Erik ten Hag won’t fight for Casemiro with Man Utd boss’ heart set on exciting partnership | Football | Sport

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Erik ten Hag won’t fight for Casemiro with Man Utd boss’ heart set on exciting partnership | Football | Sport

Erik ten Hag may have given Casemiro a glowing reference for the role he is playing in the development of Kobbie Mainoo, but the Manchester United boss would not be opposed to the club plotting an escape route for the Brazilian this summer.

Especially if new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe can succeed where the Glazers failed by bringing Frenkie de Jong to Old Trafford. De Jong was Ten Hag’s No 1 target when he arrived from Ajax in the summer of 2022 and the Dutchman still has regrets that the club were unable to agree a deal for the midfield playmaker when Barcelona were listening to offers in a bid to save on his £400,000-a-week wages.

Instead, United handed Real Madrid £60million for a player they were desperate to sell and agreed to give Casemiro £350,000-a-week for the privilege. Barca are once again looking to bring down De Jong’s take-home pay – but it’s unlikely that the Dutchman will agree to take up the offer of a contract extension on reduced terms when he knows there will be no shortage of takers.

Ten Hag is certain to be pressing Ratcliffe’s INEOS group to do the business – and provide a statement of intent after taking control of football operations. The United boss is himself fighting for his future – and has until May to prove that he is the man to take United forward.

His contract will tick down into its final 12 months this summer and he is surprised to find himself “on trial” until the end of the season when United’s recruitment policy has been so dysfunctional. De Jong’s interest was piqued by United’s interest last time – but they failed to make both him and Barcelona an offer they couldn’t refuse.

That policy decision looked even more bizarre when United paid Ajax £80million for Antony and then met Madrid’s asking price for Casemiro. The midfielder was so far off the pace when he arrived that he didn’t make his first Premier League start until October.

He was still one of Ten Hag’s most trusted performers last year, bringing his experience and winning nous to a team that recovered from a terrible start to the campaign to finish third, win the Carabao Cup and reach the FA Cup Final. It has taken Casemiro time to get back up to speed again this season, but in recent weeks he has been a guiding hand for Mainoo, the Stockport-born 18-year-old who already has England manager Gareth Southgate casting admiring glances in his direction despite featuring in just a handful of games.

“We are happy Casemiro is back and Kobbie Mainoo can learn a lot from him,” said Ten Hag ahead of the win at Aston Villa on Sunday that has put United back in contention to challenge for Champions League qualification again. Qualifying for Europe’s top competition would secure Ten Hag’s future – and give him more skin in the game when he is talking to INEOS about summer targets.

It would also release more money for the kind of rebuild that United need. Casemiro won’t go quietly. He is the club’s highest earner and still has two years left on his contract.

Suggestions that United could hand him a pay-off to cancel his deal are fanciful when they could claw back some of their initial outlay by developing interest shown in the player by Saudi Pro League club Al-Nassr. De Jong and Mainoo at the heart of United’s midfield is a tantalising prospect.

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