Cassio: I need the work
© AFP

There was a time when every major purchase Corinthians made on the transfer market was accompanied by the sounding of a siren at its home ground of Parque Sao Jorge. That custom was discontinued some time ago, yet even if it had not been, it is hard to imagine the January 2012 signing of Cassio Ramos generating much noise. His addition to a squad that had just won the Brasileirao could not have been more low-key.

There was good reason for the lack of fanfare. The young goalkeeper was making his return to Brazilian football after four unremarkable seasons with Dutch club PSV, where he had made just a handful of appearances. At the age of 24, the former Gremio man, who had starred for Brazil at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, seemed to be slipping into anonymity.

All that changed four months later, however, when Corinthians faced Vasco da Gama at home in the second leg of their Copa Libertadores quarter-final. The aggregate score was still 0-0 when Vasco's Diego Souza scampered through on goal with just Cassio to beat.

The Timão faithful held their breath as Souza side-footed the ball to Cassio’s left and seemingly on its way into the corner of the net. Yet despite standing 6ft 4ins tall, the custodian somehow got down low to get the merest of touches on the ball with his left hand, deflecting it just past the post. Corinthians would go on to win the tie and, a few weeks later, the title. Suddenly, the unheralded Cassio was anonymous no more.

“It was pretty amusing after that,” the hero of the hour told FIFA.com.Corinthians fans would come up and thank me and some of them even wanted to kiss my hand. Others wanted to take a photo, but only if I held up my left hand. 

“It looked a certain goal when I made that save. That game was crucial to the team winning the Libertadores and that was the tightest tie we played. It was like a game of chess and you couldn’t afford to make the slightest mistake. If they’d scored then, I doubt if we’d have been able to come back. There would have been very little time for us to equalise and then score again. That’s why I had to be very focused and ready.”

Doing it for himself
Finding their focus at such critical points is not always easy for keepers when they have lacking regular first-team football. After signing for PSV at the end of 2007, Cassio failed to enjoy a lengthy run of games, and was loaned out to Sparta Rotterdam for the 2008/09 season. Though more football came his way there, he found himself back at square one and the reserve team when he returned to Eindhoven.

“Obviously there were times in Holland when I wondered if I was good enough,” he admitted. “I wondered if it was just bad luck or something like that, and I even asked the coach why I wasn’t getting a chance. I’m still waiting for an answer today.”

By the time his final season with PSV came around, Cassio realised he was not going to get his opportunity and that it was time to start looking at things in a different way: “At the end, before I left, I saw that I had to start working for myself. I needed to work on the mental side of things and on my game too. They don’t train much there. Just once a day. So I went to the gym in the building where I lived and started doing some extra work. I just wanted to be ready.”

It would be some time before he had the chance to prove his worth, though the punishing schedule he put himself through in the Netherlands gave him the confidence to terminate his contract with PSV and sign for Corinthians, not necessarily the easiest place to embark on a new beginning.

Cassio continued to put the effort in after his presentation in January, maintaining the same work rate he had shown in Eindhoven, and which had impressed the coaching staff there so much, even if it was not enough to earn him a first-team place. His big break would come after Corinthians’ elimination in the Sao Paulo state championship, with the knockout phase of the Copa Libertadores looming.

Though the pressure was on, Cassio was prepared for what lay ahead: “I was full of confidence and I was training hard, both on my physique and technique. I lot of people thought I was a risky option, and I knew it was a big challenge. I was ready all the same.”

He would concede just two goals in his eight matches in the continental showpiece, helping to make the tightest defence in the competition even more miserly and presenting his claim for a place in the national team in the process. “My team-mates have helped me a lot,” said the grateful custodian. “They’ve always given me a lot of confidence and we all help each other out.”

With the Libertadores safely secured and CorinthiansBrasileirão campaign back on an even keel, coach Tite is now planning for FIFA Club World Japan 2012, rotating his star players with a view to keep them fresh for December’s big event. Sidelined for so long in the Netherlands, Cassio has understandably requested his boss leave him in the starting line-up.

“I’ve spoken to him about this, about not having played much. Maybe we can come to some arrangement, but without me dropping out of the team,” he said, only too happy to stay between the posts in the countdown to Japan, even if it means letting goals in once in awhile. “I don’t like conceding but it’s all part and parcel of my development.”

More rest is the last thing the dedicated Cassio needs at this vital stage of his career. As far as he is concerned, the harder the toil the better.