in the media space, bingo. The Garnets of Ardeal, quite proud to have gleaned their fourth league title after a six-year break, have a declared objective: the Europa League, after the premature elimination in C1, against Malmö. They also have eyes bigger than their stomachs, more than 400 days after emerging from the dreaded period of insolvency, synonymous with the first decline.

For his part, Júlio Baptista speaks spontaneously of “an opportunity offered by his good friend, Toni Curea” and “smallest salary he’s ever had” . Curea, players’ agent and transfer mediator of all kinds, wants to be discreet. Only here, his bad reputation and his Spanish network precede him. Samuel Okunowo (14 games at Barça), Júlio César Santos Correa and Francisco Molinero at Dinamo Bucharest between 2003 and 2009, Juan Ramón López Caro on the Vaslui bench in 2010: so many anonymous and costly flops making “Belt” – the literal translation of his last name – a real raptor riding on commissions. Something to leave you wondering about.

After a ten-month freelance in MLS, under the Florida sun of Orlando and in the company of his best friend Kaká, the Baptista terror had however moved away from the green rectangle for a good year and a half. Preview on the golf courses to work on his swing, used to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas where he tests his qualities as a bluffer, the former offensive midfielder giallorosso has little to do with a professional player when he comes out of early retirement in August 2018.

Rockstar out of tune

Presented pompously as “the most successful player in the history of La Liga 1” by the press, the Paulista by birth overflows with charisma and ignites the talk shows with his devastating smile. brand, The Team and ESPN take over the information, the media machine is in motion. So, has Romanian football suddenly become attractive again? He continues to squander his modest income from TV rights, to widen his deficit, and to plunge in the UEFA coefficient ranking, above all.

Eight days after his arrival in Cluj, Júlio Baptista enters the game against Gaz Metan Mediaș in place of Alexandru Ioniță. Time stops for twenty minutes… which will ultimately represent nearly half of his starving total in seven months (43!). The verdict is final: until his official departure in March 2019, the Brazilian will have received 4186 euros for each minute disputed. Which places him – in this specific category – just behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the world hierarchy, and ahead of the future Ballon d’Or Luka Modrić. With its 52,000 euros net per month, the marketing move turns out to be a dead weight.

It’s clear: the man who was worth 25 million in 2005 has beautiful “pay attention to your line, impress your teammates with a simple look” , according to its president Iuliu Mureșan, he spits his lungs out on a pitch, and is a hit especially in the room, showing off his Apollonian stature in front of the goal. His age ? A detail, since it looks like CR7. The features of the flop take shape early, after the elimination in the Europa League play-off against F91 Dudelange (0-2, 2-3), a Luxembourg team which reaches the first group stage in the history of the Grand Duchy. . Came in place of George Țucudean at 68e minute of a return match played in Romania when his team is trailing 0-2, Baptista does not know it yet, but it is the last time he will play more than 45 seconds in the same meeting.

“His emergency arrival is a whim that came from above, no medical checks were done beforehand. » An internal source

The Dudelange jump

Inside sources still claim today that the Brazilian’s transfer, besides making a gaping hole in the budget, wasn’t even legal. “Júlio Baptista had to be on the UEFA list at all costs for the double leg against Dudelange. His emergency arrival is a whim that came from above, no medical checks were done upstreamdelivers in detail a member of the staff of the time, around the coach Toni Conceição. Against Sepsi in September, it took him just two strides to fire a header. His body couldn’t take the slightest jolt any longer. Right after, we force him to do an MRI. There, we discover that the cartilage of his left knee is shredded, and that that of the right knee has suffered an injury. In addition, he was someone who traveled a lot, even spending whole days on a plane. His immunity was reduced, and he was prone to allergies. »

The icing on the cake arrives on order, a month after “the transfer of the century”, when the CM of the CFR Cluj Facebook page plunges the knife into the wound. A troll-like post, congratulating the former Real Madrid striker for his appearance at The Best gala, organized in London by FIFA and rewarding the best player of the calendar year. A nice ride at the expense of the taxpayer. “We are proud that one of our players participated in such a global event! » Did he even deserve this qualifier? Until March, before breaking his contract and retiring, Júlio Baptista continued to live on dumbbells, bench presses and abs while being paid to do nothing, while serving as an ambassador in social circles. . This will not prevent the CFR from threading the titles like pearls, and even less from dreaming of Mario Balotelli two years later. But behind the scenes, the Transylvanian flagship is still living beyond its means, in a bubble, and struggling to hide its debts of 26.3 million euros. More than Dinamo Bucharest and Astra Giurgiu combined, two entities whose monitoring shows brain death.

And if the transfer of Júlio Baptista to CFR Cluj was in fact essentially a great moment in the history of Luxembourg football?

By Alexander Lazar
All statements collected by AL, except those of Júlio Baptista, taken from Gazeta Sporturilor.

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