Given the first year he had at Manchester United and the impact that he has had at the club both on and off the pitch, it’s odd to think that some fans of the club want Casemiro gone.
Yet, here we are.
It is approaching one year since Casemiro joined Manchester United following the 4-0 defeat away at Brentford, where fans felt it couldn’t get much lower – the ensuing year under Erik ten Hag has been the most positive year the club has had since Sir Alex Ferguson departed.
His arrival alone hugely boosted what was an incredibly low morale around the club. The sight of a genuine Galactico player being presented to Old Trafford before a game against Liverpool – one of United’s most important games in years – boosted the feeling.
Some were more sceptical and thought it was one last payday, but reports following his signing that Madrid players had rallied to club president Florentino Pérez to beg him to keep the player, only to be told that Casemiro himself made the decision to go, shut this idea down very fast.
Casemiro saw United as a challenge and one he wanted to take. He also wanted to feel a personal connection with the fans, which players do not get as much in Madrid. Throughout the season he was seen celebrating with fans frequently and passionately.
In his first few games, he did look slightly rusty. In general, he can be slightly erratic in possession at times, which is this group of fans’ main irk with him. They believe United cannot be the side Erik ten Hag wants them to be with Casemiro in the side.
But Casemiro has brought steel to United’s midfield that has not been present for a long time. The holding midfield position was long a weakness for United, and Erik ten Hag signed one of the best to fix this. He did it for a reason, too.
Ten Hag’s structure and how he sets United up to play can be very demanding off the ball. Casemiro has eased these demands on the players around him through his quality and presence off the ball.
His ability to kill off transitions is phenomenal. Defensively, he is one of the best players his position has ever seen and even past his peak now at United, he has shown this. His reading of play coupled with his physical qualities and aggressive mindset has seen him stop so many dangerous attacks against his side, sometimes even converting them into dangerous attacks for his side.
Sometimes this aggression can lead to issues, as we saw in the period of madness around February/March time with suspensions. But all in all, how he operates off the ball is an overwhelming net positive and the way in which he manages the spaces around him is actually something that will help United in their mission to become a more possession-dominant side.
Certain sections of the fanbase often fixate purely on a player’s technical level, which is highly important of course, but to actualise this dominance you also need players to control the game off the ball too. Manage the space around them, work hard, dominate their duels, etc. Casemiro does all of this and then some.
Then there is his leadership. Casemiro is constantly one of the most vocal players on the field, holding both his teammates and himself accountable and maintaining a high standard. He sets standards and then leads by example.
In the biggest moments, he has been one of the players who has stepped up for United, like in the EFL Cup final where he scored the opening goal or the FA Cup Semi-Final shootout, where he volunteered to take the first penalty and scored. This leadership has seen him become one of the squad leaders, even captaining one of the two XIs in the friendly against Arsenal.
To talk about this debate fairly though, both sides must be acknowledged. As mentioned previously, Casemiro can at times be erratic or loose with the ball, or play too directly, and for this reason, many fans want him completely replaced.
His passing accuracy at times has been too low for what you would like a player in his position to be doing, often going for the direct option where it would be better to play short and retain the ball. Sometimes under pressure, he can give it away cheaply, due to not being the most agile player, and this is frustrating. Whilst he has racked up good progressive numbers, breaking lines and switching play well, sometimes going forwards is not what is needed.
But, fans do not consider the tactical context when talking about this issue. Casemiro has been a direct passer because United have been a very direct team. With an incomplete squad and the profiles they have in certain areas, Ten Hag’s side has frequently leaned towards transitions.
With one of the best transitional threats in world football in Marcus Rashford in attack, often United look to find him behind at every opportunity. This is one of the main reasons for Casemiro’s verticality and directness on the ball, he is looking to play the pass in behind. As United as a team slow down, it is more likely that Casemiro also slows down in this regard too.
If you go back and look at his seasons at Real Madrid, a team who were able to control the ball better than United currently, his passing accuracy numbers were significantly better (via FBref). He was attempting and completing more passes in all of these seasons, specifically short passes where the only season he completed less per 90 than 2022/23 was 2020/21.
At Real Madrid, he had Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić who handled more of the possession work. Not to say that the Brazilian was uninvolved – this would be untrue – but those two eased the burden on him and provided him with some support on the ball, whilst his qualities off the ball helped to enable them to do what they did.
This is the entire purpose of a team, to work together. Allow players to focus on their strengths and cover each others’ weaknesses. Some consider this a negative, and if the weakness is that glaring and holding the team back then it becomes one, but players are not perfect. Each player will have some kind of weakness, and teammates should complement one another.
United’s current problem is that they are expecting Casemiro to be Toni Kroos, he is given too much responsibility on the ball and not enough support. Ideally, Mason Mount would drop in and help Casemiro out more, allowing Bruno Fernandes to remain higher up the field and do what he does best.
Once back from injury, Kobbie Mainoo would make for a good Casemiro partner – something Erik ten Hag seemed to be looking at in the Madrid friendly. Despite impressing as a six or double pivot in pre-season, his best position is playing as a number eight next to a six like Casemiro. Potential signing Sofyan Amrabat could also play this secondary central midfield role.
One narrative that has been paraded around on Twitter to defend the negative stance on Casemiro is that no player should be free from criticism and the team comes first. This statement is true, but it has been used largely as a cop-out to try and hide agendas rather than genuinely having the club’s best interests at heart. People pick and choose when to apply it.
There are genuine criticisms one can make of Casemiro’s game, and many have had these discussions rationally and fairly. He does need to be more secure with the ball, and to start slowing down play a little more rather than going direct so often. This will play a large part in the team as a whole slowing down. He also needs to be slightly less rash in challenges at times.
But anyone who denies the overwhelming net positive Casemiro is to Manchester United, is not truthful nor rational. Since joining the club, he has helped to restore a feeling long missing at Old Trafford, significantly strengthened the spine of the team – improving the players around him, helped to raise the standards on and off the field, connected with the fans, made a once-weakness in the side a great strength, helped to end a five-year trophy drought, established himself as a leader who has been there in the big moments, and so much more.
At 31 years of age now, he was never signed to be United’s long-term number six. What he was brought in to do was to improve the team here and now, which he has inarguably done. Any long-term concerns are on the club to address with signings, which given how Erik ten Hag has operated so far does not look to be a concern right now.
The majority of United fans see, and greatly appreciate, the incredible impact Casemiro has made at United. They also see that he has some flaws, but recognise that his positive impact outweighs those. He is not perfect but it should be hoped that he can improve, because as those with agendas like to say to defend themselves – the team comes first, and Casemiro is a hugely important part of that team.
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