“You’ll always be one of us,” said the club’s president Florentino Perez in a speech reflecting the admiration Casemiro is held in. The 18 trophies he won over his eight seasons with Madrid were all on display.
After an emotional morning of goodbyes, the Brazilian flew to Manchester, aiming to arrive in plenty of time to take a seat in the stands at Old Trafford for Monday night’s visit of Liverpool, and from there assess, close up, what awaits him at United. “A great club” as Casemiro called them.
He has accepted a stiff challenge, at the age of 30, and a major boost in salary, but will know that he cannot expect trophies to come to him there at the rate they did in Madrid.
Perez, who has banked for his club a transfer fee that could rise to €70m for a move he said Casemiro had “gained the right to choose”, recalled one of his first conversations with the 20-year-old midfielder Madrid had scouted in Sao Paulo, and an early impression of the same confidence United have invested in. “You said to me that if you were given five games, that would be enough to show your quality,” remembered Perez. “It wasn’t to be five - it would be 336, and you fought through every game as if it were your last.”
As it happens, Casemiro’s last game as a starter in a Madrid jersey finished with a man-of-the-match award in a European final, the Uefa Super Cup victory over Eintracht Frankfurt two weeks ago. Three months ago, he collected his fifth Champions League gold medal in Madrid’s 1-0 win in Paris against Liverpool.
In the aftermath of that triumph, Casemiro said, “the feeling was that it was time for a change, a new club, a new country, a new culture.” The principal motivation was not, the player insisted, the hefty salary that United offered: “Anybody who thinks I have left for money doesn’t know me.
“I want to get to know the Premier League from inside. I’m in as good form as any time in my career.”
Leaving would still be a wrench, Casemiro acknowledged. He singled out, in the Madrid family, the two colleagues with whom he has been most closely associated. No midfield unit in the modern game has been as successful over such a long period as Casemiro’s partnership with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. They won 17 trophies and played well over 200 games together, a peerless blend of vigilance and anticipation from the Brazilian, accuracy and vision from Kroos, allied with the energy and inspiration of Modric, now an ageless 36.
The close ties on the pitch spread beyond it, as Modric and Kroos recognised in very personal tributes. “You’re an exemplary professional,” the German told Casemiro, “a top player who rescued me again and again.” He joked about his teammates’ relentless work ethic. “With you, no one could even relax in the steam bath without being told it was time to go and do some weights. Your new teammates need to be warned!”
Modric cast his departing friend’s mind back to the day of Casemiro’s senior Madrid debut, in 2013. “You were so nervous and I told you to relax. I think about that when I look at how things worked out. You’re a true leader, and the best bodyguard in the world.”
Real win Uefa Super Cup
A tough act to follow, then, for the midfielders being groomed by Madrid to take over from the Casemiro-Modric-Kroos combination.
Casemiro was well aware of the club’s focus on covering his deeper role in particular. Aurelien Tchouameni, the 22-year-old French anchor midfielder was signed from Monaco for €80m earlier this summer. Edu Camavinga, Tchouameni’s compatriot, still only 19, joined 12 months earlier. “Madrid always sign the best,” said Casemiro, namechecking the two young Frenchmen, and adding his endorsement to Fede Valverde, the Uruguayan, 22. “Fede has 10 or 12 years ahead of him and can also play my role.”
Ahead of Casemiro are huge expectations at an unstable club in need of an able bodyguard in midfield, among new colleagues who could use the sort of rescuer Kroos paid homage to, and alongside up-and-coming United prospects who will appreciate a wise, tough, serial champion who, as Perez said “was a father to our younger players".
“The pressure here at Madrid is not easy,” the president told him, “but you rose to it.” The pressure where Casemiro is heading is no lighter.