Depending on who you ask, Casemiro is either Manchester United’s heir to midfield legend Roy Keane or a washed-up has-been Real Madrid couldn’t wait to offload.
The Brazilian’s €70 million arrival at Old Trafford on Monday has split opinion and raised questions about what the transfer policy at Old Trafford actually looks like. Is handing a 30-year-old a four-year contract worth more than £350,000-a-week bad business or does it not matter when you’re getting one of the best defensive midfielders in the world who also happens to be a serial winner? Ultimately, like all transfers, only time will tell.
United didn’t start the summer thinking they would be signing players over the age of 30, but sources have told ESPN the deal for Casemiro was more a case of an opportunity presenting itself at the right time. Much of the transfer window has been spent trying to land 25-year-old Frenkie de Jong but while the Dutchman continued to chase deferred wages from Barcelona, United decided it was becoming too complicated to pursue.
United boss Erik ten Hag made it clear to football director John Murtough and the recruitment team as early as March that his priority in the transfer market was to sign a No. 6 to play at the base of his midfield. De Jong, once his player at Ajax, was the top target but Casemiro was, even then, considered a suitable alternative.
It is an example, according to sources, of the club becoming more « agile » in the market. Sources close to United insist Casemiro was always high up on their list of options if a deal for De Jong wasn’t possible and that negotiations moved quickly, not out of panic after a poor start to the season, but because he was keen to move .
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Defender Raphael Varane made a €48m move last summer after being part of a Real Madrid team, alongside Casemiro, that won the Champions League four times between 2014 and 2018.
« I know exactly what he feels and why he’s coming here after what he lived in Madrid, » said Varane. « He needs a new challenge, I know exactly what he feels, and I know exactly why he chose this club. It’s a similar process that I had so obviously I wish him the best. »
United have agreed to pay Real Madrid €70m with another €11m in add-ons, making it the second most expensive transfer fee paid for a player over the age of 30 after Cristiano Ronaldo’s €100m move from Real Madrid to Juventus in 2018.
Sources have told ESPN that Casemiro has instantly become one of the club’s highest-paid players and that his wage will increase « significantly » if United get back into the Champions League. Club sources insist the outlay will be worth it if Champions League football — and the revenue that comes with it — returns quickly while Ten Hag has been keen to stress that there is an added benefit to signing a player with so much experience.
« He has won so many trophies in his career, » he said. « He knows the road, how you win games and how you win trophies. We have more players who have already won trophies in their career. That has to be a guidance for the rest of the team so they know and understand how to win things . »
Leadership has become an issue early in Ten Hag’s reign with captain Harry Maguire dropped for the 2-1 win over Liverpool alongside the club’s most experienced player, Ronaldo, who is still keen to leave.
Ten Hag accused his team of being « naive » during the 4-0 defeat to Brentford and there is hope that Casemiro’s arrival will help a relatively young squad become a bit more streetwise. Sources have told ESPN there is a feeling that even after beating Liverpool there will be tough periods this season and that Casemiro is the type of character, along with Varane and Bruno Fernandes, who can be a steadying influence during runs of poor form.
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There is, though, a debate about whether Casemiro is the right man for Ten Hag’s system.
De Jong is a passer and the type of midfielder who can help a team press high up the pitch. Casemiro, meanwhile, is more comfortable playing deeper, breaking up attacks and giving the ball to the technical, more talented, attacking players.
It is more evidence that Casemiro is a compromise for Ten Hag but one that he couldn’t turn down. Sources have told ESPN the question he asked himself and assistants Steve McClaren and Mitchell van der Gaag was would the Brazilian improve the team? The answer they reached, along with Murtough and the recruitment department, was yes.
Regardless of age, wage and transfer fee, Casemiro has filled a desperate need for United in a position that was a problem long before Ten Hag arrived. For the Dutchman, it is a calculated risk he believes he needs to take to kickstart his first season in charge. If Casemiro makes United better, on and off the pitch, then it will have been worth it.