Although Brazilian midfielder Casemiro is normally reserved when facing the cameras and journalists at press conferences, his natural on-pitch confidence gradually shone through when he gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com.
“I’m the man of the house now,” says the 19-year-old, a key member of the* Seleçãozinha* squad crowned South American U-20 champions in this year’s continental showpiece in Peru. “Even though I’m young, I’m the breadwinner at home. So I get the final say,” added the Sao Paulo starlet, on the responsibility of looking after his mother and two younger siblings.
Taking responsibility is nothing new for the gifted midfielder, who has cemented a starting berth at O Tricolor Paulista under coach Paulo Cesar Carpegiani and appears all set to take part in his second FIFA finals. And having been involved in Brazil’s frustrating campaign at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, Casemiro is confident of a different outcome at this year's FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia: “We’ve got a much better team now. We’ve got loads of talent! We’re going there to fight for the title.”
Casemiro is equally frank and open about his difficult childhood, with his father leaving the family home in Sao Jose dos Campos (97km from Sao Paulo), when his son was “three or four years old”. “He and my mum separated and I’ve not seen him since,” explains the player.
“I later had the chance to see him again, but I didn’t want anything to do with him. I’ve got my mother, who I love and who makes me very happy. Plus I’ve got two brothers, one who’s 17 and another who’s ten. Every time I take the field, I know I have to run hard for my mum, because of all the tough times we went through. Only we know how difficult it was.”
Casemiro left the Vale do Paraiba region at the age of 11 to form part of the Sao Paulo youth set-up, going on to spend four years at the club’s complex in Cotia. Later, once he had successfully broken into the first-team squad and signed pro forms, he would spend a further six months in the plush surroundings of the club’s training centre in the Sao Paulo capital.
We’ve got loads of talent! We’re going there to fight for the title.
“There’s no doubt that whole experience helped me become a better player, as well as really helping me grow as a man,” he says, of his time spent rising through the ranks and away from home. “Particularly in my case, since I grew up without a dad around. That’s something I’ve always carried with me out onto the pitch. All the way through the youth ranks at Sao Paulo, I’ve always been the captain.”
Yet prior to the South American U-20 Championship, the captain’s armband was handed to his club-mate and defender Bruno Uvini, who is a year older than Casemiro and another well-used to the skipper’s role. By the conclusion of the competition, however, it was the midfielder who ended up lifting the trophy, following the leg fracture suffered by Uvini in the hexagonal final round.
A well-round performer
Of course, it is to be expected that the mazy dribbles, explosive bursts and spectacular goals of the likes of Neymar and Lucas earned most of the headlines on Peruvian soil. Yet Casemiro’s interventions when A Seleçãozinha needed him most were equally important. The midfield man’s class, leadership and versatility enabled him to fill in as a third centre-back or even in the hole behind the strikers, depending on what the situation required.
Indeed, Casemiro started out in the latter role, though since joining the Sao Paulo youth system he has dropped steadily deeper until settling on his current defensive midfield position. “But I’ve still got plenty of scope to push forward into attack,” says the player, who weighed in with three headed goals in Peru. “People were always saying how modern players need to be able to play in two or three positions, and those words stuck in my head. I think that I can do just that.”
All those years staying in club lodgings also gave him more time to fine-tune his technique, helping make him the complete performer he is today. “The club deserves credit for that, they make everything much easier. After training I’d always stay behind to work on shooting from outside the box, heading, taking penalties. I’d ask the keepers to stay behind too so I could carry on shooting for longer,” says the determined youngster, who highlights Zinedine Zidane and Lazio’s former Sao Paulo star Hernanes as his idols.
“The coach speaks to me a lot and gives me plenty of praise,” continues Casemiro, on the advice of his current boss Carpegiani, who himself was a noted Brazilian international midfielder back in the 1970s. “At the moment he’s been telling me I need to work on my marking and boss my part of the pitch more. And he’s the gaffer so if that’s what he says, then that’s what I need to work on."
Silverware up for grabs
Sao Paulo are in the running for two trophies in the first half of 2011 - the Paulista state championship and the Copa do Brasil - and victories in both would give Casemiro his second and third winners’ medals of the calendar year. A potential fourth at Colombia 2011 is also in his sights, with the player keen to put the memories of his last FIFA finals at Nigeria 2009 behind him.
“Nothing went right for us over there,” he says, of Brazil’s group-stage exit on African soil. “I only played in one game, too. But I’m sure that this time around will be totally different. It’s a World Cup for our age group: every player wants to be involved and it could have really positive repercussions."
As our interview draws to a close, Casemiro lends weight to his assertion by underlining the strength in depth of the side: “We’ve got a very strong team, from the starting XI right through to the subs. Even at the age of 18, 19 or 20, we’ve got players in our team who’ve already competed in loads of competitions. They’ve got as much experience as some older players.”