Real Madrid‘s Brazilian midfielder Casemiro has always been the smartest kid on the block, even as an 11-year-old waiting for his trial at Sao Paulo FC to begin.
He had turned up as a striker but when he saw how many hands were raised when the coach asked, ‘Who here is a centre forward?’ he kept his down by his side.
He knew only 50 kids were going to be selected from the 300 hopefuls. He did the same when the coach asked, ‘Who here is a No 10?’ Another 50 hands shot up.
Real Madrid’s Brazilian midfielder Casemiro has always been the smartest kid on the block
Only when it was time for the holding midfielders to raise their hand did he put his in the air.
Later in the trial, he was asked, ‘Aren’t you meant to be a striker?’ But by then he had convinced the club he was well worth taking.
Grinning broadly at the suggestion that street smart comes naturally to him, he says: ‘Since I was a kid, I always thought it was important to think on my feet.
‘And on the pitch, the legs have to be strong, but the head should be in charge. I like to be aggressive, powerful, physical, but you have to play with your brain.
The Brazilian international has been thinking how to outwit Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City
‘You have to be well-positioned, see the move before it happens, cover the gaps, help your team-mates. I like to think, and not just off the pitch, but on it as well.’
Has Casemiro, the thinker, spent much time mulling how to outwit Pep Guardiola on Friday?
‘We’ve been doing that since the day the league ended!’ he says of Real Madrid’s last-16 second-leg match against Manchester City, having lost 2-1 at home.
‘I always try to read the mind of the other coach, try to work out what they’re planning. Sometimes the smallest details, five metres one way or the other, can change a game.’
By his own admission he thinks more like a coach than a player sometimes. It’s little wonder he has the football analysis tool Wyscout installed at home.
Madrid trail City in the tie following a 2-1 defeat at home to Pep Guardiola’s men in February
‘I watch all the games,’ he says. ‘My wife gets annoyed with me a lot because I’ll be watching a match between two Chinese teams or something. It’s my work! There is a time for family but football is my job. It’s my life and I have to be permanently thinking about it.’
The fact that football became Casemiro’s life saved him from an altogether tougher existence. His mother Magda brought the family up alone. Aged eight, Casemiro had to juggle training with looking after younger siblings.
He would walk the six miles to Moreira’s Sport, a club run by coach Nilton Moreira who spotted not just Casemiro’s talent, but also his occasional need for new boots, kit and even food when he had turned up to play on an empty stomach.
His mother had always imagined ‘Carlinhos’, as she called him, was just playing football for fun, but when he signed professional papers aged 16 at Sao Paulo and bought her a house, she realised football was more…