Casemiro could be leaving Man Utd - but does it make sense to let him go?
Reports suggest that Casemiro could be headed to Saudi Arabia - but would it be the right move for Manchester United?
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Fresh reports have emerged over the past couple of days that Casemiro, the Brazilian midfielder who transformed Manchester United last season after signing from Real Madrid, could be a target for the Saudi Pro League in the near future - and that United are happy to consider letting him go.
On the surface, that would seem like a strange move. He signed for a fee of around £60m just last summer and had a huge impact on Erik ten Hag's team, elevating their midfield and making all the difference as United finished third in the table and qualified for the Champions League. Most would argue that he was their player of the season.
But could it still make sense to move him on already? Let's take a look at both the financial and sporting sides of a potential deal and see whether saying a swift farewell to Casemiro could be reasonable, or whether it would amount to another mistake in the transfer market by a team who have made a fair few in recent years...
Is Casemiro still crucial to Manchester United's midfield?
The best place to start is to ask whether Casemiro is still as influential as he was last season, or whether that has been a drop-off in his performances - and frankly, there has been. His pass completion rate has actually improved by a few percentage points, but that's about the only area in which there has been an improvement. He's making fewer key passes and creating fewer shooting chances, while also making fewer tackles at a worse success rate.
But is that because the 31-year-old is declining, or because Ten Hag is using him differently? His touch maps may tell a story here - he's seeing the ball far less often in the defensive third (making four fewer touches close to his own goal per game compared to last season) but is also picking the ball up 5.5 times more often per match in the final third. He's clearly been given a more aggressive detail - and that seems to be part of the problem.
The Brazilian seems to have been asked to play closer to the opponent's goal, and just isn't as influential in those areas of the pitch. He's always been better at generating turnovers than creating chances, so it seems strange that he would be stationed so much further up the field, where he's less effective and can't protect the defence in the same efficient way that he did last year.
Given his relatively advanced age, it's plausible that he is tailing off slightly anyway, but running the numbers makes it look a lot like he's simply spending less time doing what he does best, and as a consequence he's been less influential and effective. Why that should be the case is far from clear, but there's evidence which suggests that he's only playing less well because he's been given the wrong job. Until he starts playing the same role that he did last season, we can't know for sure whether the stats would see a drop-off anyway.
Does selling Casemiro make financial sense?
It seems likely that a lot of United's transfer planning will soon be handed over to Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of Ineos who is in negotiations to take a minority stake in the club and take control of sporting affairs. How he sees the future will determine whether several players stay or go.
The questions facing Ratcliffe is whether the current squad has enough quality to run with what they have, or whether they need a rebuild. The former would place the blame either on depth or a few key positions, or on the head coach. The latter would amount to an acknowledgment of years of mistakes in the market, and begin the process of a major refresh.
If the latter path forward is deemed to be the way to go, any player with a decent sale value is on the auction block to provide the funds and FFP space for new arrivals - and while 31-year-olds don't typically fetch the biggest fees, the free-spending Saudi Pro League will still likely spend a pretty penny to bring Casemiro to the Middle East.
It's still fairly unlikely that United would be able to turn a profit on their initial outlay, but even a relatively small financial loss would be seen as acceptable in the context of a player whose value will only depreciate over time, especially if it allows the wiggle room to spend more freely on a fresh crop of players. If United opt to keep hold of Casemiro, they will rapidly lose the capacity to cash in on him because of the perceived value of older players.
Of course, age isn't the barrier it once was. Modern sport science is pushing back the age at which physical attributes decline - just look at how long Cristiano Ronaldo has been able to maintain his levels of stamina and speed. The early thirties are no longer a death knell for a career, but the transfer market is only slowly catching up to this fact, and Casemiro's value will not remain high for long. If a rebuild is in order, then he is one of a relatively small number of players at Old Trafford who could fetch a good price but whose sale wouldn't be considered unpalatable.
So should Casemiro stay or go?
If you were hoping for a clear-cut conclusion, then we have some bad news - it's far from obvious whether shipping Casemiro on would be the right move or not. The stats suggest that he's not playing as well as he did last year, but then again there seem to be some mitigating circumstances.
And while there's always a sound fiscal argument for selling a player who's getting long in the tooth if a good offer comes along, if the loss of Casemiro ended up hurting United's chances of making the Champions League again, then it would not be a good move.
So can it make sense? Yes, but only if the money was reinvested wisely, and only if the players that came in off the back of the transfer could offer the same quality as the former Real man did last year - hardly a guarantee, especially when the cost of a quality defensive midfielder is extremely high. Just look at how much Declan Rice cost...