Is Fred coming good at Manchester United?
Background photo: Ian Mcallister
The Ukrainian Premier League can't hold a candle to its English namesake. The time needed for erstwhile Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred to adjust to life at Manchester United proves the point. At the same time, Premier League fans aren't of a mind to tolerate an extended adjustment period. The Brazilian's fledgling career stalled in Manchester. His ineptitude was another nail in Jose Mourinho's coffin. However, with Paul Pogba sidelined indefinitely, he is at long last breathing life into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's project.
When Manchester United sought a younger, box-to-box version of Nemanja Matic and Mourinho panicked at the players flocking to Pep Guardiola's cause at Manchester City, the Red Devils shelled out £52 million on the 26-year-old. Too late, the Portuguese manager realised his mistake. Nine inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter than the Serb, the Brazilian was physically overmatched by Premier League opposition. Moreover, the division's fitness level didn't allow him to compensate through quickness or trickery.
Fred’s debut campaign is one he won’t fondly remember. On 15 occasions in league play, he remained invisible as an unused substitute. In his 17 outings, he managed a goal and an assist. He found more minutes in the Champions League but failed to justify his mouth-watering price tag. For a box-to-box midfielder, Fred didn't score, didn't create goals and went missing in defence.
Other United players failed to improve over the past few years. Alexis Sanchez topped a list that included Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and, to save space, the entire defence. Fred endured a sub-par first season but he no longer belongs on that list. Neither does Rashford but that's another story.
United signed Fred because of his tenacity, aggressiveness, passing and shooting ability. Overall, he was deemed a Brazilian with superb technique. Fred was also considered very durable; he has no significant injury history. Those were the same traits that attracted Pep Guardiola to the player. Regardless, those fine characteristics didn't stop United fans from labelling him a flop.
The truth is you can’t shine if you don’t play. Like second choice goalkeepers, Fred had to wait on someone else’s misfortune for an opportunity. Thank you to whoever kicked Paul Pogba's ankle. In addition to the Frenchman's absence, Ander Herrera departed for Paris Saint-Germain and Matic crashed out of favour. Being over 30 and slower than a Brexit deal will do that to you. Like an extremely fit and svelte Boris Johnson, Fred grabbed the chance with both hands and refused to let go.
Despite being overlooked for United’s first four Premier League tilts, Fred is now a mainstay in the lineup. Games are coming thick and fast. He’s logged 931 minutes. The goals aren’t coming yet but the signs are positive. He bruised Vladimir Stojkovic's palms in the Europa League win against Partizan Belgrade. If a confused 180 in his own half that culminated in an intercepted back pass and a last-ditch intervention by Harry Maguire rang alarm bells, and, to be fair, his hand was the first to go up to acknowledge the gaffe, his Man of the Match performance in the subsequent 3-1 victory over Brighton did his reputation a world of good.
Playing time is no longer a worry and won’t be for some time. With Scott McTominay off to the infirmary, the former Internacional man is now the first and only name in Ole’s central/defensive midfield. Before McTominay went down, however, some speculated Pogba might be pushed forward into the No.10 role to keep Fred in the lineup.
While there remains a ways to go, the Brazilian is well on his way to matching the fan's definition of a United player.