Gelsenkirchen - An unknown quantity at a club with lofty expectations, summer signing Junior Caicara is set to play more than just a bit-part back-up role for FC Schalke 04 as they look to reclaim their place at Europe’s top table.

A lack of depth and viable alternatives was considered the main reason behind the Royal Blues falling short of the top four last season and nowhere was this problem more pronounced than at right-back. As a result, the buzz surrounding the Brazilian in the Ruhr district is decidedly optimistic.

First-team spot up for grabs

First-team regular Atsuto Uchida made just 19 top-flight appearances last season and, still suffering from the effects of a patella tendon injury that regularly ruled him out in 2014/15, is likely to miss the start of the 53rd Bundesliga campaign. Accordingly, Caicara’s job will be to make new head coach Andre Breitenreiter’s choice as difficult as possible when the Japanese international does return from the sidelines.

Signed from Bulgarian outfit PFC Ludogorets, a move to the Bundesliga represents a significant step up for the Sao Paulo native and one that was too good to turn down. “Schalke is a big club with outstanding fans,” said the 26-year-old on schalke04.de. “When I first heard of the interest from Germany, I was instantly hooked. There were other clubs that wanted to sign me, but I wanted to be a Schalke player!”

Breitenreiter blown away

The Royal Blues have since begun pre-season preparations in earnest at their training camp in Kärnten, Austria, and, despite having only been at the club for a matter of weeks, Caicara appears to have already settled into life at his new side. “The team, the coaches and everyone connected with the club that I’ve gotten to know so far have taken me in brilliantly,” said Caicara. “I’ve felt welcome here right from the start. My first impressions are all positive.”

The Brazilian himself has also made a positive impression since joining. “I’ve never seen better numbers than Junior’s. He’s a machine,” claimed Breitenreiter after being blown away by his figures in the mandatory fitness checks. “When a coach says something like that about you, you can only feel proud,” was Caicara’s response. “[Breitenreiter] saying that is a real honour, because to have a coach trust in you, especially as a new player, is really important.”

Schalke success to lead to Selecao?

With the backing of the new man in charge, Caicara is keen to seize the opportunity to impress as S04 prepare for the upcoming campaign. “In the next few weeks I want to show that I’m not just fit and well trained, but that I’m also useful with the ball at my feet,” said Caicara, who featured in the first half of Schalke’s 3-1 win over Austria Klagenfurt in their opening pre-season friendly.

It’s been smooth sailing so far for the defender, but with the start of the season just over a month away there is plenty of work left to be done for the Selecao aspirant. “Everything depends on how I perform with Schalke,” concluded Caicara. “If I can put together a string of good performances I might be able to force myself into the picture regarding the national team. I’m going to give it my all!”