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Casemiro – “The Tank”

Casemiro - "The Tank"
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Meet Brazilian midfielder Casemiro, the man credited for changing the face of 13-time European champions Real Madrid.

Name:Carlos Henrique Casimiro
Nickname:Tank, Case, Casemarra, Casemito
Born:February 23, 1992
Birthplace:Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil
Height:1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
Clubs:Sao Paulo, Real Madrid
National team:Brazil
Position:Defensive midfielder
Titles:15 (14x Club, 1x International)

Some of the finest footballers in history from Alfredo Di Stefano to Cristiano Ronaldo have starred for Real Madrid. None of them, however, have made the same impact as Carlos Henrique, known as Casemiro.

The 28-year-old has become a key man for Zinedine Zidane through his strong midfield performances. He isn’t an exciting player to watch, but his hard-core attitude is effective. It’s made him a game-changer in Madrid.

“Casemiro is an important player,” said Zidane.

“He ensures the balance between defence and attack, he does a similar job to [Didier] Deschamps and [Claude] Makelele. What he has been doing is not surprising, he has confidence, and he is better every year.”

Casemiro’s intelligence, awareness, interceptions and work-rate all make him the best defensive midfielder in La Liga, and perhaps Europe. Therefore, it’s not surprising Zidane rates him so highly.

A difficult start

Casemiro’s story began in the poor neighbourhood of Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil on February 23, 1992. He’s the eldest of three children to his mother, Venancio Magda de Faria Casemiro.

His father, Servando, walked out on the family when Casemiro was just three years old. With nowhere to go, they stayed in a small shack which couldn’t accommodate them all. So the boy spent much of his childhood staying with relatives and friends. He often returned, though, to care for his siblings while Magda worked in housekeeping.

But joining Sao Paulo’s youth academy changed his life. Casemiro finally had his own bunk and honed his talents. In the following years, he progressed to the first-team and starred for Brazil at youth level.

A FIFA U-20 World Cup, South American U-20 Championship title and Copa Sudamericana were already under his belt by 2012. However, the 19-year-old’s early fame caused him to stumble. His reputation took a hit in Brazil, with many labelling him ‘Casemarra’. This is his name alongside the word ‘marra’ (or ‘arrogant’ in English).

“Maybe because there were older footballers around, he was more reserved at Sao Paulo, introverted,” explained coach Ney Franco.

“But I’d never say ‘cocky’—he was very shy in some moments, and it was mistaken for arrogance.”

The Brazilian moved on, however, and went from ‘Casemarra’ to ‘Casemito’ (his name again combined with ‘myth’ in English). A loan move to Real Madrid soon followed in January 2013. It became permanent just six months later for €6m. A bargain considering how great he turned out.

The game that changed his life

Despite debuting for Real Madrid’s senior team in his first three months in Spain, the Brazilian wasn’t ready.

Regular opportunities didn’t come with just four starts in the 2013/14 campaign. He didn’t even make the Champions League final squad against Atletico Madrid in Lisbon.

Although Casemiro’s cameos against Borussia Dortmund gave him hope for a better future. That defensive performance in the final 17 minutes of the second leg quarter-final tie helped deny a German comeback.

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After losing the first-leg 3-0 to Real Madrid, Dortmund went two goals up in the return fixture. But Carlo Ancelotti threw Casemiro into the firing line anyway, and the midfielder didn’t disappoint. He shut down BVB attacks to keep Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus silent.

“I always say that the Dortmund game changed my life,” said Casemiro.

“The feeling that I had that night against Borussia was that in those 17 minutes I had to prove myself to all of Real Madrid.

“I knew it would be a special game, I said to myself ‘Casemiro, you cannot miss out on this opportunity’.”

The 21-year-old then joined FC Porto on a season-long loan deal in the following campaign. Perhaps it wasn’t what he’d envisioned for himself, but the regular game time in Portugal was essential.

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Casemiro made 41 appearances in all competitions and didn’t put a foot wrong. His skills grew in Portugal and made him vital for Porto. Especially in their Champions League run to the quarter-finals.

Casemiro’s big break

Fresh from a stellar loan spell in Portugal, Casemiro returned to Real Madrid for the 2015/16 season. The club then tied him down to a new contract until June 2021, which indicated a change in fortunes.

Chances of breaking into the line-up, however, took a hit when Rafael Benitez became head coach. The Spaniard mostly used ‘Case’ as a reserve, leaving him out for big moments. But all that changed when Zidane took charge in January 2016.

Real Madrid Training Session - UEFA Champions League Final
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The Frenchman recognised Casemiro’s qualities from the very beginning and exploited them to great effect.

He began marshalling the defence and cutting out attacks from the opposition. It made him vital for Real Madrid on route to the Champions League final that season. Diego Simeone acknowledging him in the build-up to the final itself was the ultimate tribute.

“For the balance of the side, Casemiro is their most important player, certainly,” said the Atletico Madrid boss.

“He allows them to regroup better if they lose the ball and maintain their offensive potential.”

Thanks to him, full-backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo thrived in attack effectively. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, meanwhile, focused on exploiting opportunities while he held the back-line. It was a dream scenario for any Los Blancos fan. And it was all because of Casemiro.

Simeone added: “He has changed the face of Madrid.”

Real Madrid v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final
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Real Madrid won the final in Milan on penalties following a 1-1 draw, with Casemiro playing the full match. Two more Champions Leagues and a La Liga title came in a defining period of the club’s history.

Now 28, Casemiro’s importance for Real Madrid and Brazil national team is greater than ever. If they win anything in 2020, he’ll be one of the big reasons for it.