Erik ten Hag has been waxing lyrical about Casemiro, describing him as “a magnificent player”.
Speaking at the pre-match press conference ahead of today’s Premier League clash with Liverpool, the boss was asked about the number 18 telling off Bruno Fernandes after the final whistle of last Sunday’s Carabao Cup final for not passing the ball to Jadon Sancho when through on goal.
“The players, they have the approach that good is not good enough. It was 2-0 so we could have won 3-0 if we make better decisions,” Ten Hag explained.
“And I think it’s about that and it’s good that players take each other in responsibility and set high standards and set high demands to each other and control them.
“So then sometimes you need a correction or you need a discussion so that player is aware of his responsibilities.”
Casemiro, who was voted into FIFA’s FIFPRO world’s best team last week, is a huge factor in United’s transformation under Ten Hag. According to The Times’ Jonathan Northcroft, “A veteran club employee, viewing the impact from the inside, terms the Brazilian ‘our most important signing since Eric Cantona’”, and on current form, it is hard to disagree.
Asked if he had ever managed a player with such high standards before, Ten Hag said he had done so at Ajax but that “definitely Casemiro in this team, he is such a leader and he is so important for us.
“Not only with his performances, skills, like scoring a goal, or his header, or like linking up or intercepting balls. Organisation, the mentality, the culture,” he explained, before adding “we are so happy that we signed him.”
Casemiro’s presence has undoubtedly been as transformative of the mentality and culture, as Ten Hag says, as performances on the pitch, something that his close friend and mentor, Ribiot, claims to have promised to United when they signed him.
“I personally told Manchester United they were signing not only the best defensive midfielder in the world, but the player who was going to change the locker room, the atmosphere and the dimension of the club,” The Times quotes him as saying.
“Casemiro has only one secret and it’s called work. He lives by football and for football, and if he has an objective it’s to return Manchester United to the place it belongs. He is going to give his life for this badge.”
This was also suggested by Ten Hag, who said United’s recruitment policy in the summer specifically targeted players with character.
“There are a lot of players in the world that have great skills. So technical approach or they can run really fast,” he said.
“But we are looking for players who have character. Players who have personality, who have leadership, who take responsibility, who are resilient.”
“I knew what a magnificent player he was [when I signed him]. Just look through his profile. You see all the cups he won and that’s not [a] coincidence… it’s not like all of a sudden.
“You have players who win, and win always, and players who lose and always lose … you have to do your research and find that type who will win and who are co-operative in the dressing room to be humble but when they are on the pitch they take responsibility.”
The general reaction to Casemiro’s arrival at Old Trafford could best be described as “bemused” by a fanbase that had been expecting a very different style of player, Frenkie de Jong, all summer. Casemiro had not even been one of the hundreds of names being churned around the transfer rumour mill.
The same fans had been crying out for a top defensive midfielder for years but the famine had continued for so long that it seemed they had almost forgotten why they had been making such demands in the first place.
Having spent most of his career at Real, with just a loan spell at FC Porto his only other European experience, the same fans may have wondered just how good a player he was, given the successful side that had been surrounding him.
By making the move to United, he has been able to answer that question emphatically.
“Casemiro has even stirred a debate on Brazilian Twitter about whether he is actually his generation’s best Brazilian player — not Neymar,” Northcroft notes.
“That would have been unthinkable until recently.”
It was, for sure, already known throughout the football world that Casemiro was a great player. But perhaps what was not known is just how great a player he really is.
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