Manchester United players have been surprised at the level of ambition Erik ten Hag has bought to the club in his first season and his relentless desire to win has been picked upon within the squad.
Ten Hag is nearing the end of his first season at Old Trafford and it is set to be declared a success. United have already ended a six-year trophy drought by winning the Carabao Cup and need one point from their final two Premier Leagues games – both at home – to return to the Champions League.
Then comes the FA Cup final against Manchester City on June 3. Ten Hag’s first season is likely to already be a triumph by then but there will be pressure to deny City a chance to match United’s 1999 treble.
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You can be sure the Dutchman will be desperate to do just that and land a second victory of the season against Pep Guardiola, and after a decade of drift United look to be on a surer path with Ten Hag in charge.
The £70million signing of Casemiro from Real Madrid was vital to transforming the playing style on the pitch and the character in the dressing room last summer, but the Brazilian is just as complimentary about Ten Hag’s role in United’s success this season.
“He has surprised me a lot with his ambition. We have been talking among us, and we have been saying that he is a little bit heavy because he always likes to win,” said Casemiro after scoring his sixth goal of the season in the win at Bournemouth.
“He is asking for more because for him 100 per cent is not enough. We have to give more than 100 per cent. He works a lot and is very ambitious. He has the ambition to change the whole club.
“He is a manager who has the respect from all the players and the fans as well. But I think we need to give him time because despite the fact we have already won one title and are quite close to the Champions League, we need more time to grow up.
“We can see he is changing a lot of things within the club. He is always showing ambition to win.”
After his match-winning contribution at the Vitality Stadium, Ten Hag praised Casemiro and said he had exceeded expectations since his arrival in August. He also described the midfielder, who won five Champions League titles with Real Madrid, as the “strategist” in the centre of the pitch, something Ten Hag felt United were missing.
Casemiro was keen to join United when he heard of their interest and reaffirmed his commitment to sign even in the wake of the 4-0 defeat to Brentford in August. After 10 years at Real Madrid he was ready for a new challenge and he is thriving in the Premier League, revealing he is enjoying his football more than he has for a long time.
“I am really happy here. I am enjoying being in the Premier League a lot,” he said.
“I haven’t enjoyed [it this much] for a long time and since I arrived at the club, all of the staff, the fans, everybody have been really incredible with me. I am trying to give them back everything on the field and give my best. It’s a really good experience for me and I am enjoying it a lot. I hope and expect to continue in this way.
“We know that our objective is to win trophies and titles, and we are in the process of growing up.”
Casemiro is one of three Brazilians in Ten Hag’s squad, with Antony following the manager from Ajax for £85million this summer and Fred already at the club.
“Antony has incredible quality. Fred hasn’t played a lot but he has always been giving the best when he has the opportunity to play. He has a really high level. They are really good players,” added Casemiro.
United would have been guaranteed a return to the Champions League at the weekend but for Roberto Firmino’s late equaliser for Liverpool against Aston Villa.
A point against Chelsea or Fulham at Old Trafford this week will make sure of it, although Casemiro is only thinking about victories at this stage of the season.
“It’s true that we haven’t reached the objective yet. We still need one point. We cannot even think about drawing the next game, we need to go out to win the three points in the next game,” he said.
“We cannot be relaxed. We know Chelsea aren’t going doing well but they are a huge club that won the Champions League just a few years ago. It’s going to be a really difficult game. We are going to play in our stadium with our fans. Now we know we are really close to our objective which is to qualify for the Champions League.”