As Manchester United bypassed Brighton in the semi-finals of the FA Cup at Wembley to stage an all-Manchester final in June, Casemiro was key to his side’s fortunes.
Playing in his favoured deep-lying defensive midfield position, the Brazilian overcame a relatively below-par first-half performance by his exceptionally high standards to produce a towering display in the second half as well as extra time.
Casemiro, who in a show of gallant leadership volunteered to take the first penalty in the ensuing shootout, also made no mistake from the spot as he guided his effort beyond a diving Robert Sanchez.
However, an all-too-similar problem reared its ugly head again – Casemiro’s disciplinary record.
The 31-year-old was booked during the opening 45 minutes for a foul on Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister. Casemiro’s latest booking was his 11th for the season in all competitions.
No other player in England’s top flight has accumulated more bookings that the United number 18. In his impressive debut season at Old Trafford, the former Real Madrid star has also picked up two red cards.
At Wembley against the Seagulls, Casemiro’s early booking meant that he walked a tightrope all game, and he did so successfully. He only committed one foul after the warning despite being a defensive colossus in the middle of the park.
While United fans would have been thankful that the Brazil international kept a cool head and stayed in the game, questions remain over Casemiro’s disciplinary record. Is he simply unable to avoid being on the wrong end of refereeing decisions, or does he have a target on his back?
Spanish publication Sport notes that during the eight years he played for Real Madrid, the midfielder was never sent off as a result of a straight red card.
The ex-Madridista was only ever given his marching orders twice while at the Santiago Bernabeu, on both occasions for two yellows.
Sport reveals on these two previous incidents in Spain, “The first was during Real Valladolid – Real Madrid on matchday 27 of La Liga during the 2018-2019 season after having committed a total of 308 fouls. It was for a double yellow (the second card for hindering a free kick).”
“The second was on April 10, 2021, in a Madrid-Barça match. Casemiro was shown yellow in the 89th minute for cutting off a counter by Messi and the second, a minute later, for a tough tackle on Mingueza. The game was 2-1 for los Blancos before the sending off and that’s how it ended.”
Is Casemiro at fault for his record in England, or is he is simply an unlucky victim of poor officiating? The truth lies somewhere in between.
While referees have made a number of dubious decisions that have seen Casemiro go into the book, the midfielder’s temperament and lack of composure in some instances do not help his cause.
Andre Marriner’s decision to prematurely end Casemiro’s involvement in proceedings against Crystal Palace back in February for a perceived altercation with Will Hughes was nothing short of a disgraceful decision.
Despite the fact that Marriner and the VAR officials enjoyed the benefit of video technology and numerous camera angles, he deemed the United man to have had his hands around Hughes’s neck during a heated scrap between United and Palace stars.
Numerous videos of the incident later emerged on social media that discounted the referee’s thinking of the matter.
Ten Hag blasted the decision to send off Casemiro at the time. The seething Dutchman told reporters after the game, “I see two teams fighting each other. I see two teams where several players crossed the line, and one player is picked out and gets sent off. For me, that’s not right.”
“Casemiro is protecting our player and also protecting the player who wants to attack. He is holding him back – he is protecting him. He doesn’t want to hurt him.”
Against Southampton in March, Casemiro was shown red again for a high-challenge tackle on Carlos Alcaraz. The result of his sending-off was he instantly became ineligible for the Red Devils’ next four domestic games against Fulham, Newcastle, Brentford and Everton.
This time, it was Anthony Taylor who showed Casemiro red after initially brandishing a yellow card. After conducting a review on the pitchside monitor, Taylor revised his decision.
Like the first time, Ten Hag made no secret of his displeasure with the constant targeting of his team’s midfield general.
“Casemiro played over 500 games in Europe and never once got a red card,” Ten Hag remarked. “Now he has two in the Premier League. His absence is not the issue. We will deal with that. This game was influenced by the referee.”
Former Liverpool star Graeme Souness insisted a few months back that Casemiro is a targetted figure amongst referees and it is hard to argue against this conclusion.
Nevertheless, some of Casemiro’s bookings, especially yellow cards, have been consequences of his own making. His record in Spain was set while playing for a team that was the best in the world most of the time, in a league where the standard is generally lower, and the pace of the game slower, than the Premier League. Simply put, he has to adapt and no longer enjoys the same freedoms.
For Casemiro, his greatest task now lies in cultivating a clean reputation and dispelling the notion that he is a master of the dark arts.
His teammates can help in this regard. They must shoulder more defensive responsibilities and drastically reduce the number of times the five-time Champions League winner is required to come up with game-saving interventions.
In the same vein as he did against Brighton on Sunday, Casemiro must also endeavour to cut out delving into reckless tackles and duels that only serve to place him in awkward situations with referees.
Ten Hag will undoubtedly also try to dissuade referees from targetting his main man. The United boss has already proven that he is not beyond publicly calling out injustice levelled at his players.