United’s current status is exemplified by their late, expensive pivot to lure the veteran Real Madrid midfielder to Old Trafford as part of a reactive transfer mad dash.
Casemiro plays football at a high level. Together with Luka Modri and Toni Kroos, he formed one of the best midfields in football history, winning five Champions Leagues in the process. Manchester United has been in need of a top-tier holding midfielder for years, so he could prove to be a fantastic acquisition for the team. However, the club’s lack of organization has reached such a state that his signing only serves to highlight the problem.
It seems like every choice United makes contradicts the one before it. As manager, why did Erik ten Hag get hired? Perhaps it was due to the fact that he had already proven to be successful with a high-pressing style of play based on the Total Football philosophy during his time at Ajax. It appeared that, at long last, United had realized it was time to upgrade. United’s roster now features more than a quarter of the players who helped Real Madrid win back-to-back Champions League titles in 2017 and ’18, and that team most definitely did not engage in high-pressing, Ajax-style football.
It could make sense to add Casemiro at this time in the team’s history when reinforcements are sorely needed. But what should ten Hag do? David de Gea, his goalkeeper, completed the fewest passes of any Premier League goalkeeper last season, further complicating his efforts to impose his philosophy, and Cristiano Ronaldo, his star forward, not only refuses to press but actively tries to deflect training away from pressing drills. Who needs ten Hag if he gives in so easily? In what is he engaged? In contrast, if he does not, things will devolve into chaos, as they did last Saturday in Brentford.
Including Raphael Varane, those three ex-Real Madrid players have a combined age of 96. It’s clear that they haven’t done any forward thinking here. It doesn’t seem like much of an attempt at planning. United spent the majority of the summer trying to sign Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona. De Jong had previously played for ten Hag at Ajax. He is the kind of player who could serve as ten Hag’s United’s foundation. After failing to sign him, United looked elsewhere for a new midfielder and settled on Adrien Rabiot. When negotiations on that player stalled, United turned to Casemiro, an entirely different type of midfielder.
For a person of 30 years of age, a reported fee of $60 million plus an additional $10 million in add-ons is enormous. He’ll make history as the second-most expensive person in his 30s (after Ronaldo, when he joined Juventus). Career lengths for football players are increasing. There may be no need to worry about that. However, football players over the age of 30 are more vulnerable to injury. There is almost no market for them. That sum of $70.0 million cannot be recovered.
The winger from Ajax, Antony, has been linked to United once more. After reportedly rejecting a $80 million offer, one must wonder why the remaining $150 million is being spent so quickly. As opposed to waiting until two games into the season, when the team is struggling at the bottom of the standings, it could have been used in preseason to help new signings adjust to the team dynamic.
Once again, it appears that ten Hag is only able to recruit well-known, veteran players or people he knows from the Eredivisie. What about a scouting group at United? If so, what does it do, if anything at all? It doesn’t find any hidden discounts, that’s for sure. Liverpool’s last signing in his 30s was Ragnar Klavan in 2016. Bacary Sagna, who joined Manchester City in 2014, was the club’s last signing in his 30s. Well-managed teams typically don’t take on veterans. (On the other hand, Real Madrid, the selling club, already has players in place who can take over for Casemiro.)
United, on the other hand, is not a club that is well-organized. Perhaps these interim steps are required to get things moving in a direction that seems to be heading in the right direction while ten Hag plans for the future. Since the beginning of last year, Casemiro and Fred have started 10 games together for Brazil. If their success on the international stage has any effect, it may be felt on the club level as well. One can hope that this is the start of a new era for Manchester United, one in which they finally begin to win games, put an end to their recent losing streak, and begin to pave the way for the ten Hag project.
If that’s the case, though, when did you first think of this strategy? When was that? Three? When it comes to making plans for the future, the Glazers have shown zero aptitude. What makes anyone think that things are about to get going now? There must be a better explanation for why this quick fix will pay off in the long run rather than requiring yet another quick fix in the near future. United has gotten itself into this jam because of a focus on the short term and a failure to articulate a long-term vision.
That’s the point at which United now finds itself. A disorganized performance is to be anticipated even if the team is able to sign talented players who fill an obvious void on the roster.
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