Back in 2018, the tough guy on the pitch, the enforcer on the Real Madrid team that won so many trophies along the way in the past decade, opened up in a rare interview. Offered a small bottle of yoghurt, he broke down into tears.
“As a child, I always wanted to drink these, but we never had the money. It didn’t cost much, around 20 cents, but my mom would always call me inside because no one had the money to buy some.”
“So now, when I go back home to Brazil, I drink about 50 of these a day. It’s not good for me, I know, but I do it because it’s something that I’ve always wanted & could never have,” Casemiro said in that interview.
It was a rare insight into the childhood of one of the top midfielders in the world, whose ascension has been nothing short of amazing, overcoming all the problems in his life to write history for both club and country, with Casemiro now also being a goal scorer at the FIFA World Cup for Brazil. But how could everything turn out differently…
It all started when his father left the family when the current Brazil star was only five years old. It meant that Casemiro, the big brother, had to become the man of the house earlier than anyone would have expected and take care of his brothers and his mother at the same time. All battling poverty and difficult conditions on his ascent to stardom.
Football was his relief, everything he did on the streets of Sao Jose Dos Campos, the working class industrial area outside Sao Paulo where Casemiro was raised. But when the small kid met Nilton de Jesus Morreira, a man who founded a football school in the Sao Paulo suburb, everything changed.
Casemiro still holds Nilton in high regards, always touting him to be like a father figure that helped him get even his ID and his driving licence. “When I was seven or eight I used to ask my team mates if I could sleep in their houses to be able to get a better night’s sleep before a game,” remembers Casemiro.
But even when his talent was earmarked and Casemiro became a well-known name between the scouters of various Brazilian powerhouses, life had another check for the Manchester United midfielder.
Diagnosed with hepatitis, Casemiro lost weight and was unable to train, as he missed three months from the pitch and one of the most important stages of development for a player. Yet he was determined to come back. And this his how ”O Tanque”, or ”The Tank” in English was born.
But as soon as his potential was clearer and clearer, football helped Casemiro get better and better. “I had a room, food, air conditioning and a TV when I joined Sao Paulo,” remembers the midfielder who scored Brazil’s goal against Switzerland in the group phase at Qatar 2022.
Soon, Real Madrid came knocking. And how could you say no to Real Madrid, when your idols played there? In January 2013, Casemiro moved to Spain and featured for a few months for the second team of Real. A few months later, his loan became a permanent transfer and the rest of the story is well-known.
The player dubbed as “the best midfielder in the world right now” by teammate Neymar won five UEFA Champions League titles – the second largest number in history – three La Liga titles, one Spanish Cup, three Spanish Super Cups, three UEFA Super Cups and three FIFA Club World Cup titles.
And what did he do with the first money he earned? Well, he never forgot his humble beginnings and helped his family get back on track and ensured that nothing is missing, not even the cheap yoghurt bottles that made him remember his childhood.
“With the first money I earned I bought my mother a house. I remember it well. She thought I only played football to enjoy myself but I had it very clear that I wanted to help. The sun rises only after the darkest hour,” said the player.
Now, Casemiro is on the top of the world. Last summer, he was subject to a $70 million transfer from Real Madrid to Manchester United, having already won the hearts of the “Red Devils” fans with his shyness and sincerity.
“My wife speaks English. I have a seven-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.”
“So they speak a bit better English than me. I’m truly sorry to you and all of the United fans that I don’t speak English, but I want to study, I want to learn as soon as possible so that I can learn about English culture, to learn English and speak to my friends, my team-mates, all the club staff and I want to show them I’m one of them,” said Casemiro.
He was already becoming an influential presence for Manchester United when club football stopped to give way for Qatar 2022. And for Brazil, Casemiro is surely a crucial part of the team.
Sure, the “Selecao” have excellent talent and a huge attacking prowess, but it was still Casemiro who saved them against Switzerland, late in the 82nd minute, when the match was heading to a 0-0 draw.
His shot was perfectly timed and placed. And like he said, “The sun rises only after the darkest hour”.