When Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid at the end of the 2017-18 season, Los Blancos were clueless about how to go forward. Zidane's successor Julen Lopetegui showed promise but eventually didn't live up to the expectations. Real's B team coach Santiago Solari was promoted to replace Lopetegui but he failed too. Eventually club President Florentino Pérez turned towards the Frenchman once again.
In 10 months where Zidane was not at the helm, Madrid's squad who won the Champions League four times in five years since 2014, players' faith and confidence levels were shattered. Senior players like Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Karim Benzema, Casemiro, and Gareth Bale were low on self-belief. They stood as spectators when Ajax, Barcelona and other mid-table teams destroyed Real as their winning mentality dissipated. It was clear that Zidane was back to level zero and had to rebuild the entire squad.
And Zidane delivered this time too. Real areback on the top of La Liga with a 3-point aadvantage over Barcelona after 21 rounds. In the Champions League, Real's marquee competition, they are into the knockout stages and are favourites to win over a struggling Manchester City side. They already gave gotten their hands over one piece of silverware defeating Atlético Madrid on penalties in the Spanish Super Cup.
Their results on the pitch show how the players have resurrected themselves courtesy to Zidane's brilliant man-management skills. Casemiro, amongst them, stands apart.
Casemiro cut short his summer break and reported early for pre-season after a tiring Copa America campaign with Brazil. While Zidane is known for his squad rotation week in, week out, Casemiro remains untouched. He has started the highest amount of games across all competitions which attests how important he is for the team.
He is a typical box-to-box midfielder who runs tirelessly from one end of the pitch to another. His job is to track and win the ball back when the possession is lost, pass it to one of the teammates and get into the opposition box to have a numerical advantage in the final third. Casemiro excels at this. According to WhoScored, he leads Real Madrid's defensive charts averaging 3 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2.5 clearances per game. This shows his ability to read the game and hunt down opponents. Scoring three and assisting one goal in the league, the 27-year-old is one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. One game to conclude his importance would be the El Clásico where he covered every blade of grass and remained a true stalwart.
Tactically, his mindset matches Zidane's wavelength and this creates an unbreakable partnership. Real's full-backs push high when they are in possession which makes the defense vulnerable and creates acres of space for opposition forwards to exploit. But, Real are never seen conceding in counters. Ask why. Because Casemiro takes care of it. His presence in Real's defense makes all the difference. He does all of this while going forward too. His intelligence about the game allows him to know when to make a run and when not to. His game no longer is reserved for defensive responsibilities, thanks to Federico Valverde's growth. His brace against Sevilla in a 2-1 victory proves how lethal and unpredictable he could be. Sevilla were disillusioned by Casemiro's attacking presence which led to Real sealing important three points.
The Brazilian midfielder was the cornerstone of the midfield in Zidane's first installment at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. He is back to be the cunning figure under the Frenchman, the type of player fans love and opposition fans love to hate. It is rumoured that he takes naps in hyperbaric chambers and spends free time reading up rivals via Wyscout - a footballing platform for match analysis and transfer dynamics. The former São Paulo man is an embodiment of what the club stands for.
Brazilian teammate Rodrygo de Silva Goes is a fan of Casemiro too. Here's what he said recently:
He has changed the image that Brazilian players are lazy. He’s always saying ‘let’s go to the gym’ or ‘recover in the ice.”
However, exciting times are ahead for the record 13-times-Champions League winners. As we progress to the second half of the season, Zidane and his man have set their eyes on a treble. It might sound abysmal to others but based on Zidane's previous achievements, nothing is impossible and a lot of it has to do with the form and abilities of Casemiro.Published 27 Jan 2020, 11:26 IST