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John Murtough's biggest Manchester United transfer success could yet become his biggest mistake

It's not hard to detect the fingerprints of Erik ten Hag all over Manchester United's £400million transfer strategy since his arrival at the club. Players he worked under at Ajax, those represented by his agent and some he had faced in the Eredivisie, plenty of the new arrivals were familiar to Ten Hag rather than the recruitment department.

But there is one standout signing in that time that fits none of that criteria. While Ten Hag spent almost all of his first summer in charge trying to convince Frenkie de Jong to swap Barcelona for Manchester, football director John Murtough was keeping other targets warm.

When it became apparent that De Jong wasn't going to move to Old Trafford and that United's need to strengthen in midfield was desperate, they had to pivot. That they did so swiftly to a player of Casemiro's stature owed much to the work Murtough had done in the previous couple of months.

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United had already convinced Casemiro that his desire for a new challenge could be sated by leaving Real Madrid to join the club and the back-to-back defeats at the start of last season didn't dent that enthusiasm. In fact, they reinforced the view that this was exactly the challenge he needed.

When United switched approach to move for Casemiro in August 2022, it came out of the blue. Murtough had held discussions with his camp during the summer but the interest had never leaked, which made the deal all the more striking. Negotiations with Real Madrid were concluded quickly and when the Brazilian was presented on the Old Trafford pitch before that crucial win against Liverpool,