Has Fred dropped dead at Manchester United?
Background photo: KGGucwa, CC BY-SA 3.0
Supposedly the final piece in Manchester United's midfield jigsaw puzzle, it's fair to say Brazilian international Fred hasn't fit anywhere, let alone as the final piece. The 25-year-old was linked to Manchester City in the January transfer window following a spectacular campaign for Shakhtar Donetsk in 2017/18. Pep Guardiola decided to sign a defender instead. Fred's situation at Old Trafford is somewhat surprising. He's struggled to live up to expectations following a £52 million move. What could have happened?
Adapting to Premier League
The English top flight is notorious for testing a player's quality and surprising them with its intensity and pace. Perhaps that has affected Fred. Premier or not, the Ukrainian league doesn't even compare to the Championship. Often, players show their qualities in the second season, save for the rare exceptional player like Eden Hazard or Sergio Aguero, who handle the transition with immediate ease.
Adapting to a new manager and squad
In a recent interview, Fred said he was "annoyed" at not playing regularly for the Old Trafford outfit. Is his outspokenness proof of a fracture in his relationship with Jose Mourinho? After featuring in six of 14 league games and only playing the full 90 in half, it's certainly possible. Skill players like Fred require a regular run of games to display their true quality. Fred has not even come close to showing his. Jose Mourinho rotates frequently in all positions this season. With the club languishing in seventh, a lack of consistent minutes could be affecting other United players beyond the Brazilian.
At the moment, United are in a bad place. They're finding it hard to win games. No one in the squad is covering himself with glory. Is the collective malaise infecting Fred?
Weight of expectations
Between club duties and the World Cup, both Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic were overworked last term. Everyone associated with United knew a mobile, dynamic midfield player was needed to add more directness in the middle of the park. Watching Fred play for Shakhtar in last year's Champions League, especially in the group games, left one with the impression he was tailor-made for the Red Devils. Given his sizable fee, fans certainly expected impactful performances week in and week out.
If you squeeze an egg too tightly in your fist, it cracks. The same thing happens to players eager to do too much.
No clearly defined role
Jose Mourinho has made 47 changes to his starting lineup already this campaign. He's tinkered with players and formations. If a two-time Champions League-winning manager can't identify his best XI, who else can? Fred has played central midfield, right central midfield, defensive midfield and attacking midfield. How can he find his place in a new squad if the boss hands him a different assignment every time out?
Fred isn't suddenly a bad player. It’s surprising to see him struggle with his indisputable quality. Then again, we could be having this conversation about Alexis Sanchez, Nemanja Matic, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku as well. If the problem is repeating throughout the squad, maybe it's time to look at the man pulling the strings. This isn't a difficult problem; it's a special one.