Just a few short years after his departure to Celtic, it was already an established trope that Manchester United were desperately in need of a ‘Roy Keane figure’ in the middle of the park.
By the time Casemiro joined last August, for a fee reportedly worth £70m, including add-ons, it had become one of the most enduring cliches in British football.
In between the Irishman’s reign and the arrival of the multiple Champions League-winning Brazilian, the Red Devils turned to an array of midfielders to boss the Old Trafford centre-circle, usually to little avail.
As the club flailed and floundered post-Ferguson, the sight of Marouane Fellaini churning up the turf gave their struggles a comedic edge. In later years Fred and Scott McTominay forged a partnership that was less than the sum of its parts.
And throughout this time, United lost their fear factor and lost too often at home, those two things not entirely being unrelated.
In 2020/21, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United lost six times all season, with all six defeats suffered on familiar soil, one of which was an absolute pasting courtesy of Tottenham.
At a ground that was once mythicised as a ‘Theatre of Dreams’; a ground that used to reduce opponent’s legs to jelly and have managers set their sides up as a 5-4-1, it was now routine for visiting teams to impose themselves, stamping their authority on proceedings and nowhere was this more shocking to see than in midfield, an area that used to see Keane – along with Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes – rule the roost for many a year.
Casemiro has unquestionably changed all of this, if not single-handedly then certainly doing more than most in helping the Reds reclaim a status and stature that appeared to be long gone.
From making his debut at Southampton in late-August, United have lost only once across all competitions at home while in a broader context his influence and importance to Erik Ten Hag’s nascent creation is undeniable in a statistical sense.
In the 20 league games in which he’s featured, United have averaged 1.9 points-per-90. In the seven he’s missed, that notably dips to 1.2.
🚨🇧🇷 Casemiro's agent Óscar Ribot:— UtdPlug (@UtdPlug) April 12, 2023
"Taking football away from Case is like taking food from his table, it’s like he can’t live, can’t breathe. He wakes up thinking about football and goes to bed thinking about football." @guardian_sport #MUFC 🔴 pic.twitter.com/OVM0ZhgOzu
Yet it is too simplistic to suggest that a player who may well become one of the best midfielders in Premier League history has been responsible for adding bite into United’s engine-room, along with displaying leadership qualities that was previously sorely lacking.
Where United have also fallen short in recent years is providing creativity from deep, with passes from ‘McFred’ and company far too predictable and too often astray.
Here, the former Real Madrid man has really come into his own, blessed with that rare ability to conjure up a through-ball even if deprived of space or time.
Within the United set-up only keeper David De Gea has contributed more accurate long balls than the 31-year-old this term, his class regularly setting Marcus Rashford free and altering the live betting odds in a flash.
Factor in too his presence, not to mention a vast wealth of experience of playing at the very highest level, and Casemiro is looking like a steal at £70m.
He has transformed the mentality, application, and regard of a major club that was recently on its knees. That is priceless.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to AP Photo*