Casemiro is the key to Manchester United’s resurgence- but I still don’t think he’s world class!

January 15, 2023

When Casemiro signed for Manchester United in August, I called him a ‘Steady Eddie’. Maybe this gave the impression that I did not think he was up to much. I tell you, I would have been more than happy to be called a ‘Steady Eddie’.

It would mean I was consistent, doing something well every week that would get me a 7 or 7.5 out of 10 – that is what I see in Casemiro. For me, he’s the single biggest reason why the team have settled down and go into today’s Manchester derby having won their last eight in all competitions.

If you had asked Erik Ten Hag what his number one priority was earlier in the season, I’d think it would have been to stop conceding stupid goals. Casemiro, in his defensive midfield role, has gone a long way to correcting that.

I did question the fee they paid, £60million rising to £70m for a 30-year-old. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure the fee was so daft. He looks like someone who never has a bad game. His old Real Madrid team-mate, Luka Modric, played in a World Cup semi-final last month aged 37, and you feel Casemiro might be around for a while yet.

My best football was the season when I was 31, my last year at Liverpool. I played the same position and had a similar physique to Casemiro, so his best football could also still be in front of him.

Perhaps you’d expect me to say this, but that position on the field is greatly undervalued, too. If you are good, it is about not wanting to be the star of the show. It is about doing the stuff that the untrained eye does not see.

Little things, like taking a couple of steps to stop a pass into a centre-forward. Like staying on your feet at the right time rather than going to ground.

It is the job your fellow professionals truly appreciate. Right now, in the Premier League, Casemiro is doing that better than anyone. The previous best was Fernandinho at Manchester City. I thought he was exceptional.

Do I think Casemiro is world class? My definition of that is a player who gets in every team in the world, and I’m not sure he does. Real Madrid, obviously, decided that there is someone better in that position and chose to sell him.

He is very good at everything, without necessarily being great. He knows where to be at the right time defensively. He can pass the ball. He is chipping in with the odd goal – and so a midfielder should – and is just a very good, all-round footballer.

I said to Jamie Redknapp recently when we were working on TV, when I come back in the next life, I want to be a centre-half with a midfield in front of me who are really good at pressing. Then, you spend most matches with a cigar in your mouth. You would like to have Casemiro in front of you in that regard.

Has he been better than I expected? I don’t think so. I knew what he would bring. But I stand by my point, no-one buys a season-ticket because Casemiro is playing. It’s called the engine-room for a reason – you’re often doing the dirty stuff. On reflection, he is exactly what Man United needed more than any of their other signings.