HAVE YOU HEARD the story of Sir Michael Caine and the Brazilian footballer? Understandably, it sounds ludicrous. Can you really picture Neymar hanging out with Alfred or Dani Alves dancing with Harry Palmer? Gabriel Jesus doesn’t seem like the type to take an interest in British movies from the 1970s. Some call Casemiro a dirty, rotten scoundrel, but I doubt he’s ever seen Caine perform in the movie of the same name. However, Filipe Luís Kasmirski surely has.
The Atlético Madrid left-back is not your typical Brazilian footballer. He’s not your typical footballer, full stop. This is a player who spent one television interview successfully solving a Rubik’s Cube as he spoke to the host. This is a player who loves astrophysics and science so much that he discusses the complexities of the universe with club doctors. This is a player who, despite this passion for science, goes to mass every Sunday he doesn’t have a game.
This is a player who also properly understands finance, from the transfer market implications of the €222m spent on Neymar to the behind-the-scenes effect of Atlético’s transfer ban to the intricacies of the club’s stadium move. This is a player who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, rather than speak in scripted PR talk. This is a player who is a serious movie buff.
In fact, Filipe Luís is such an ardent fan of cinema that he was invited along to a live film orchestra screening of Interstellar at the Royal Albert Hall in 2015, when he was playing for Chelsea. Few footballers would want to spend their free Monday evening at such an event, but Filipe has called it one of the best experiences of his life – even if he did admit that some of the film’s scientific inaccuracies bothered him. It was there that the footballer who literally owns thousands of DVDs found himself sat between Caine and Thierry Henry, and it was the former’s brains that Filipe was most keen to pick.
Previously, he had enjoyed lengthy cinema discussions with the president of Atlético Madrid, Enrique Cerezo, who made his fortune as a film producer and who is still very much involved in Spanish cinema as the president of EGEDA, the Spanish Collective Management Society for the Rights of Audiovisual Producers.
When he isn’t watching movies, reading up on science or spinning his fingers around a Rubik’s Cube, Filipe plays football and he plays it well. Even on the pitch, he marks himself out as a different type of player. He is one of the truly unique left-backs in the game, and this makes sense when considering his career trajectory.
Young Filipe Luís wanted to be a doctor, but his father convinced him otherwise. Usually it’s the opposite way around; the parent urges their child to pursue a more stable career rather than a sporting one, but the Brazilian was talented and his family were quick to notice. He wasn’t just good at football. Until the age of 14, Filipe played tennis too and he was good. However, a shoulder injury from crashing his bicycle pushed him towards football and he joined a futsal club, learning technique and how to move his feet quicker than a Whac-A-Mole game.
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Following this introduction to the footballing world, he signed with professional club Figueirense and moved into the team’s residence for younger players, given that they were based around two hours away from his hometown of Jaraguá do Sul. It was a tough time, the player later explained, as the kids there had little money to entertain themselves since the club provided food and accommodation but no remuneration. Eventually, at 16 years of age, he signed his first pro contract and started earning the equivalent of €70 per month. At least it was something, and he spent his first paycheque on a car, even if he needed his father to help him afford the full cost.
While Figueirense didn’t make Filipe Luís rich, the club did give him something which would prove to be priceless: his position. Originally his role was that of an attacking midfielder and he played there until he was 17, but there was one training session in which no left-backs were available so the left-footed Filipe was the natural replacement. He never looked back, with the club’s coaches, Muricy Ramalho and then Dorival Júnior, teaching him the intricacies of the left-back trade.
In the summer of 2004, he agreed a move to Ajax. It wasn’t the most glamorous route into European football for the teenager, but it was a way in, his own broken window in the basement. The club initially put him with a Dutch host family to help him settle in, but Filipe didn’t like it and he moved out to his own apartment within a week. It wasn’t the happiest time for this young kid, a Red Hot Chilli Peppers fan like most others his age. Far away from home, he was lonely, homesick, didn’t know the language, didn’t like the food and went out and drank too much.
In the long run, he now accepts that all of this was for the best and that some important life lessons were learned. In a football sense, he banked a great deal of knowledge too from his time in that academy, where he trained with Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart. “Even though I didn’t actually have the chance to play a first-team match there, I learned a lot about the tactical side of the game,” he later admitted in an interview with the Chelsea website.
Following that year in Holland, the defender’s rights were transferred to Uruguayan side Rentistas, who loaned him to Real Madrid, where he loved the weather, culture and city much more than he had in Amsterdam. Now 19, he had matured a little and was happier, which showed on the pitch as he relied less on extemporisation and impressed the coaches of Castilla. He played the second most minutes of the entire squad – which included Roberto Soldado, Álvaro Negredo, Álvaro Arbeloa and Javi García – that season as Castilla finished in an impressive 11th place in the second tier.
At the end of the year, though, Real declined the chance to keep him on. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been impressed; it was just that they hadn’t been impressed enough to meet Rentistas’ asking price. So Filipe Luís left Real Madrid behind him, although he doesn’t currently feel like he was ever truly at the capital city club. “I don’t feel like I played for Real Madrid,” he said in an interview with Panenka. “I was in Castilla, which is a very different thing. We didn’t cross over with the first team at all. I don’t feel like I have a Real Madrid past.”
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He does, though, have a Deportivo La Coruña past. Galicia was to be his next landing spot, as Rentistas loaned him out to the Riazor for the 2006/07 and 2007/08 seasons. Initially he backed up Spain international Joan Capdevila, before inheriting the left-back spot when Capdevila moved to Villarreal in the summer of 2007. Depor were good that year and finished ninth, which was enough to qualify for the UEFA Cup.
In 2007/08, Filipe Luís, who started seeing a psychologist and who at this point began to fully dedicate himself to football, played all but nine minutes of the entire LaLiga season as the Galician side did even better, finishing seventh, even if this bizarrely wasn’t good enough for European qualification on this occasion.
European football almost knocked on Filipe’s door, though. That’s because Pep Guardiola was impressed by the left-back’s talent and the Catalan believed he could put together a one-two Brazilian full-backing punch of Dani Alves and Filipe Luís. However, Barcelona ultimately opted to sign fellow Brazilian Maxwell when Deportivo refused to sell for a cent less than €20m. “It was very tough not to be able to sign for Barcelona,” Filipe Luís later said. Even if he described Deportivo as a family to him, the disappointment made sense considering Barça were the European champions and had just won a treble.
Focusing back on his football, Filipe was arguably playing even better in the 2009/10 season, but then a huge slice of bad luck hit his right leg. On 23 January 2010, he scored the least enjoyable goal of his career against Athletic Club. The Bilbao side’s goalkeeper, Gorka Iraizoz, charged towards the full-back as the ball dropped to him inside the penalty area and Filipe Luís was able to get his touch on it before the weight of Iraizoz landed on him. His leg was gruesomely twisted and he was out for five months.
His recovery went well, so well that he was actually able to take part in the final couple of matches of the season. However, there were serious doubts as to whether he could return to the form he had been showing in the first half of the campaign. Deportivo were suddenly more willing to sell and Atlético Madrid took advantage, swopping in with a €12m bid. His Atleti years were about to begin.
“I believe in destiny and I understand I ended up Atlético for a reason,” Filipe Luís once said. At first, though, he’d have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about. Los Rojiblancos had just won the 2010 Europa League under Quique Sánchez Flores, but they limped towards a seventh-placed finish in LaLiga the following year and were knocked out in the group stages as they aimed to defend their Europa League title.
Things worsened in the 2011/12 season under new coach Gregorio Manzano, but then Filipe Luís was united with Diego Simeone, the man who the left-back claimed in 2017 had come to know him better than his father does. Simeone’s impact on Atlético was immediate as he pointed an already-talented squad in the right direction, winning the Europa League in his first season, the Copa del Rey in his second and the league title in his third.
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The Argentine helped instil a sense of all for one and one for all, something Filipe hadn’t truly felt elsewhere. He explained that he would go home from a match at Deportivo content if he’d had a good performance or scored, no matter the result. Now it was all about whether or not Atleti had claimed three points, not who had written their name into the headlines or gone viral with a look-at-me dribble.
So many aspects of the Brazilian’s game improved in the Spanish capital, most notably his positioning. No longer did he run around anarchically like the scribble made on a piece of paper when a pen runs out of ink. “I don’t go forward in attack 60 times a game, like before, but I know how to pick the moments in which I should do so and I defend with more intelligence now because I position myself better,” he told Panenka.
Despite all of this success and despite feeling comfortable in Simeone’s system, Filipe left the club for Chelsea in the summer of 2014, just after the team had won LaLiga and reached the Champions League final. Attracted by the challenge of the Premier League, he stepped out of the comfort zone it had taken him so long to discover. Even though his wife Patricia is Spanish and they had a one-year-old son, he seemed thrilled to be venturing outside of Spain again. “A change of team gives new hunger and ambition, and I was worried about being too comfortable here,” he said at the time. “A footballer’s career is very short.”
His time at Chelsea wasn’t all he had hoped it would be. Winning the League Cup and Premier League double was obviously a highlight – as was meeting Sir Michael Caine of course – but the man from South America only played 15 times in that league campaign and was on the bench for the League Cup final victory over Tottenham, with José Mourinho preferring the more defensive César Azpilicueta to the adventurous Filipe Luís. He realised just how much he had left behind at the Vicente Calderón, like someone in a new relationship appreciating the little things their ex used to do for them. But he has stated that he doesn’t regret the move to London, as it helped to him to value Atlético even more.
Fortunately for the left-back, a path back to Atlético was made possible the following summer. Although Guilherme Siqueira had taken his place, Siqueira and Filipe Luís are good friends and the former gave the latter his blessing to return. And so Filipe, who also had offers from Juventus and Paris aint-Germain, was able to make a frictionless return to Los Colchoneros without any significant damage from this Stamford Bridge gap year. Like a student returning home after studying abroad to find their bedroom at the family home as they left it, it was as if he’d never left and now he wishes to retire at the club.
Besides his quest for a Champions League, there is one other objective left for Filipe Luís to tick off the list before he hands up his boots: to play at a World Cup. Too young in 2006, injured in 2010, and overlooked by Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2014, Filipe has never played in one and a broken leg in March this year threatened to rule him out of another. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that and he can go to Russia.
He could, however, have been preparing to represent Poland. That’s because Filipe Luís’ roots are in Europe, with all four of his grandparents from the continent where he now lives. Both his grandmothers are Italian, while his grandfather on his father’s side is Polish and his other grandfather is Austrian. The Kasmirski part of his name is Polish. Well, sort of.
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Originally Kaźmierski, it was written down incorrectly by an immigration officer as the family moved to Brazil from Kalisz in central Poland, having been promised land to farm rice. Initially treated poorly and given swampy land, the soil became very fertile and the many Polish farmers who made the move to Santa Catarina eventually prospered.
There was a point in his career when Filipe considered representing Poland at international level, and he even speaks some of the language. Excited about his heritage, he has watched many documentaries about Poland, Italy and Austria and his spare time is often spent researching his family tree.
In 2008, Deportivo’s UEFA Cup qualification meant a trip to Poland to play Lech Poznań, making Filipe only the second member of his immediate family to visit the country, after his uncle Elias. “Most members of my family have never had the chance to see the country of our ancestors so I feel I have to bring them back something typically Polish,” he told UEFA, as he spent the day before the match visiting the old market square and shopping for souvenirs. Super Express – which is one of the local newspapers, even if it sounds like somewhere you’d buy your groceries – even took him around the city and gave him a guidebook. Yes, Filipe Luís is not your typical Brazilian footballer.
In the end, he decided to play his international football for Brazil. “If I don’t play with Brazil, I wouldn’t want to play for anyone,” he told Voz de Galicia before he had debuted for any national side, after thinking long and hard about the decision. He didn’t feel Polish enough to play for Poland, while his Italian citizenship was more of an administrative one, as he claimed it so that he could be registered as an EU player for European clubs.
Unfortunately for Filipe Luís, his international career has overlapped with his city neighbour Marcelo, a player he has known since his time at Real Madrid, when the now-Atleti man was in the under-20s side and Marcelo had just arrived to join the under-17s. Although Marcelo’s superior play kept Filipe out of the World Cup on home soil four years ago, he has no regrets and admits that Marcelo was in better form at the time and that Maxwell, who went as the backup, was too.
Despite such competition for the Brazil left-back spot, Filipe has managed to collect over 30 caps, and he rarely puts a foot wrong when he does pull on the yellow jersey. He may be one of the least Brazilian-looking players in the squad, but he feels comfortable with the national team, even performing rainbow flicks over Neymar’s head during a recent call-up.
It would be such a shame if he doesn’t make it to a World Cup because of injury, as there was a point earlier this season when he was performing well enough to be considered the starter ahead of Marcelo, while he would at least be a shoo-in for the backup spot as long as he is fully fit. He remains still one of the best Brazilian footballers of this century and it would be fitting for this pale guy with greasy-looking long hair to represent O Seleção.
And what about after football? Filipe Luís has been a unique footballer and he might well go on to become a unique coach. That’s his intention anyway. He is studying for a career in the dugout, taking in as much football as he can when he’s not watching movies. “I watch all of the matches I can and I analyse them,” he told El Mundo. “I ask myself what I would do in that situation.”
His ambitions are lofty. Asked if he’d like to one day inherit Simeone’s position as coach of Atlético Madrid, Filipe didn’t shy away from the question. “Yes,” he said. That is the goal, on the condition that he earns the position by being good enough and not because of his name. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him try his hand in an unfamiliar European league, just as he did early on in his playing career. Perhaps one day this Michael Caine fan will be the one being linked with an Italian job.
By Euan McTear @emctear