Carabao Cup final hero Casemiro bucks trend of Manchester United’s big-name transfer flops

Casemiro headed the opening goal in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final, masterfully delivering Luke Shaw’s free-kick home to set Manchester United on their way to a 2-0 win over Newcastle United at a riotous Wembley.

From that point on there was little doubt that the end of a six-year trophy drought was near – a ridiculous way to describe such a short span by most metrics, but for a club of Man United’s formidable stature it was a definite one fallow time.

Jose Mourinho won that trophy and the Europa League in 2017 but it proved to be one of several false dawns in the post-Alex Ferguson era. This one feels different.

Marcus Rashford’s titanic goalscoring streak has grabbed the headlines and Erik ten Hag’s pivotal start in life in the Old Trafford dugout has evidently changed everything.

But as the confetti rained down at England’s national stadium, Casemiro once again felt like the glue holding it all together on a rolling wave of optimism.

Beyond that, none of this seemed inevitable. When the 31-year-old hastily joined a deal worth up to £70m from Real Madrid in August, he seemed to have far more in common with the shaky underperformance of the last decade than a bold new tomorrow.

Graeme Souness’s explanation that Casemiro was nothing more than a “consistent Eddie” who had “never been a great player” sounded ridiculous at the time and had aged like milk left outside in a Sao Paulo summer. But there were reasons not to be too enthusiastic.

Frenkie de Jong was Ten Hag’s main target, the player he would build his midfield around. A summer of back-and-forths with Barcelona and the Netherlands international fizzled and as the deadline approached Man United splurged on a vastly different profile of a player on the wrong side of 30, high wages and with the crowning successes of his career almost certainly behind him.

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From Angel Di Maria to Alexis Sanchez through to and including the ill-conceived return of Cristiano Ronaldo, United’s often lavish transfer business featured big names in its failing years with big pay packages whose reputations were secure. These men didn’t seem to fit into any bigger plans than the marketing department.

Casemiro, the third member of Real Madrid’s midfield to dominate the Champions League alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, felt like an obligation to fit into United’s trend of bloated misdirection.

He didn’t because he just wouldn’t allow himself to. Still, he’s not the archetypal Ten Hag footballer – can you imagine De Jong ever completing 58.3% of his passes under any circumstances, let alone being named man of the match in a Wembley final? — Casemiro sets a standard that few others can match, yet has the elite quality to uphold his example for younger teammates.

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How many cup finals has Casemiro won?

Casemiro extended his phenomenal record in Sunday’s final to 15 of 17 wins. Another of these was a goal by the Brazilian – his strike in the 2018 Champions League final win over Juventus gave Real Madrid a 2-1 lead.

But there’s a lot more to his game than just goals, making him a man for big occasions. Just before half-time on Sunday he doggedly drove the ball wide for a goal kick, leaving compatriot Joelinton on the ground and rousing a throaty roar from the Man United fans behind the goal.

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Some players feel comfortable after multiple successes and others are driven by them and never want to be on the other side of the equation. Casemiro undoubtedly falls into the latter category.

“I think everyone is much better this season than last season, starting with me,” said Bruno Fernandes on the eve of the final. “I think everyone is pretty much more confident, more capable, more consistent and doing what it takes to make the team win.

“The intensity [Ten Hag] wants, the runs he wants, the idea of ​​football he wants. I think he brought the people he knew would fit into his ideas and I think they all fit really well.”

Nobody in the Man United squad, with an honorable mention for the superb Lisandro Martinez, fits Casemiro so well.

The swashbuckling football that Ten Hag oversaw at Ajax is becoming more common and their pressing is not only more dedicated but also more intelligent.

MORE: Erik ten Hag scooped trophies at Ajax, Manchester United as he lifted League Cup with Red Devils

Still, the Dutchman’s United success to date has been largely based on rejuvenating and improving stars who have been on the wane.

Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka might not be Ten Hag’s ideal players, but the full-back duo have both been on a somber trot. Fred has completed his march from joke figure to cult hero and Rashford has drained the well of superlatives since the World Cup.

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All are individual improvements that come from taking on the manager’s message and taking responsibility. Casemiro is also the flag bearer in the latter case.

As Ten Hag’s tenure sees more success, there will be more stylish and box-office hits to make it their own. But if trophy number one is the first of many, Casemiro will rightly be remembered as the cornerstone.

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