Manchester United will regret signing Casemiro instead of £115m Moises Caicedo or £105m Declan Rice.
That is according to a recent article in The Telegraph, which sets out a number of reasons why the writer believed The Red Devils made a big mistake in splashing out for the then-Real Madrid star, although most of his points come back to age. The author does also claim that the London pair’s deals for Rice and Caicedo make better financial sense that United’s acquisition of Casemiro, but there are a number of holes in this argument.
For one thing, the article’s assertion that Casemiro will cost United more money is factually incorrect. By combining total contract value and transfer fees paid to secure each player, the Brazilian actually comes out as the cheapest, with the total outlay from United standing at £138m.
As big a number as that is, Rice’s combined fee and contract price comes to £170m over five years, while Moises Caicedo tops the trio with a £177.4m outlay, although it must be said that his 8-year deal means that there is more ‘guaranteed’ longevity with his deal.
Of course, it is not just down to the next five (or eight) years and how much the players will cost over that period of time. The article – quite understandably – argues that United will need to replace Casemiro sooner than Arsenal and Chelsea will need to replace Rice and Caicedo. There is often a viewpoint that if a club signs a player in their early twenties, they will ‘sort out that position for a decade.’ In reality, this barely ever happens, and is happening even less in the modern era due to more players running down their contracts or agitating for moves. Furthermore, the assumption that the Brazil star is set for a sharp decline has very little basis.
Casemiro has missed just 3.2 matches per season over the last six years due to injury, missing none in his first term in England. While he is often perceived as the type of tough-tackling midfielder that should pick up injuries, so much of the United star’s game is about positional awareness and timing that he rarely puts himself in danger of serious harm. His ‘above shoulders’ footballing talent is what has made him the best defensive midfielder in the game right now, rather than his legs – which themselves have shown no sign of slowing down anyway.
Compare that to Moises Caicedo, who is a frightening midfielder to come up against himself. The Ecuadorian is fit as a flea and exceptionally dynamic, and while his intelligence in operating as a first-phase midfielder in possession is obvious, when it comes to protecting his back four he relies on his ability to physically dominate opponents. He may well be able to carry on doing this for the length of his 8-year contract without encountering injury issues, but we simply do not have enough data on the 21-year-old to just assume that he will.
Of course that argument does not work against Declan Rice, who has famously never missed a game through injury since joining West Ham’s senior side and, having been an established Premier League player for the last six years, we do have a good sample size to conclude that he is very dependable in terms of availability.
But few would seriously expect Rice to reach the levels that have been achieved by Casemiro. As good a player as Rice is, the setups in which he has been involved have always afforded him plenty of support. Moyes usually paired him with the hard-working Tomas Soucek while, for England, he has almost always played with two number eights – lately the experienced Jordan Henderson and the dynamic Jude Bellingham. Even Arsenal in their season opener saw it necessary to have Thomas Partey drifting in alongside him.
Casemiro, meanwhile, allowed Real Madrid to play with two midfielders whose first, second, and third priority was playmaking and creating chances. He then repeated the trick last year with Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen. He’ll probably end up doing it again this season with Fernandes and Mason Mount. With the exception of fellow Brazilian Fernandinho, the last decade has not seen another player capable of giving his manager the option to play with two genuine number tens ahead of him without getting a considerable amount of support from elsewhere. It’s freakish.
Now Casemiro may need some additional support as he ages, but United are still enjoying a better player now than Arsenal are ever likely to with Rice, and any assumption that United will need to replace their superstar “in two years” is unfounded. They do need to spend more in midfield to support their anchor, but the notion that all top-level careers stop at 32 is wide of the mark. The aforementioned Fernandinho was a first-team regular for Man City until he was 35, and a valued squad member for two seasons thereafter. With that as a benchmark, Casemiro could have plenty of time left.
Even aside from that, this entire argument ignores the fact that Rice and Caicedo were simply not available when Manchester United desperately needed a defensive midfielder, while Casemiro was. Had Erik ten Hag been forced to muddle through his maiden Premier League season relying on Scott McTominay to shield the defence, there is no telling where the team might have finished up.
Given the significant struggles United faced during the seven matches for which Casemiro was suspended, they likely would not have finished third. Given the Brazilian’s outstanding performance in the Carabao Cup final, they likely would have finished trophy-less. Given Ten Hag’s comments on the “big difference” he has seen between potential new signings having “reservations” about moving to Old Trafford last year and being “really keen to come” this, United probably wouldn’t have signed three players already.
The impact of Casemiro cannot yet be fully understood. What we have seen is just a snapshot, but in it we can see Champions League qualification, a trophy in the manager’s first season, and a significant increase in the attractiveness of the club to potential new signings. Man United may not have managed to secure any of these things had they not signed Casemiro.
So while Caicedo and Rice might end up playing in London for longer than Casemiro plays in Manchester, they will need to exceed all expectations to reach his level of impact for their own clubs.