Right from the beginning, it was clear Carlos Henrique Casimiro – known as ‘Casemiro’ – would make the grade in professional football.
He joined Sao Paulo as a 10-year-old and, within a year, was instilled as captain of his youth team. As he advanced through the ranks, he was awarded the armband at every youth team level for the club.
Debuting in the first-team at 18, having starred at the Under-17 World Cup the previous year, within a month had scored his first professional goal.
The holding midfielder went on to make 112 appearances for the club and won the Copa Sudamericana before earning a move to Real Madrid in 2013.
The switch to European football was an initial loan deal and was primarily to help Madrid’s Castilla team in the lower leagues. Yet Casemiro made such an impression in the second half of the season that he was promoted to Carlo Ancelotti’s first-team squad that summer.
The Brazilian made 26 appearances in a squad role, deputising for Xabi Alonso, including six outings in the club’s run to their first Champions League title in 12 seasons.
Los Blancos triggered their clause to buy the midfielder outright before immediately loaning him to FC Porto where he flourished – scoring four goals in 40 appearances as the club reached the last eight of the Champions League.
He returned to the Bernabeu that summer but failed to impress Rafael Benitez but was reinstated in the team in January when Zinedine Zidane replaced the Spaniard in the dugout.
In the time since, Madrid have been virtually all-conquering; they have won eight trophies including unprecedented back-to-back Champions League titles and last season, lifting their first La Liga title in five years.
Casemiro has been an ever-present in that period, making a total of 138 appearances at the base of Zidane’s three-man midfield, with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric orchestrating the play slightly ahead of him.
Zidane’s trust in the 26-year-old is unwavering and his job of shielding the back four and pushing the ball forward quickly in transitional play is at the heart of Madrid’s success. They have forged a reputation for a fearsome counter-attacking side, one who can both dominate possession but flexible enough to be comfortable in soaking up pressure.
Casemiro is a player who, agility and fleet-footedness aside, has no real weakness. He is strong in the tackle, defensively disciplined, good in the air, tactically aware, excellent at interceptions and turnovers, and with the ability to contribute in an attacking sense too.
His quick, incisive passing provides the platform to the gifted attack to do their damage and as he showed with strikes in the Champions League final against Juventus and against Paris Saint-Germain – he too carries a goal threat.
Hard but fair
The Brazil international often concedes free-kicks but this is under licence from Zidane and clearly tactical, rather than malicious. He has racked up a remarkable 65 yellow cards for Madrid but has yet to be sent-off.
This is an underrated skill and one which Casemiro has honed well from his South American heritage. He knows when is the right time to foul an opponent, and knows how to carry out his role effectively with a yellow card.
His role in the side is naturally underrated but that he is Brazilian – associated with flair – also means his other values get overlooked, while his tough-tackling approach dominates his perception, rather than his excellent ability on the ball, selflessness and all-around excellence.
He is now aiming for his fourth Champions League title and third in a row, and it would be no coincidence if he were to be rewarded.
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