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Casemiro's Rise at Real Madrid Shown by Brazil's Olympics Request, Club Refusal

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2016

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Casemiro of Real Madrid runs with the ball during the Champions League final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images)
Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Casemiro has endured a difficult summer on the international stage, being part of the Brazil side that bombed out of the Copa America Centenario at the group phase and saw head coach Dunga sacked.

But the fact that the Real Madrid midfielder was even there at all is testament to the incredible rise he has undergone over the last 12 months.

The holding midfielder barely registered in the minds of those outside the club a year ago as Real prepared for the 2015-16 season, but patience and opportunism has proved key in Casemiro establishing himself as critical for club and country.

He'll form a major part of Zinedine Zidane's team in 2016-17, so much so that Real have denied Brazil's wishes to call him up for the Rio 2016 Olympics squad, per Marca.

The development in Casemiro's career once again highlights the need for top sides, perhaps particularly Real Madrid, to have balance in their team, and his presence will significantly enhance their chances of ending the long wait for another La Liga title come next May.

Out of fashion

Casemiro initially joined Castilla, Real's B team, for the second half of 2012-13, finishing out the campaign on loan before making the move permanent and playing out the entirety of '13-14 with Castilla.

That season, of course, Real Madrid won the UEFA Champions League with a well-balanced midfield comprised most frequently of Xabi Alonso, Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric.

The key to Real's fantastic attack was the energy and drive from deep provided by the latter two, while Alonso sat deep, protected the defence and sprayed passes—so why Real immediately departed from that setup after triumphing in Europe was anyone's guess.

(L-R) Raphael Varane of Real Madrid, Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid, Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid, Luka Modric of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League match between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid on April 8, 2013 at the Signal Iduna Park stadium in
VI-Images/Getty Images

Toni Kroos has been restricted in that deep-lying role ever since his addition to the squad in 2014, while Real have frequently eschewed their more natural sitting talents.

Casemiro was sent on loan to Porto to continue his growth, perhaps a feasible move given the battle for midfield places at the time, but Asier Illarramendi—who, lest it be forgotten, was signed for more money than Isco was—barely had a look-in, and Sami Khedira was allowed to leave on a free transfer.

The pure holding midfielder or defensive-minded playmaker once again lost its status in the Real Madrid team.

Performances and results over the entirety of '14-15, particularly in Europe, showed just how damaging that was—and all the while, Casemiro was showcasing his talents at Porto, winning admirers from all over the continent.

Benitez: Restart

A naturally pragmatic manager who has long favoured a solid midfield platform to work from, Rafael Benitez surprised nobody when he beckoned Casemiro back to the Bernabeu and had Real offer the Brazilian a new contract amid transfer interest from multiple teams, as noted by Marca.

Even in pre-season, it was apparent that Benitez was looking for the central midfield to be a protective but proactive base to support the front line and enable them to play (we highlighted how Casemiro would be favoured as the defensive shield in certain matches), as Benitez balanced his natural tactical inclinations against the demands of playing big-name individuals at Real Madrid.

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04: Carlos Casemiro (L) of Real Madrid CF competes for the ball with Filipe Luis (R) of Atletico de Madrid during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October 4, 2015 i
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

It proved to be the case when Casemiro played in nine of Real's first 11 Liga games, starting five in a row in a run across October and into November (until the farcical team selection in El Clasico saw him mysteriously dropped). Having played 672 minutes in the league up until Benitez's sacking, Casemiro only managed one appearance, for 20 minutes, in the first eight games under Zidane.

Back-to-back failures to win against Malaga and Atletico Madrid under the Frenchman represented the wakeup call Real Madrid required.

Question of balance

From that moment on, Casemiro went from playing less than 3 per cent of the minutes in Zidane's first eight La Liga games in charge to seeing out the rest of the campaign playing close to 80 per cent of all available minutes in the competition. That would have been even higher but for one game sat out injured and another where he was rested ahead of a critical European match. In the Champions League itself, the Brazilian played every minute of the quarters, the semi-final first leg and the full 120 minutes in the final.

The answers were there all along and shouldn't have been hard to spot for Zidane: for attackers to flourish, the team must be adequately protected in defence.

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 3: Casemiro of Real Madrid and Marco Verratti of PSG (left) in action during the UEFA Champions League match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain. (Pho
Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Someone had to give way to fit Casemiro in, and it was ultimately the Isco-James Rodriguez combination that sat out the majority of the season. But as long as the destroyer was in place, Real were largely secure.

They won 16 of the 18 games to see out the year after Casemiro came into the side, an indication of how much he helped the team. But his individual contribution and performance level shouldn't be overlooked.

Too key to lose

After all, this is Real Madrid: If they want a newer, better player, they simply go and buy them. Casemiro is there on merit and has worked his way from backup to undisputed starter thanks to the level and consistency of his performances.

He screens the defence by sitting deep and tracks into the channels to make tackles behind the full-backs, inevitably marauding upfield ahead of play. His passing from the middle and final thirds can be surprisingly astute and incisive at times, even if he is not as metronomic as Kroos or as repetitively piercing as Modric.

Brazil's Casemiro (R) vies for the ball with Haiti's Kervens Belfort during a Copa America Centenario football match in Orlando, Florida, United States, on June 8, 2016.  / AFP / Hector RETAMAL        (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Ima
HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images

All told, he's a well-rounded defensive midfielder, exotic and exciting enough to placate the name brigade at the club but functional and effective enough in his role to be of paramount importance to the head coach.

Real Madrid play Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup on August 9, just after the Olympics start.

The Summer Games will be held in Rio, some 300 kilometres from Casemiro's place of birth, but he'll have no place in Brazil's squad. As his starting berth for the national team at the Copa America proved just as much as his role in the Champions League final did, Casemiro has become far too important for Real to allow it.

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