Erik ten Hag has encouraged Manchester United to sign a central midfielder from one of La Liga’s best clubs this summer. Instead of landing Frenkie de Jong, the arrival of Casemiro appears to be far more plausible.
United claims that a move for De Jong is still on the table, but it is widely accepted that if a deal for Real Madrid’s midfielder can be agreed upon instead, the pursuit of the Dutchman will no longer be financially viable this year.
The fact that United sees Casemiro as a midfield option so late in the transfer window demonstrates their scattergun attitude, and while he would meet the team’s need for a defensive midfielder, it raises the issue of who genuinely wants him.
Going from De Jong, a player trained on Johan Cruyff’s Total Football philosophy, to Casemiro, a no-nonsense midfield peacemaker, is like going to rehome a Labrador and returning with a Rottweiler. It’s difficult to understand how he was ever a comparable alternative.
Casemiro would still be a major improvement over United’s current alternatives and would not be a horrible addition to their roster, but at the age of 30, it raises questions about the long-term plan, or rather, the lack thereof.
Similar to the arrival of Nemanja Matic in 2017, United would be gaining a clear short-term upgrade for their team but a player who would most certainly need to be replaced in two or three seasons.
Ten Hag’s need for quick improvement makes this an acceptable acquisition to relieve pressure following a disastrous start to the season, albeit it is undoubtedly a reactionary decision after failing to sign De Jong or Adrien Rabiot.
United must also recognize that Real Madrid is also selling Casemiro. A year ago, the signing of Raphael Varane appeared to be a stroke of genius, but his subsequent injury problems have revealed that the La Liga winners recognized he had a limited shelf life and that it was wiser to sell him and reinvest their money. They sold the Frenchman for £42 million and offset his loss by signing David Alaba on a free transfer last year and Antonio Rudiger this year.
They will be pleased to sell Casemiro this summer because they have already started their midfield rebuilding effort by signing Eduardo Camavinga last year and Aurelien Tchouameni this year.
His perspective exit also comes at a time when current colleague Federico Valverde, who learned his trade from the Brazil international, is currently playing at a high level, reducing the need to keep him.
That is an excellent example of how to replace a departed player. Madrid signed one promising young player last summer and gave him a year to adjust before adding another this summer, who will have significantly less pressure to hit the ground running.
United had considered approaches for Camavinga and Tchouameni, but instead of signing two of Europe’s greatest young players, they are attempting to sign the veteran they have replaced.
Casemiro is a step forward for United, but he is not a long-term solution. They could have realized that if they had a plan.