Júlio César runs downstairs from his Knightsbridge flat after spotting a tow truck on the verge of taking his SUV away. After a few attempts in broken English to tell the parking enforcement officer he does not grasp the meaning of the "suspended parking" yellow signs, the Brazilian is recognised by the driver, who happens to be a Queens Park Rangers fan. "I ran upstairs again and got the team shirt I had just given to my wife," the goalkeeper recounts, "along with some pictures, and brought them down to the guy. It's the minimum I could do."
Avoiding that fine is not the only upside to life as a QPR player that Júlio César has recently enjoyed. This interview takes place in the week the new Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari recalled him to the seleção squad for Wednesday's friendly against England at Wembley, following an upturn in form at Loftus Road that included his man-of-the-match performance in the goalless draw at home against Manchester City on Tuesday.
After he was dropped by the previous Brazil coach, Mano Menezes, last February this comes as a lifeline for his dream of representing Brazil in their home World Cup, 18 months from now. He feels indebted to QPR, who offered him a fresh start after he fell out of favour at Internazionale. "They gave me a chance when things had become really difficult for me in Italy," he says. "I am really grateful for the opportunity, the doors this move opened for me."
Inter had cast Júlio César to the fringes of the squad after he refused a salary reduction. His part in their memorable treble-winning 2010 season under José Mourinho, which culminated with the club's first European Cup since 1965, was already a thing of the distant past. That hurt him. It was time to go and, although the Brazil media expected him to join other stars in returning to play domestically ahead of the World Cup, Júlio César had other plans.
"I had seven wonderful years at Inter and won every trophy possible," he says. "I was really down after being sidelined but I had the feeling my time in Europe was not over, even though I was approached by a Brazilian club. When Mr [Tony] Fernandes contacted me, I immediately thought it was my chance to play in the Premier League, so I met him in London. Then he presented QPR's project to me, his plan to make them gain respect and awareness abroad. I really liked what I heard. There were no crazy promises, like 'let's win the Champions League next year', and that convinced me something special was going on."
QPR's location certainly helped, London being a city that Júlio César's children and wife, the Brazilian model Susana Werner, would not find too different from Milan. He ensured that instead of choosing suburban palaces, like many players, they would live in the city. "I owed that to my wife and the kids. London is such an amazing place. We live close to museums and shops. I don't mind taking them on the tube or the bus. Even when I bump into Brazilian or Italian fans, it is much more chilled out."
The one thing that has not been going according to plan is QPR's struggle to maintain the Premier League status that was fundamental to convincing Júlio César, the highest profile of 22 signings since Fernandes bought the club 18 months ago, to share the owner's vision. The team seem to have steadied themselves after an abysmal first half of the season that left them at the bottom of the Premier League table, but they remain four points adrift of the teams outside the relegation zone.
"It was tough going to work in that situation," Júlio César says. "Nobody expected us to hit that bad patch. Of course there were injuries like [Bobby] Zamora's and the fact that a lot of new players arrived. I think even rival supporters were hoping we'd win a first game."
The survival battle brings back mixed memories for the 33-year-old. During his seven-year spell at Flamengo, one of Brazil's most popular clubs, the threat of relegation chased him and his team-mates in most seasons. "No player will ever enjoy that kind of pressure, I can assure you. But I am proud to say that experience taught me that you have to keep focused. QPR have started 2013 with great results and we need to keep fighting. It's not a small feat to beat Chelsea away and hold Tottenham to a draw."
So, Harry Redknapp is not the only one at Loftus Road with Houdini-like powers? "I have heard of the boss's reputation as a manager who can rescue teams and I have never been relegated in my life, so let's hope we can combine our powers," he says with a smile.
Júlio César emphatically says that he and Redknapp enjoy a good relationship and dismisses suggestions of a rift, alleged to have originated when the manager briefly stuck with Robert Green as his first-choice keeper. "There were suggestions I was upset but it's nonsense. I got injured against Sunderland and when I was fit again the boss decided to keep Green in the team. They even got our first win when he was playing.
"The manager explained the situation and I said 'Boss, I respect your choice. Working with me is easy: I respect your choice and will have to prove to you on the pitch I deserve to be back in the team.' Then he called me back for the Liverpool match. It was a shame we lost 3-0 but I think he's happy with me and I'm certainly happy with his trust in my work."
It is one of those ironies that the two goalkeepers who made mistakes in the last Word Cup would end up competing for redemption. Júlio César's broken English has prevented him from bonding with the former England keeper to the extent he would like. "We have a good relationship and I think the competition for a place is good for the both of us. It keeps us hungry and doesn't allow us to slack. We talk, but don't really go into anything deeper."
Júlio César can speak only for himself regarding the pain of making errors in goal for the national team. His last outing for Brazil was in a 2-1 friendly victory over Bosnia in Switzerland, when he was judged to have conceded a soft goal. It seemed to be the final straw for a goalkeeper who arrived in South Africa in 2010 as one of the best in the world but left the World Cup demoralised after he completely missed his then Inter team-mate Wesley Sneijder's cross-shot, the equaliser that prompted Holland's elimination of Brazil at the quarter-final stage.
"Football is like that," he says. "I have played a lot of good matches for Brazil but people will remember my mistake in that World Cup. I can't blame them. The World Cup is the pinnacle. But I want another chance to change people's memories about my history with the national team. Also, I want to be part of a Brazilian team who will play a World Cup at home. Besides, there is a trophy missing there." He points to shelves where life-size replicas of major trophies won during his career are displayed alongside framed copies of newspaper articles.
Brazil have called up 13 different keepers to the squad since August 2010, with Valencia's Diego Alves edging ahead as first choice under the previous regime. Scolari, however, may have other plans for the Wembley game, which will also mark the former Chelsea manager's return to England. "I feel good and motivated," Júlio César says. "It would be a dream to play at Wembley again. My only experience was at the old stadium, when I was only 16 or 17, playing for a Brazil youth squad."
Nonetheless, the goalkeeper knows there are more urgent matters. Recent results – four league games without defeat – have given QPR hope, as have the arrivals of Loïc Rémy and Christopher Samba in the past 10 days. The campaign continues at home to Norwich City on Saturday.
"It's important for my career to help keep QPR up. I want to be part of the success of Tony Fernandes's project and it would be amazing to repay our fans' support. I never imagined I'd see such passion. Flamengo has millions of supporters but we still played at empty stadiums, while Loftus Road is always packed."