Who will win Roadies Real Heroes
Roadie and octopus in personal union
It's been three and a half years since Carlos Henrique Casemiro left Sao Paulo to join Real Madrid's reserve team. Today, the 25-year-old is the most important player in the world's largest football club - and is in the spotlight ahead of the Champions League duel between the Royal and FC Bayern Munich (8.45 p.m. on LIVETICKER).
It follows the normal rules of the market and the needs of a new generation of fans that the football clubs of this world surround themselves with increasingly shrill, self-admiring bubbles. The followers crave miracles on a daily basis, want magic gates of their idols with the absurd salaries. They want icons.
This is all the more true for a club like Real Madrid Club de Futbol, where you buy the right to spectacles with your ticket. A right to see them: the most expensive, talented and spectacular players in the world.
Carlos Henrique Casemiro is not one of them. When Real paid € 94 million for Cristiano Ronaldo eight years ago, 80,000 people came to the Estadio Bernabeu just to watch him.
People baked bread with his initials or painted them on their naked bodies; a hoopla like before a Clasico. When Casemiro came to Madrid from Sao Paulo to play football in the royal reserve - he was just there.
That was three and a half years ago. Real became the best team in the world at the time and won the Champions League twice, Ronaldo became the best player in the world and was named world footballer three times. Casemiro played for Castilla, then sporadically for the first team and was loaned out to FC Porto.
Casemiro has been back in Madrid since last season. And before the quarter-finals of the Champions League against FC Bayern (8.45 p.m. in LIVETICKER) one can say: He is not the most expensive, most talented or most spectacular, but the most important player of the royal team.
"Only we know how hard it was"
Casemiro grew up in San Jose dos Campos, in Vale do Paraiba, a good hour north of Sao Paulo. He was "three or four years old" when his father left the family; him, his mother and his two younger brothers: "Every time I step on the field, I know I have to run for them and I think about the difficulties we had. Only we know how difficult it was."
Casemiro soon ended up in the Centro de Treinamento, the junior boarding school for the San Paulinos in the neighboring town of Cotia. He quickly went through the youth teams, in every age group as a captain. At the age of 18 he finally made his debut in the Brazilian Serie A, a year later he became U20 world champion with the Selecao.
When Real Real brought him to the other side of the world at the beginning of 2013, Casemiro's importance, which he was to achieve, was not even suspect. It was only when the midfielder, after a year and a half, awarded Castilla and Joker stakes to FC Porto and became an ad hoc regular player, that they were convinced in Madrid. So much so that they bought the agreed purchase option from the Portuguese, brought Casemiro back to Spain and tied him to the Bernabeu until 2021.
Zidane recognizes Casemiro's importance
There, Rafa Benitez had meanwhile taken over the position of coach from Carlo Ancelotti. And the Spaniard quickly found pleasure in the new addition. "He fills the role that an offensively oriented team needs - he ensures the balance," said Benitez at the time. "He's keeping the system going."
But just before his first Clasico, Casemiro, until then the undisputed regular, was deleted from the team. "Suggestions" from the executive suite are said to have been directed to Benitez at the time: he should please send a starting eleven as galactic as possible onto the field. So Casemiro had to watch. Like Isco and James Rodriguez, like all the Los Blancos' ball performers. And lost 4-0.
Benitez's end was foreseeable at the latest with this humiliation, and although his successor was Zinedine Zidane, himself one of the greatest technicians of all time, it was he who soon realized how indispensable a player with Casemiros skills was for his game. That all the talent that was in the Madrid squad was worthless if there was no balance and security in the game.
Casemiro plus two
Zidane installed Casemiro in his 4-3-3 centrally in the defensive midfield. If the Brazilian is fit, he'll play. Casemiro plus two - that's Zidane's formula for midfield.
The only destroyer, the only classic defensive six, he of all people has become so irreplaceable in the royal ensemble over the past year and a half. When the 25-year-old missed 14 games in the first third of the season due to a broken calf, Real only played twice to zero, one of them at home against promoted Leganes. The goals conceded, the points average - everything is better, says Casemiro on the pitch.
He is the one who gives the players in front of him a free mind and free action. He's not in the limelight himself, rather he prepares the stage like a roadie so that the team's magicians can perform their tricks. It is the epitome of stable protection - even to the rear. "He is tactically very smart and always there when the defenders need him," said Julen Lopetegui, his coach at FC Porto, of Casemiro. "Center-backs love him." Lopetegui's fitness coach called him an "octopus".
Not galactic, but the best
Casemiro has perfected it, to destroy the flow of the game of the opponent, to intercept balls, to switch. And where he was decried as limited in the passing game last season because he was very happy and very quick to delegate the responsibility for setting up to Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, a passable opening has developed.
Casemiro is now looking for the attackers himself. He has started to make his own decisions, which makes not only himself, but also Real even better and more unpredictable. His increasingly better ball handling and control will be sorely needed, especially after the failures of Pepe and Raphael Varane against Bayern, to give the battered defensive stability.
Because that's what he's there for. Casemiro is not one of the galactic transfers that President Florentino Perez can boast of. It is not particularly noticeable that Casemiro is there; it is only noticeable when it is absent. And Casemiro is definitely not the first choice when it comes to the flock on the jerseys of most of the Real fans.
But he is currently the most important player in the largest football club in the world.
Casemiro in profile
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