In an office on Calle Serrano, Madrid, Óscar Ribot is scrolling through a video on his phone, pausing it at the point where Carlos Henrique Casemiro’s boot rolls over the top of the ball and into the shin of Southampton’s midfielder Carlos Alcaraz. Saved in a WhatsApp group called “CaseRed”, it is one of the images he and his team discussed using to challenge the four-game ban the Brazilian received after being sent off.
Manchester United decided not to appeal, which is why the games on the calendar on the desk are struck through. Until it reaches Thursday.
After almost a month absent, Casemiro will be available to play again, against Sevilla. On Sunday, against Nottingham Forest, he will return to the Premier League. Alcaraz, who had asked to swap shirts a few minutes before the Brazilian crashed into him, was among those offering consolation, but there was none. Casemiro left the pitch at Old Trafford in tears.
“Taking football away from Case is like taking food from his table, it’s like he can’t live, can’t breathe,” says Ribot, whose Best of You agency represents the midfielder.
“He wakes up thinking about football and goes to bed thinking about football. He watches hundreds of games: any team, any league. I’ve seen him watch Chinese games because there is always some detail.
“He says he won’t be a coach, but he will. He’s already one in a footballer’s body. This month, he’s watched everything, calculating the points needed and the days left.”
It is not a situation Casemiro has been used to. The joke about forgetting to pack his invisibility cloak alongside the shin pads, hyperbaric chamber, electric recovery boots and all those medals almost writes itself, but he didn’t find it funny.
In a decade at Real Madrid, Casemiro didn’t receive one straight red. Although there have been two double yellows, he’s had no direct reds anywhere, remarkable for a defensive midfielder as tough. And then this. It took 583 games for him to get his first and just five for him to get his second.
“I trust the refs, but both were definitely not red cards,” Erik ten Hag says. “Everyone who knows football, when you play at the top level, knows it’s not a red. [If it was], players would be off in every Premier League game.”
For a while it felt a little like that with Casemiro alone. He had just served a suspension for picking up his fifth yellow card against Crystal Palace, missing United’s 3-2 defeat to Arsenal, when he met Palace again and was sent off. A three-match suspension meant he returned for the 7-0 loss to Liverpool and he was sent off again 34 minutes into the very next match. There has been no break in training and European football has helped, facing Betis twice in March, but he has been available for three of United’s past 11 league games. He has not played for them since March 16th.
The expectation is that he goes straight back in. “He needs the rhythm from training and games, and he misses that,” says Ten Hag. “But he also played for Brazil versus Morocco [on March 25th] and we’re lucky we played three games in six days, so he has not missed that much.”
It has still been too much, bad enough the first time. “He gives us the feeling of security. We say he likes to give the ball away just so he can go and win it back again,” said Luke Shaw before playing Barcelona in the Europa League. “He’s extremely important and I’m happy to have him back because he has been a big miss.”
Three days later, Casemiro scored in the League Cup final, suspension seemingly behind him, but it didn’t take long before it happened again.
Ten Hag has talked about trying to find a new balance to midfield, inventing solutions that are “sometimes trial and error”. As Lisandro Martínez says of the absence of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen: “When you miss two quality players, it is clear. Games will be decided always in midfield.”
Casemiro’s absence has had a bigger impact than might have been imagined. Too easily seen as serving Toni Kroos and Luka Modric at Madrid, not least because that was how he played it, at United there has been more to his game, qualities that were always there if only occasionally called upon, and a greater responsibility. Staff talk of his influence, a quiet leadership.
Casemiro decided his time at Madrid was up the day after winning his fifth Champions League, his cycle closing at 30. Carlo Ancelotti asked him to reconsider but he had made up his mind that England was his next destination.
He watched Manchester United lose 4-0 to Brentford in August, discussing options with his agent. United was a nice challenge, sure, but it was a risky one, he was warned. Casemiro, though, was convinced: “It’ll work,” he said. “Tell them I’ll fix this.”
And so he did. For a while, it went better than even the Brazilian could have imagined, enamoured of Old Trafford, but for the past month he has missed it and they have had to fix the hole he left. Now at last, he returns.
There is a lot to do, but at least there is time to do it, United likely to be his last club. “Case has signed for four years plus one,” Ribot says.
“He’s come to win titles; this month has been hard, but there’s nothing else on his mind.” – Guardian