Sport is often about fairytales, and the beautiful game is no exception. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty and probably most famous of all, Cinderella. The story of a downtrodden girl, forgotten and in the shadow of her more ‘illustrious’ sisters eventually gets her Prince Charming. With this in mind, Serie A has found its very own fairytale in Roma goalkeeper Julio Sergio, the forgotten goalkeeper, forever overlooked and out of favour until the fairy godmother, in the form of Claudio Ranieri, promoted him to the Belle of the Ball.
Julio Sergio Bertagnoli joined Roma from Brazilian club Juventude in 2006. Before that he had played around 40 games for Santos. Incredibly, the Giallorosso custodian had never played a first team game until the start of this season for Roma. Three years as a professional goalkeeper in Italy, but never given the chance to step for one solitary minute on to the pitch of a top-flight game. Julio Sergio was, quite simply, never considered good enough to play in Serie A. Most fans could have easily believed he was a player that had not impressed enough in training, but was happy to pick up his salary, without making any fuss, and would fill a squad shirt if the desperate need should ever arise.
The notion that he was a journeyman player was cemented by the fact that he was seemingly unable to depose of what some observers consider to be questionable keepers in fellow Brazilians Alexander Doni and Artur. For a team that has no money, to sign and pay for yet another keeper in Romanian Bogdan Lobont, further promoted the idea that Julio Sergio must be nothing more than unbelievably hopeless.
The fairytale however, has now come true. Former tactician, Luciano Spalletti, who had continually overlooked the 31-year-old, was forced into playing him for the first time ever in what was to be ironically the Coach’s last match at Roma, against Juventus this August. Injury to Doni and outrageously poor form for Artur forced Spalletti into doing what he had never done before. The capital club lost 3-1 but Julio Sergio played as well as could have been expected. With Ranieri now in charge, tasked with getting i Lupi back on track, apart from picking Doni for the odd game, Julio Sergio has remained his first choice. The former Chelsea and Juve Coach has shown amazing faith in keeper who has now played 10 Serie A games and shown a maturity and goalkeeping ability of a player who has been playing for 10 seasons.
His form started off steady, but he has since made super save after super save in domestic as well as European competition, the best of which came in last weekend’s capital derby against fierce rivals Lazio. Whilst lying prostrate on the ground, a shot from Mauro Zarate hit the post and ball rebounded out to Stefano Mauri. The Lazio midfielder struck his shot towards the empty net. Somehow, the Roma keeper rose back up from the floor and tipped the ball on to the bar and to safety. A save that was worth as much to the Roma faithful as Marco Cassetti’s winning goal. His consistently good performances look to have rewarded him with an extended and improved contract. It has also left the likes of Doni, Artur and Lobont in a similar position to where Julio Sergio had found himself previously. It will now be interesting to see if they accept the sidelines with the same grace and humility that Roma’s current No 1 has done over the last three years.
Julio Sergio’s rise to prominence is, if we are truthfully honest, somewhat inexplicable. He quite clearly is an excellent and more importantly, safe goalkeeper. Yet, nobody has explained why he was never picked (not even for Coppa Italia matches) time and time again in the past. Why Roma have invested money, at least in the form of wages if not transfers, in other goalkeepers when Sergio was sitting on the bench is a mystery. Undoubtedly a story worthy of Aesop and his much-famed fables.
The weekend game against Sampdoria will be a further test for Julio Sergio and his teammates. Sampdoria seem to be in disarray right now, as their early good form has all but disappeared. Antonio Cassano is back in the headlines, for the wrong reasons, as he is having a rather public spat with the Blucerchiati fans, upset with the current form of their team. The Giallorossi go into this game with a lot more confidence. Their main issue will be replacing the reborn Philippe Mexes, who could now be out till the New Year after the knee injury sustained against Lazio. But the good form of Nicolas Burdisso and Juan should more than compensate.
Both teams are on 24 points and will have aspirations of getting that elusive fourth Champions League spot. For one of these two teams, come the end of the season, their fans will most certainly be hoping for a ‘happily ever after.’