The very eventful life of Cesar Thier

It was by chance that Cesar Thier, now 51, left his hometown club FC Santa Cruz to move to Germany 25 years ago. The shot-stopper endured a tough time settling into German football. But the always-smiling Brazilian, currently a player liaison officer, has been working for TSG Hoffenheim for 11 years now – and he is held in high regard by the senior squad.

The first stop in his German odyssey was Fulda, followed by spells in Kiel and Offenbach before arriving in Hoffenheim. He suffered sporting setbacks during his goalkeeping career and sustained serious injuries in a terrible bus accident during an U23s' tour to Namibia in February 2012. But Cesar Thier is full of conviction and is beaming as he says: "I'm very happy now. I'm excited every day when I arrive at the training centre in Zuzenhausen." He was shown great solidarity and given comprehensive support at TSG Hoffenheim after the accident. "The club did a lot for me. I'll always be thankful to TSG," he said.

Nowadays, having undergone two years of rehabilitation for the injury he suffered to his lower spine, he is healthy again and working with the senior squad under the official title: "Team Management & Player Service". Within the TSG coaching staff, Cesar Thier carries out translations for the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking first-team players and helps them to get acquainted with customs in Germany they may not be aware of. "I explain to them what's common practice here, to be punctual and how the customs are," said Thier. What he offers is practical advice. For example, he'll tell the South Americans which German products they need to buy in the supermarket to cook meals from their homeland while in Germany. But he also helps all the other players with formalities such as rental contracts, accommodation searches and official business.

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He introduced his compatriot Joelinton when he first arrived in 2015, although the forward hasn't needed an interpreter since returning from Vienna last summer. But Thier has helped him find an apartment and assists him in interviews now and again. Thier knows how difficult it can be at the start when you come from a different cultural background. He first arrived in Germany in 1993. How did the move come about? Thier used to call out German words from time to time during training sessions with Santa Cruz FC. His parents spoke German to each other at home and he grew up in a district full of German immigrants, but Cesar himself spoke Portuguese and only ever picked up the odd word of German. But his shout-outs in training probably fooled his coach into believing that Thier had mastered a foreign language.

One day, the coach approached his gloveman and explained that he could help him move to a German club. "I initially didn't take it seriously, but not long after the coach came back and said: 'Get your passport ready, we're flying to Germany'." For the then 25-year-old, that marked the start of an adventure that was as sudden as it was unplanned. "The start was very tough, as it was only once I got here that I found out each squad could only have three non-EU foreigners," explained Thier. Thanks to his contact with Joachim Leukel, the advisor of Anthony Yeboah, he ended up at Borussia Fulda. He was given a one-off training session with former Gladbach gloveman Uli Sude to determine whether he could stay. "That's when I saw snow for the first time," said Thier, who could not comprehend how one could keep his balance on the slippery surface. But he came through the two-day test and was handed a contract.

Spells in Fulda, Kiel and Offenbach before joining TSG

Though things went well in Fulda, the agent wanted to send him to Kiel after six months. But Holstein soon found themselves in financial trouble and the agent would no longer look after him. After playing only three Regionalliga matches, Thier returned to Hesse and trained with fifth-tier outfit SV Asbach to keep himself fit, while working in the company of his now brother-in-law. He learned German at college, which came easy to him. Then, at the start of the 1995/96 season, he got a new contract with Borussia Fulda and remained there for five years, making 110 Regionalliga appearances.

The high point of Thier's footballing journey came in the twilight of his career while he was at Kickers Offenbach. Starting in 2000, he spent eight years playing at the Bieberer Berg and made 164 appearances in the Regionalliga, played 67 second-tier matches and featured 10 times in the DFB Cup before retiring at 40. "In the end I was proud of my professional career, even though I didn't make it to the top flight. Germany is a land of goalkeepers, there wasn't much space for foreigners back then." At one point, his name even cropped up when VfB Stuttgart were searching for a reserve keeper to play second fiddle to Timo Hildebrand. Ralf Rangnick wanted to help him gain German citizenship because the spaces permitted for foreigners were supposed to remain free for outfield players. "I trained with them for three days but then I found out it wouldn't work out," recalled Thier.

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But Rangnick did not forget him. When Kickers Offenbach were relegated to the Regionalliga Süd in 2008 and TSG Hoffenheim – who drew 1-1 with the Kickers on the penultimate day of the campaign – ascended to the Bundesliga that same season, Rangnick got in touch with Thier. He was looking for a goalkeeping coach and an interpreter for Carlos Eduardo and Luiz Gustavo. Following a trial session during pre-season in Wiesensee, Thier was handed a two-year contract. "That was a great opportunity for me," he said. Two years later, he began working solely as a translator because, with four Brazilians now in the squad, it demanded too much of his time.

Serious accident with the U23s

In 2011, the South American took up an additional role as the U23 goalkeeping coach and was with the squad that experienced the awful bus crash at the end of a training camp in Namibia on 17 February 2012. It was a terrible chapter in Thier's life. The other two with severe injuries – physiotherapist Karolin Kieffer and defender Philipp Klingmann – were immediately returned to Germany, while Thier remained in Africa in his hospital bed without obtaining a clear diagnosis. "Frank Kramer and Otmar Rösch stayed with me. They said to me: 'We'll only leave when the last person gets out.' I'll never forget that," he said.

As he was not receiving sensible treatment, team doctor Dr. Henning Ott got him out. In Germany, the doctors recognised that Cesar Thier had only narrowly escaped paralysis and carried out surgery on his back. It's one of the many reasons for the special connection the Brazil native, who now possesses German citizenship too, enjoys with his host country. Although Cesar Thier flies back home to Brazil to visit his parents at least once a year, it's long since been clear to him where he belongs. "I'm very happy that my wife persuaded me back then that I should stay in Germany," he said.

The moment he is referring to is when his stay in Fulda appeared to be over after one year, but his wife Ulrike asked him to stay. They got married in 2001 and now live with their son Carlos, 16, and their daughter Luana, 10, in Sinsheim-Dühren. Half his life has now passed since Cesar Thier left Brazil. After 25 eventful years, he has concluded: "The Kraichgau region and TSG have become my home."

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