Serial winner Casemiro leads Brazilian beat at heart of Man United revival under Ten Hag

Former Real Madrid midfielder - along with countrymen Fred and Antony - playing key roles at start of what looks like exciting new era under Dutch manager

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Manchester United midfielder Casemiro has won five Champions League titles and been champion of the world three times with Real Madrid, too. There are more trophies – many more – for this proven winner from Sao Paulo state.

He’s won the last nine finals he’s been involved in, including a 2017 European Super Cup triumph against Manchester United, when he scored. He was also man of the match in the last European Super Cup in August 2022. He is a serial winner.

The English League Cup is not as important as any of those trophies, but he celebrated his first English and United trophy on Sunday so much that a Brazilian journalist asked for an explanation.

“I celebrate like this because I'm enjoying it here,” he smiled. “I left a great club, came to England and people wondered why … and moments like these are the answer. It’s one more trophy for me and we all know this is only the beginning, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. I welcome it regardless of the competition.”

Casemiro, who turned 31 last week, has quickly become Manchester United’s most important player, not least because he is utterly driven to win again and again and again.

“Who already knows me understands I go after the ball as if it’s a plate of food,” he said. “This is my character, that didn't happen because it was a final or whatever. I attack every ball as if it was the last one.”

He believes United are firmly heading in the right direction.

“We’re growing and gaining respect in this country, but it’s early days and we have to keep improving,” Casemiro said in the Wembley mixed zone after the game. “We can't hide there are teams ahead of us like Manchester City and Arsenal, we must deal with this reality, but we're understanding our manager's philosophy and we will keep growing.

“My history has always been about winning since I was a kid, so here it isn't any different. I’m here to help my teammates and Manchester United.”

The Brazil flags in the United end at Wembley show what the fans think of their Brazilian contingent from which three Brazilian internationals started on Sunday against Newcastle United.

Another of those three has no doubt who is responsible for this early success. “Erik is essential,” said Antony, who played under Ten Hag at Ajax. “His energy, confidence, intelligence, and strategy are incredible.

“Everything he tells us before the match does happen on the pitch, so he’s part of this. It's my third trophy alongside him, we hugged after the match and he said there's more to come. We have the same mentality.”

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The mentality feeding down from the manager has helped turned a side around. United were dreadful a year ago and finished the season sixth, with no trophies and only 58 points – 35 points behind champions Manchester City. They were eliminated from all three cup competitions at Old Trafford and lost seven consecutive away games coming into this season.

Now, United have won the League Cup and sit third in the Premier League with 49 points from 24 games – 2.04 points per game. It was 1.55 last season. And they are getting better, both in the cups and in the league. Chelsea have scored only six goals in all competitions since November, United have scored 50. The defence that leaked six goals in the first two league games is now renowned for clean sheets.

One League Cup doesn’t mean United are back, but it points in the right direction, just as did the win in the same competition in 2006. A league title followed the next season, then the Champions League and Club World Cup championship in 2008. That is Casemiro territory.

The manager, who, like his unmourned predecessor Ralf Rangnick, was appointed by John Murtough and Darren Fletcher, is winning plaudits all round.

As Brazilian midfielder Fred said after the Wembley win: “All of us embrace his ideas. He's strict with details like punctuality, eating, sleep. On the pitch, tactically, everyone is seeing now what he is capable of. He's one of the people that deserve the most this trophy.”

It was Fred’s first silverware at United since joining in 2018.

“This trophy has a great importance after what we’ve lived in the past years, especially last season,” he said. “We are extremely happy today. It's my fifth season here and this title means a lot to me and to the club’s way back to the top. We have a lot to fight for this season yet.”

Can United win the Premier League this season? “For sure,” said Fred. “We know Arsenal and City are great teams but we have our means to fight for it. Our momentum is very good, so why not? We have three competitions left and will fight for each one of them.”

A first league title in a decade is improbable but under Ten Hag the belief that has been noticeably lacking is there that all is possible at least.

Updated: February 28, 2023, 1:02 PM