When Claude Makelele was sold to Chelsea from Real Madrid, there was backlash. How could the Real Madrid president not understand the defensive midfielder’s worth? Teammates spoke about the influence and importance of the player, but it was lost on the suit wearing, non-playing personnel.
Makelele went on to have five successful seasons in the English Premier League with Chelsea. In west London, Makelele was the anchor to six trophies that included two English Premier League titles and an FA Cup. In fact, the term “Makelele role” was invented for a calm, tough tackling defensive midfielder that could keep the team’s shape together. Everything Makelele was known for as a player.
After the sale of Makelele, Real Madrid suffered, more interested in buying Galacticos than competent footballers that augmented the stars. This season Real Madrid finally found the heir apparent to Makelele, although it took them over 12 years to finally find the Frenchman’s replacement.
Casemiro came into Saturday night’s Champions League final with little fanfare outside of Real Madrid fans. Yet, he left San Siro having made one of the biggest impacts, not only on the game, but world football.
The Brazilian anchored Real Madrid’s defense in 2015-16, averaging 3.4 tackles and two interceptions per game, according to WhoScored.com. Add in an 87% pass success rate, and Casemiro has given Real Madrid a calming influence the team previously lacked in their star studded XI.
Against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final, Casemiro brilliantly protected Pepe and Sergio Ramos. Casemiro led all tacklers, tallying eight of ten attempted, and making three interceptions. One of the most notable aspects about Casemiro’s tackling in the Champions League final was his ability to stay on his feet and not commit to slide tackles.
Casemiro’s passing was also pinpoint as the midfielder completed 59 of 65 passes for a success rate of 91%, according to WhoScored.com. Not only was Casemiro solid in central midfield, but the Brazilian won the most aerial duels with six. While the Real Madrid attackers will got most of the plaudits and man of the match votes, it was actually Casemiro that was the backbone to the side, never breaking when pushed by Atletico Madrid.
On loan to Porto in 2014-15, Real Madrid extended Casemiro’s contract until 2021 last summer. The Brazilian was a constant in Real Madrid’s side this past season, missing just three matches due to injury. In all, Casemiro appeared 36 times in all competitions for Los Blancos.
While he isn’t Real Madrid’s most glamours player, Casemiro was arguably their grittiest. Needing a win against Barcelona at Camp Nou in early April, Zinedine Zidane called upon the midfielder to solidify his side for the showdown. All Casemiro did in El Clasico was finish with the most tackles (eight) and an 82% pass success rate. With Luka Modric and Toni Kroos either side of him, Casemiro’s job against Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final, was to give his two midfield partners the freedom to handle the creative part of the game. He did that in both fixtures and has the potential to be one of the best defensive midfielders in world football. Although, he may not get the accolades he deserves.
Being that Casemiro only cost Real Madrid £12 million, it seems strange that he is such a vital piece to Zidane’s puzzle. Despite not being favored by Zidane when the Frenchman first took over in January, Casemiro’s importance shown in the side, and Zidane couldn’t help but put the Brazilian in the team for every match.
In 2003, Makelele was sold to Chelsea as Real Madrid under-appreciated their most important midfielder. In 2016, hopefully Real Madrid have learned from their previous mistake, and will keep the defensive midfielder at the club to play the Casemiro Role.
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