It should not have taken this long for a club of Manchester United’s grandeur and resources to bring in a player of Casemiro’s quality to the heart of midfield.
While their rivals populated the key anchor role with world-class talent – Fernandinho and Rodri at Manchester City, Fabinho at Liverpool and N’Golo Kante at Chelsea - United have spent, and wasted on the whole, more than £1 billion in the post Alex Ferguson era on a host of ill-fitting players in other positions, and made do with a central midfield not fit for purpose.
As is the case in many aspects of their transfer policy, United seem to have got there in the end, years after their rivals. Eyebrows were raised at the fee shelled out for a 30-year-old in the summer, even more so after Casemiro’s poor control led to Everton’s opener on Sunday. But over the course of the next 85 minutes, the Brazilian showed United fans what their side had been missing, for far too long.
It just did not make any logical sense. What good did it do spending £90 million on Paul Pogba when he was forced to play alongside Scott McTominay, or splashing the cash on Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid when he had Daley Blind as his defensive option behind him?
McTominay and Blind are good players in their own right, and have had successful careers on the international stage, but neither are of Fernandinho’s class, or could hold a candle to the breathless defensive work-rate of Kante.
What’s more, the fact both have been utilised as central defenders for their respective countries tells you all you need to know about their stock in midfield.
A bizarre neglect of such a key position stretches back further, even in the successful final years of Ferguson’s tenure. Wayne Rooney, England and United’s all-time top goalscorer, often found himself deployed in central midfield, with the club citing Rooney’s passing range as the reason for such a move.
What would have made more sense was to keep a master of his craft in his preferred position, where he had spent a lifetime garnering record results, and bought a specialist, metronomic anchor.
Everton v Manchester United player ratings
It is of course too early to tell if Casemiro will be a hit in this United side who flutter between catastrophe and renaissance week by week, and are up against Omonia Nicosia in the Europa League on Thursday night. But in his first Premier League start at Everton, he showed a defensive nous conspicuous by its absence in the red half of Manchester for a decade, or more.
United took their time to unleash the five-time Champions League winner on the English top flight. While rumours circulated Casemiro arrived short of fitness, ill-equipped to cope with the rigours of the supposed best league on the planet, The National understands there were no such concerns, and the club simply afforded McTominay time in the starting XI after his impressive start to the season.
It did not start well at Goodison, those sharpness fears heightening after Casemiro was caught on the ball in a dangerous position in the run-up to Alex Iwobi’s opener. Had United been duped into thinking a player at this stage of his career could be the long-awaited solution to a decade of midfield inferiority?
The 85 minutes that followed put such fears to bed. Casemiro made four tackles at Goodison – no United midfielder has made more in a single match this season – while he also won possession more often than any player on the pitch.
It was not a perfect full league debut by any stretch. Coupled with his early error, Casemiro lost possession more often than anyone in red, but given many of these passes were attempts to instigate attacks with penetrative pick-outs, he can be forgiven.
The pass into Cristiano Ronaldo for the game-clinching goal came from a very familiar source, after Casemiro had leapt into a tackle to win possession. The Brazilian already has as many league assists as McTominay managed all last term - dynamism not lost on his new manager.
“Casemiro will anticipate quickly and you saw how important he is," Erik ten Hag said after the match. “He is composed and wins a lot of balls and he grew into the game. I am so pleased.”
Now for the dreaded consistency. The early Casemiro effect signs are good and given some proper back four protection, at last, United can become a different proposition altogether.