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Caio - Brazilian football's reject who has proven his doubters wrong

Caio in action for Al Ain
Caio in action for Al Ain

Sharing the dream of being a professional footballer one day like many of his compatriots, Caio Lucas Fernandes, known by the Al Ain fans simply as "Caio", has made a name for himself in the world of football on the opposite side of the world from his native of Brazil.

No other nation can match Brazil in terms of its football exports across the world. According to a Football Observatory report in May 2017, Brazil boasted no less than 1,202 players outside of its borders, almost double the number provided by it's nearest competitors, France and Argentina.

Many of them, such as Coutinho, Firmino and Neymar are household names, but stories like this serve as evidence that this is barely the tip of the iceberg. From the far east to the lower leagues of US football, Brazilian talents truly are a global phenomenon in every sense of the word.

Starting out with his journey in Sao Paulo's coveted youth system, Caio was cruelly cut from the academy at the age of 15.

“They said from the start that I was not big enough to be a player. They made up a reason to get rid of me. I know deep inside that it was a great experience and I learned a lot there,” Caio told ESPN as he spoke about his football roots. Further, when Paulista sides Santos and Palmeiras also declined his services, the teenager was ready to give up the dream of being a professional footballer.

However, there was an upturn in fortunes when he was picked up by a touring Japanese high school, moving on the opposite side of the world at the age of 17 with a now-revived dream. Soon after, J. League heavyweights Kashima Antlers swooped in for his signature once he graduated.

Caio quickly became a favourite in Kashima, making 100 appearances over his two and a half year stint, also scoring a respectable 27 goals for the Japanese club. His exploits saw him netting the J. League's Rookie of the Year award in 2014 while netting in the final as Kashima lifted the J. League Cup.

Caio in his Kashima Antlers days
Caio in his Kashima Antlers days

Eventually, longtime admirers Al Ain FC shelled out €3M to see the Brazilian dribbler arrive in Abu Dhabi midway through the 2016 season, with Kashima comfortably on their way to another league title.

He has since added to his trophy case with two more trophy wins in the Middle East along with a notable improvement in his goalscoring ability, netting nearly a goal every two games despite usually playing on the wings in order to supply the bullets for Sweden and ex-Hamburg striker Marcus Berg.

For a player that was once slated for being too small, Al Ain's upset win over Argentine side River Plate marks the coming of age for Caio, with the 24-year-old taking the River Plate defence to pieces on Tuesday, scoring his side's second in a 2-2 draw with the Abu Dhabi outfit ultimately prevailing on penalties.

Ultimately outclassed by the European Champions Real Madrid in the Final, the FIFA Club World Cup final finished 4-1 to the holders, but Caio, who has taken a long and winding path to stardom, can surely be content for now in his achievements so far, no matter the result.

A series of strong performances in the future, however, may well see potential suitors lining up for Caio's services. Still just 24 and possessing the traditional Brazilian flair, the kid who was 'too small' for Sao Paulo has grown well outside of the Brazilian norm, and he might just be on his way to European football.

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Edited by Nishant Jayaram
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