Manchester United unveiled Brazilian midfielder Casemiro ahead of their game against Liverpool on Monday, the move coming on the back of United having paid Real Madrid somewhere in the region of £70 million to get his services on an initial four-year contract—there’s also option for an additional year—reportedly worth £375,000 per week.
When United were gearing up to face Brentford last week, the 30-year-old’s name was hardly in consideration for a move to Old Trafford. Yet, a week later, he stood inside the Theatre of Dreams holding a United shirt for the cameras. By all means, the pace with which this move came about is uncharacteristic of United’s movement in the transfer market, the latest example of it being their pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong.
Throughout the summer, Casemiro never hinted that he wished to move away from Madrid. At the height of his powers, he was more than comfortable and enjoying his life with Los Blancos, having recently picked up his fifth Champions League medal in May. Why, then, did he decide to pack his bags and move to Manchester, that too for a team not even in the Champions League this season?
With sparse footballing incentives, the financial argument becomes one of note. The deal United offered Casemiro doubles the length of the contract he had left remaining at Real Madrid, and the wages he is now set to earn over the next four seasons are significantly higher than what he was earning from his previous employers. Soon reaching the twilight years of his career, and having won all the major club football silverware multiple times with Los Blancos, it is understandable why the veteran midfielder agreed to the move despite the obvious immediate downgrade it entails.
Real Madrid would ideally have wanted to keep Casemiro around for a few more years and help with the transition of the young players into the starting XI. However, the fee United were ready to pay meant they could afford to let him leave on their terms and get in return an amount they would otherwise not have envisaged. While it will take a bit of time for them to adjust to life without Casemiro, that they already have the likes of Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouaméni means they’re well off in the long run.
For Man United, on the other hand, this move reeks of nothing but desperation. The immediacy with which they moved to secure Casemiro’s signature and the money committed towards his acquisition once again exhibit the overall dysfunctional nature of the current United setup.
That, however, is news to no one at this point. United began working towards this transfer in earnest only after they were handed a 4-0 humiliation by Brentford. Two bad defeats in their first two matches showed new manager Erik ten Hag the mountainous task he had on his hands, making him realise that he would need to relent in his pursuit of proactive, possession-based football and take a more pragmatic approach to at least have his team putting points on the board.
Now, Casemiro is a midfielder of a profile completely different from that of Frenkie de Jong, but he is certainly a player United have been crying out for for years. The Red Devils have simply not had a player that can consistently play as an out-and-out number six, which has led to the likes of Scott McTominay, Fred and now also Christian Eriksen playing out of position. As is intended by United, Casemiro’s arrival immediately frees up these players to play in positions more favourable to their respective profiles, adding to the team a player that could add substance between United’s defence line and creative midfielders and make them more comfortable on the ball and in transitions.
It needs to be said, however, that Casemiro is not the first time United have gone for a defensive midfielder reaching the end of his prime years in hopes of providing themselves immediate reinforcement and time to strengthen the team in the long run; they did the exact same thing when they signed a 30-year-old Nemanja Matić for £40 million back in 2017. Matić remained an integral part of United’s dressing room for half a decade, but he was hardly a consistent first-team player beyond his first season at the club, during which United finished second in the league, with the club having failed typically to build the squad properly by the bringing in young players that the Serbian could help transition into the starting XI.
That is the challenge that faces United once again. Casemiro is an expensive gamble, unquestionably so, but he does improve and strengthen the team in the short term. Ideally, he should be United’s first-choice defensive midfielder for the first two years of his contract, with the remaining years of his time with the club focusing on him helping younger, fresher legs acclimatise into the team. That, though, predicates on the new United hierarchy demonstrating the ability of learning from the mistakes of the club’s recent past that have seen United go round and round in circles since 2013.
As Casemiro watched from the stands at Old Trafford on Monday, the United players put on an impressive show to beat arch-rivals Liverpool 2-1 and put their first points on the board. They now gear up to face Southampton come Saturday, with Casemiro set to get his first taste of Premier League action. Off the pitch, United have still not given up on their pursuit of Frenkie de Jong and are hopeful of landing a few more big names by the time the transfer window slams shut on September 1.
With a win under his belt and Casemiro in his ranks, Erik ten Hag will be looking towards the upcoming set of fixtures with a lot more optimism than what he could have mustered a week ago. However, as he tries to navigate Manchester United through these rebel waves, it is incumbent upon the club’s hierarchy to slowly calm the waters for him.