When Brazilian midfield star Casemiro was leaving Real Madrid for Manchester United in the summer of 2022, he told a teammate he couldn’t believe how much he was being paid. A little over a season and a half later, United are still counting the cost of that decision.
Casemiro may well leave United over the next week or so and Saudi Arabia could be the destination. No surprise there. Who else is going to take a player who, at the age of 32, is earning north of £300,000 a week and still has two and a half years left on his contract?
Even by modern standards, the numbers around the Casemiro deal are extraordinary. A £70million transfer over four years on £1.2million a month. That is a total outlay of almost £150million.
In return, United got a good season out of the South American last time round. He gave Erik ten Hag’s midfield some balance, security and intelligence. He scored a goal in a Carabao Cup final win and helped United back into the Champions League positions.
Even by modern standards, the numbers around the Casemiro deal are extraordinary
Subsequently, though, he has found the physical demands of the Premier League too much. He has barely played due to injury this season and as a result has become a symbol of the short-term, over-priced, back of a fag packet transfer policy United must now leave behind under Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
Clubs have always made mistakes in the transfer market, but few have recently done it as spectacularly and as extravagantly as United.
Once upon a time — when life was simpler in the top division — it was possible to pay over the odds for a short-term lift. Back when there were no Profit and Sustainability Rules in the
Premier League, clubs could take a financial hit on a player as long as it took them towards where they needed to go.
This is no longer the case. So when United were labouring under a transfer ceiling of £150million to balance their books last summer, when they simply couldn’t bring the quality and depth to Ten Hag’s squad that it so desperately needed, it was transfer deals like the Casemiro one that hung round their necks like a tyre.
There have been others over the years. Angel di Maria, signed despite the scouting team’s warnings, was one. Alexis Sanchez was another.
So too was Anthony Martial, signed by Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward without the recruitment team’s knowledge in 2015 and now limping towards the end of a nine-year residency that has yielded little more than a debut goal against Liverpool.
So as Ratcliffe prepares to welcome his first big signing, Omar Berrada, to his team at United, this is the culture of ill-thought-out, injudicious spending that must be consigned to the past.
Much has been said and written about Berrada over the last week, largely because he has been lured from Manchester City.
The French-Moroccan, 45, will be United’s new chief executive. There has been some excitement about this. The appointment is a ‘coup’, apparently, with the Manchester Evening News quick to put together a list of Berrada’s ‘Six Best Man City Signings’. Erling Haaland is, unsurprisingly, among them.
New chief executive Omar Berrada can have a key influence here. He can stop United’s over-spending — or maybe we should say errant spending — in a heartbeat
I will reserve judgement on Berrada’s impact at United until we start to see his fingerprints on some cleverness, some common sense and some progress.
But what I do know already is that he wasn’t doing the recruitment at City.
Berrada is incredibly highly thought of at the Etihad Stadium and leaves with the reputation of being a good man who has made an enormous contribution to the club’s success over recent years.
City don’t want Berrada to go, but he wasn’t doing the recruitment. Not at all. That has always been the domain of director of football Txiki Begiristain and coach Pep Guardiola.
Berrada’s role, among many other things, has been to do the numbers and the nuts and bolts of contract arrangements for a new player once he has agreed to join the club.
The case of Casemiro, who has barely played due to injury this season, has become a symbol of the short-term, over-priced, back of a fag packet transfer policy United must now leave behind under Sir Jim Ratcliffe, pictured
So he can have a key influence here. He can stop United’s over-spending — or maybe we should say errant spending — in a heartbeat. But in terms of preventing his club looking at 82 right backs across Europe and plumping for one playing at Crystal Palace — as United did in signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka for £45million in 2019 — that will be down to whoever Ratcliffe, presumably with Berrada’s input, decides to hire as director of football.
According to those who know, and this includes people at City, United would appear to have placed an important piece in their jigsaw by hiring Berrada. He’s a big talent.
But it takes more than a new chief executive to torch a culture of waste, short-termism and poor judgement overnight.
Someone from the Etihad mentioned to me this week that City usually start looking for new players two years before they feel they will need them. That means, for example, the search for Kyle Walker’s replacement will already be under way.
United have claimed Casemiro was always in their sights and had long been on a wishlist. If that was the case, why did they finally decide to buy him when he was too expensive and, frankly, too old?
It’s this shock and awe approach to transfers that has, in part, held United back for a decade. They won’t even begin to make up all this lost ground until it stops.
On our It’s All Kicking Off podcast on Monday, Chris Sutton and I talked about our favourite manager meltdown from our years following football.
Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger and Phil Brown featured on my list, but Chris reached a little further down the pyramid.
Make a cup of tea and type John Sitton into YouTube. You won’t regret it.
It took new boss Ange Postecoglou about a fortnight to change the mood on match day at Tottenham.
Antonio Conte left behind a funeral parlour and Postecoglou’s team have turned it into a nightclub with Robbie Williams on the decks.
Across London at Chelsea, meanwhile, Mauricio Pochettino blames a poor atmosphere on the sins of the past. ‘The disappointment for the fans is coming from last season,’ said the Chelsea manager.
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This is quite palpably nonsense. Football fans react to what they see in front of them, not what they remember from another time.
We don’t need the Postecoglou comparison to help us here, but we will take it anyway.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino has been talking tough this week after racist abuse marred games in Italy and our own Championship, at Sheffield Wednesday.
‘The events that took place are totally abhorrent,’ he said. ‘The players affected have my undivided support. Fifa shows full solidarity to any form of discrimination.’
This is the same Infantino who took his World Cup to Qatar and his Club World Cup to Saudi Arabia. He is football’s most empty vessel. He is as stupid as he is insincere and that is quite some achievement.
Kalvin Phillips is on his way to West Ham on loan from Manchester City and I am glad about that.
The midfielder is a very good player with a good attitude, but his career at City was over within weeks of him walking through the door from Leeds two summers ago.
The three medals he picked up last season must feel a little worthless on reflection. At West Ham he will play regularly and that should please England manager Gareth Southgate, just as much as the return to form and fitness of Ben Chilwell at Chelsea and Joe Gomez at Liverpool.
The Euros start in Germany in five months’ time and Southgate will certainly welcome having some difficult decisions to make.