Scouting Casemiro: Real Madrid's Latest Summer Signing from Sao Paulo
In January 2013, Real Madrid made the understated move of signing Casemiro from Sao Paulo on loan.
The Brazilian had fallen from grace in his homeland and could only make the bench for Ney Franco's charges, and this represented the perfect chance to reinvent himself.
He turned out 15 times for Castilla—Madrid's B team—and hardly wowed with any of his performances. When he was included in the starting XI vs. Real Betis, many believed Jose Mourinho was pulling a stunt to prove he did in fact value los Merengues' academy system.
Now, FIFA.com have confirmed los Blancos have made the move permanent, paying the £5.1 million fee to take him to the Santiago Bernabeu on a full-time basis.
So what's he done to warrant that?
First up, the fee is low. For a club like Aston Villa, £5.1 million would be spent on a player who could come in and make an instant impact. For Madrid, that amount is something you gamble on a player who might turn out to be good.
That's exactly what Casemiro is: someone who has fallen hard but still has the raw talent and low age to succeed and prove worthy of the fee.
He was regarded as one of the finer prospects in his age group in Brazil three years ago, but a lethargic attitude has seen his progress grind to a halt.
Speaking to B/R's Brazilian football expert Chris Atkins via email, he perfectly summarized the youngster's torrid situation:
"Casemiro rose to prominence in early 2011, playing for a Sao Paulo side that started the Brasileirao campaign in fine style. Playing alongside Wellington at the base of the midfield, he was excellent to watch.
"Casemiro went to U20 World Cup (where he did reasonably well), but lost form on his return. Lucas Moura also suffered, and Sao Paulo's season quickly fell apart.
"Denilson's arrival on loan from Arsenal and the changing of several managers saw Casemiro dropped to the bench, and his attitude started to become a problem. He was criticised by coaches for not working hard enough, and he often looked overweight.
"He never recovered; Sao Paulo went on to win trophies with Wellington and Denilson controlling the midfield. Even in Wellington's long absence with a knee injury early in 2012, Casemiro was often overlooked as a starter.
"It all came down to the same criticisms: lack of work ethic and poor fitness levels."
At 21, he still has all the raw ingredients to become the footballer many fancied, and if he continues to play like he did in his debut against Betis, there's every chance the £5 million gamble will be a good one.
Casemiro took up a position in his favoured holding midfield role, playing alongside Luka Modric in a 4-2-3-1 formation. He provided the steel and bite to complement the Croatian's attacking flavour, growing gradually into the game after finding his touch.
He showed good ability in the short-passing game, recycling it well, finding Modric with regularity and receiving the ball under pressure with ease.
His massive frame allowed him to ease his way to success in 50/50s, while he also recorded a fantastic six interceptions.
His ability to spray the ball around with ease was on show, while he also worked hard in the middle third of the pitch to make runs and track markers.
Question marks can be raised, though, over his awareness in his own box. Once his marker slips him in Madrid's third, Casemiro struggles to find his man or track him all the way. It's not what you want to see when Betis are hitting the byline every five minutes.
Political stunt or not, Mourinho's choosing of Casemiro was a good one: The Brazilian looked hungry, ready to step up and never looked out of place on the Bernabeu turf.
One performance is not enough to judge, but he's made a good start. The Madrid management have decided to pay the fee to land him, and it seems, on paper, that it's an investment project rather than a first-team signing for the next decade.
With Michael Essien departing, Madrid need a versatile player with presence and all-round ability to fill in when needed. Casemiro appears the perfect fit.
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