Matt’s Monday Musings: A series with no rhyme or reason — just consistent thoughts on all things Real Madrid released every Monday. Some weeks may be long form, others just short anecdotal thoughts. Either way, I’ll be posting reflective content on the current, past, and future on-goings of the club:
Just 20 minutes of football transformed Casemiro’s career. Don’t believe me? Take it from the man himself, “I love to talk about this game, because those 20 minutes changed my life.”
The match that Casemiro is referring to was the Quarter Final 2nd Leg of the 2013-2014 UEFA Champions League season — the road to La Decima. Real Madrid had defeated Dortmund 3-0 in the first leg at the Bernabeu, but faced an onslaught from the German club in the return leg. Borussia Dortmund scored two goals within the first 35 minutes of the match. Given the energy that Jurgen Klopp’s team played with, few would bet against them scoring another to even the tie. Madrid looked totally dismembered all evening. After Dortmund hit the woodwork twice, Ancelotti had seen enough. The Italian decided to throw his “hail-mary”: a 22-year-old Brazilian by the name of Carlos Henrique Casemiro.
The young player from Sao Paolo had featured in just 133 minutes of La Liga over the course of the previous 9 months and had only amassed 122 minutes of Champions League football in his entire career up to that point. But Ancelotti needed anything to stop the bleeding. Sami Khedira was injured and Illaramendi was subtistuted at halftime.
“In that match, he [Ancelotti] played Illaramendi and it wasn’t his day. I hadn’t played all year and Ancelotti calls me and says: ‘Listen, you come in, try to do something, try to stop it’. I was convinced that this was my moment. I remember the first ball. I knocked out a giant, I had a German with me and I jumped so high that my knee was to height of his head.”
Not only was it Casemiro’s first duel of the match, but it was mere seconds after being introduced:
A fierce competitor, a man on a mission — by winning that aerial duel, Casemiro set the tone. That moment flipped a switch in the match. Madrid did not suddenly dominate the game, but Casemiro slowed down Dortmund’s advances. The Brazilian had taken the wind out of Dortmund’s sails. Casemiro brought an intensity and a physicality that was desperately lacking in the match.
After sprinting some 15 yards to make a crunching tackle, the 22-year-old starts to rally the troops. A battle-cry: waving his arms and pumping up teammates — qualities of a leader were already there. Looking back on this 20 minute cameo, it was the perfect prelude; a snapshot into the impending era. In a game where nearly every Madrid player looked full of fear, Casemiro came on and gave the team a jolt.
The athleticism the Brazilian possesed was on full display. The package that we have all become so familiar with was all there: the recovery challenges, the towering headers inside the box to deny a cross or a set-piece connection, the clogging of space — all of Casemiro’s defensive virtues were encapsulated in those 20 minutes.
“After that game, not only did the locker room know me, but for the fans I became important”.
For the fans, Casemiro became a hero. Ask any Real Madrid fan to name the best substitution appearance they have seen since the turn of the century and Casemiro’s performance vs Dortmund lands high on the list. For 72 minutes, it felt as though the dream of La Decima would escape for the 13th year. It would escape after a dominant showing at the Bernabeu just 2 weeks earlier. But not on Casemiro’s watch. Not when the Brazilian had finally earned his moment. Little did the world know it then, that Casemiro’s watch would go on for nearly a decade at Real Madrid and finish with 5 Champions League titles. The now 30-year-old midfielder is a legend of the club and will always be fondly remembered.