There were a few eyebrows raised when Man United forked out £60million for Casemiro (£3.5m) in the summer.
It wasn’t a matter of ability, he has long been recognised as a world-class player, but there were some suggestions that, given his age, the Brazil international may see a switch to Old Trafford as a way of boosting his retirement fund rather than a project in which to invest ever fibre of his being.
Those with financial inclinations also proposed that the transfer may not prove to be the wisest bit of business as the 30-year-old would likely have little resale value.
A few months later, both those doubts seem to have been emphatically dismissed.
Casemiro quite clearly has a desire to keep playing to the best of his ability for a while longer and his experience has contributed to a significant uplift in the Red Devils’ performances and results.
And while it remains true that the club are unlikely to recoup their investment with a future sale, the balance books will be more than satisfied if the combative midfielder proves to be the difference maker in regards to Champions League qualification.
All things considered, the transfer must be considered a roaring success.
More cynical fans will say there’s no excuse for anything else when paying such a huge fee for a proven player in their 30s but even optimistic supporters have been surprised by the transformational impact of Casemiro’s presence at Man United.
It didn’t take a genius to see that the club needed quality in midfield but the five-time Champions League winner seems to have solved several problems simultaneously.
Naturally, his ability to recover the ball and protect the defence is his strongest asset – only three players have made more tackles in the Premier League this season – but he’s also helped Man United’s ball progression through the middle third.
Again, this will have come as no surprise to anyone who has taken even a passing interest in Real Madrid’s fortunes in recent times.
But that’s not all, Casemiro has also chipped in with some very useful goal contributions.
This weekend, he scored a brace in the FA Cup against Reading to take his tally to four goals and five assists this term – a more than respectable return in a half a campaign for a player in his position.
And it’s this factor that has made a Dream Team success too.
Generally speaking, defensive midfielders are unable to keep pace with wingers and advanced playmakers because goal involvements fuel Dream Team but with Casemiro ticking almost every box, he’s earned 91 points to date.
That impressive tally puts him seventh in the rankings among assets in his position at the time of writing and you only have to look at the names above him to get a sense of what an achievement that is: Phil Foden (£4.7m), Bukayo Saka (£4.3m), Martin Odegaard (£3.6m), Riyad Mahrez (£6.1m), Bruno Fernades (£5.8m), Kevin De Bruyne (£7.2m).
Whether Casemiro’s returns are sustainable remains to be seen – a drop-off in terms of goal involvements wouldn’t be wholly surprising – but those gaffers who have backed so far have been handsomely rewarded.
Defensive midfielders who rack plenty of Dream Team points are as rare unicorns and right now Man United have themselves one hell of a unicorn!