Graft and craft: Fred's brilliant second season

Wednesday 11 March 2020 07:00

With crisis comes opportunity. In a season when United’s midfield ranks have been depleted by injury for long periods, Fred has taken the chance to show his worth in the engine room.

The Brazilian arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018 as United’s main summer recruit, cited as the man to bring an added level of graft and craft to the Reds’ approach. Ultimately restricted to just 25 appearances – fewer than half of United’s 53 games – Fred has undergone a dramatic reversal in fortunes during his sophomore season, commanding plaudits galore with his all-action displays.
“Unfortunately, last season, my first for United, wasn’t that good… a settling-in period,” reflected the Brazilian. “This season has been excellent, great for me. I’m really happy to have had this consistent run in the team; it’s been really important for me to go on to the pitch and make a contribution. I think I’ve grown and improved.”
That is an understatement. The 26-year-old has been the de facto old head of United’s midfield for long portions of this season, following the departures of Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini in the last 12 months, along with the injury-enforced absence of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay this term. 
“I’m very pleased with Fred,” said boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently. “He’s a top, top performer. All the supporters can see now why we believe in him. He covers every blade of grass and wins challenges. Of course, he is more confident on the ball. He’s had the confidence of the coaching staff, me and players all the time. This form is down to him. He’s been working really hard and he’s already grabbed the chance with both hands when Paul got injured.”


As Daily Mail journalist Ian Herbert noted after December’s win at Burnley: “Fred demonstrated the importance of not rushing to judgement when new overseas players are signed. The Brazilian brought energy and leadership to United’s midfield, navigating through the confined spaces to link with attack. United’s record away from home this season has not been good but Fred has delivered in unexpected places, also engineering the win at Norwich.”
There were signs last season of the Brazilian’s latent ability in unpredictable settings, when he delivered his best performances in grandiose Champions League encounters with Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona. This term, even higher levels have been reached in high-stakes Premier League meetings with Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, while excellence in less salubrious settings such as Carrow Road and Turf Moor have shown his ability to deliver on any stage. And with his two strikes in his man-of-the-match performance against Club Brugge in the Europa League, adding goals to his game too. 
The reason for his evolution is simple: patience. At a time when Solskjaer’s Reds are a work in progress, Fred is proof of the success stemming from perseverance.

Trading life with Shakhtar for a bigger club in a tougher league, with new language barriers and a baby on the way, plus a managerial change just over the horizon, the Brazilian’s first-season assimilation was never likely to be straightforward. 
Now, 20 months on from his arrival, and having already surpassed last term’s appearances total this time around, the statistics bear out the picture of a player clearly on the ascendancy. Better pass completion, more chance creation, more dribbles and completion, more interceptions and more clearances simply spell out a better, more functional player.
Off the field, too, he is more settled. Fred admits: “Diogo [Dalot] and Andreas [Pereira] are the two that help me every day with the language and I have good chats with them, so they’re my best friends at the club,” while he has put his improving English to good use as he explores his new surroundings. “I’m an inquisitive guy,” he continues. “I like to check things out, go to parks, restaurants, travel around by car and check out places I haven’t been to before, and I’ve already discovered many things in Manchester and around the UK that I really like. When I had time I went by car to Wales as it’s nearby, and I also drove to London. I think Manchester is a great city, the UK is a great place and I’m settling in well here and really enjoying myself.”
Those adventures have taken on an added dimension with Fred’s first born son, Benjamin, joining the midfielder and his wife, Monique, just over a year ago. The new perspective on life that accompanies parenthood has had a deep and profound effect on the Reds’ no.17.
“For me, family is everything and it is completely linked to football,” he says. “Through football I’ve been able to help out my family, so it has all come together and it all fits together. Fatherhood is another stage in my life. It’s an important step I’ve taken; a big responsibility, but Benjamin brings me only joy.
“It helps that so many of the lads in the dressing room have had kids. We’re always talking about them among ourselves, discussing what it’s like at home with our families, how all our kids are getting on, and it’s nice for us all to be doing it at the same time.”
See how Fred scored the winner in training Video

See how Fred scored the winner in training

It may only be training, but the players are always desperate to win! Watch the moment Fred sealed his side's victory...

Amid the ongoing cultural reboot in United’s changing room, it should come as no surprise that Fred has emerged as one of the more influential figures. Having won three league titles during his time with Shakhtar, he is second only to Pogba – who won four scudettos with Juventus – in terms of the know-how required to win a domestic league. A popular figure off the field, he is also an enjoyable team-mate with whom to share a battle.  “It’s great to play next to him,” noted Matic, while Scott McTominay echoed: “Fred is brilliant, we’re getting more and more understanding.”
Fred’s development has come about through patience and persistence, with an eye always on the longer term. That is still the case, and the midfielder has clear goals as he looks forward. Uppermost in his thoughts are two measures of success; the first being a return to international football.
Check out this lovely back-post volley Video

Check out this lovely back-post volley

This lofted cross is begging to be finished, but who will do the honours? Watch to find out...

“Every player dreams of representing their country,” says Fred, who arrived at Old Trafford straight after partaking in Brazil’s 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia. “I believe a player’s peak is when they go to a World Cup, called up by their national team. It’s a stand-out moment being selected for one, and it was one of the most important moments in my career.
“Unfortunately, last season I lost my place in the Brazilian national team. I wasn’t playing regularly here and was still in a process of settling in, but this season has been a lot more positive and I’ve had this continued run of games and I hope this carries on. I’ll continue to do my best and, of course, I hope to return to the national team.”
Fred's assist and two goals v Club Brugge Video

Fred's assist and two goals v Club Brugge

See how Fred registered an assist and scored two goals in our last Europa League match, against Club Brugge...

Central to that aim will be Fred’s role in fulfilling his primary target: success at club level. With success in cup competitions still on offer this season, allied to the ongoing push for progress in the Premier League, there remain opportunities to thrive.
“I hope that we can win a trophy in 2020,” he says. “We have had some great games beating some big teams but then our performances have been very disappointing against some of the so-called smaller clubs. We need to keep improving. I’ll continue to do my best to help the team win games and I hope we can win a trophy in 2020.
“We need to set the right objectives. In the League we want to qualify for the Champions League, and get as close as possible to the leader at the top of the table as Manchester United can’t be far from the top of the table. In the cups, we should look to win the Europa League and the FA Cup, something we’re capable of doing. I want to win the trophies, I hope my first trophies for Manchester United come this season. We’re going to do everything possible to win these trophies.”
This article first appeared in the United Review programme for the Premier League game against Wolves. If you would like to buy any issues of United Review, they can be ordered from here.

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