If there was a moment in the Champions League final that showed the desire and urgency with which Real Madrid came out for the second half, it was the shot that restored the lead, a thunderbolt of a volley from the unlikeliest of sources in Casemiro, the midfield destroyer. He was never supposed to be there; he was supposed to be at the base of the midfield tracking the movements of a certain Paulo Dybala but as at that time, the Madrid midfield had completely bossed the park that Casemiro could afford to be that high up the pitch. Casemiro.
Where did it all start?
His real name, though, is Carlos Henrique Casimiro. Starting his career as Casimiro, his surname was printed incorrectly on his team shirt and had him enter the field as Casemiro. His debut was of a high enough quality that he preferred not to jinx his form and stuck with the incorrect spelling making it his own.
He was brought into the Real Madrid Castilla team back in 2013 on loan from Sao Paulo as a young talented Brazilian, a rare one at that as he didn’t have the trademark flair that has come to be associated with Brazilians, what he had was an unparalleled work-ethic, willing to stay back, win the ball and lay off to his more forward thinking teammates. The then 21 year old
was signed permanently by the club after making a good impression.
Casemiro’s Real breakthrough
He was used sparingly under Ancelotti as he had Xabi Alonso ahead of him in the team, the presence of Asier Illarramendi and Sami Khedira didn’t do much good for his first team chances either. He had to wait until April 2014 to get his big break. Alonso was unavailable and Khedira was injured, so Illarramendi was used against Borrusia Dortmund in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Los Blancos took a 3-0 lead to the Westfalenstadion but were almost turned over by two first-half goals in 13 minutes from Marco Reus as Dortmund looked likely to achieve a third and fourth at any given moment, Illarramendi had been run ragged by Klopp’s midfield lions so Casemiro was given a run out with 17 minutes to spare in the fixture, and with much more on the line.
“I told myself: ‘Casemiro, do not miss this opportunity’, and I didn’t,” he recanted to UOL Esporte, putting on a quick clinic in defensive tempo control, stemming the German attacks and restoring a modicum of calm in the Spanish ranks. That game was his making in the white shirt, even though he was loaned to Porto the following year, he had planted the seeds of success with his 17 minutes on the pitch.
He came back into the team at the behest of Rafa Benitez, one of the positives of the Spaniard’s tenure, who identified the Brazilian as the midfield enforcer the team sorely lacked during the previous season and set about building him up. Rafa, though, wasn’t brave enough to use him in the games that mattered, the 4-0 Clasico loss at the Bernabeu was a prime example, he paid dearly for it with his job and was replaced by club legend Zinedine Zidane.
The new Makelele?
The Frenchman saw something in him that he saw in his erstwhile teammate, Claude Makélélé, the midfield destroyer who was sold and ‘replaced’ with David Beckham. Zizou likened the deal back then to “removing the engine of a Bentley to add another layer of gold paint” after Makélélé was ‘replaced’ by David Beckham.
He wasn’t supposed to make the same mistake with Casemiro yet he initially did, it wasn’t till his team were outfought in the midfield against Simeone’s resilient Atlético in a 0-1 loss at the Bernabeu did he remember he had a midfield anchor in Casemiro who would do a job for him, it was a case of never too late though as the Brazilian began to be one of the first names on the team sheet.
The decision was handsomely rewarded that season, not least with Casemiro’s performances as the season wore on, most noteworthy were the games he had at the Nou Camp in a 2-1 victory and later on at the San Siro in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid defeating Los Rojiblancos in a penalty shootout, the losses avenged, his reputation skyrocketed. Done.
Always room to improve…
He was not yet done though as he still had problems dealing with opponents who pressurised him. This forced him to take risky passes that he was unable to complete, making him lose the ball in dangerous areas. This was noticed by Zidane who went about correcting this flaw in his game with tailored sessions.
This started to bear fruit as his passing markedly improved towards the latter part of the season as his cross-field passes started to find their men, switching play in a way he couldn’t do before. This progress has also been obvious in his improved positioning skills which have brought him seven goals this year alone. He has eight in all for Real Madrid and has provided several assists to boot. The part of his game that has been developed the most, however, is his press resistance, as he has gained the ability to beat the opponent’s press, move confidently with the ball and much more.
Marcos Llorente was brought back from loan to serve as a worthy competition for Casemiro as the Brazilian was the only anchorman in the squad last season, the young Spaniard proved himself last season at Alaves and has earned his squad place at the Bernabeu. What’s left is to dislodge Casemiro from the Bernabeu but on the evidence shown that might take a while before it happens.
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