'Fred is a little worker ant'

Thursday 18 November 2021 12:00

Manchester United midfielder Fred has been a key part of Brazil's success in storming to qualification for the World Cup finals.

Our no.17 has worked his way into the line-up under Tite and performed well again in the goalless draw with fierce rivals Argentina last time out.

South American football expert Tim Vickery believes the 28-year-old has had to fight to make his mark and impress for the Selecao.


"He's certainly not a glamorous player, and when United took that defeat against Liverpool the other week, there were questions in Brazil about picking a midfielder who had been in a side that had just suffered that kind of defeat," Vickery told us. "So he’s not a glamorous player.

"He made his name with Internacional in the south of Brazil, so not in Rio or Sao Paolo, the big media centres, and that means that he doesn’t have a big media constituency. He’s a little worker ant who has to fight for everything that he gets.

"Brazil had a quick look at him before the 2018 World Cup and brought him back not long ago, but when they first brought him in, the thing they really stressed was his physical stats: the amount of ground he covers and the high speed at which he does it.

"They focused on that fabulous engine that he’s got. Brazil are currently going with wingers. Against Argentina, they played with two wingers: Raphinha and Vinicius Junior, and an out-and-out centre forward with essentially a second striker for much of the game, so it was almost an old school 4-2-4 that they used. Obviously, the wingers have to get back and work up and down, but there’s a real danger in that team that the two in midfield are going to get overloaded, and especially against Argentina, who have three plus [Lionel] Messi in that sector and pass the ball through midfield so well, so there’s a danger of playing that formation and getting overrun in midfield.

"Also bear in mind that Fred was playing alongside Fabinho because Casemiro was suspended. Neither of those two are the most mobile, and so what Fred brings to that side is that mobility. He’s got to get around the field, he’s got to plug the gaps, he’s got to be the unsung hero. He’s been doing that while also making a contribution with the ball. He’s played very, very well. When they beat Uruguay 4-1 last month, he set up the first goal with a lovely little pass over the line. He hit the bar the other night, with his right foot. He’s keeping the ball ticking over, he’s not trying to do anything that he can’t do, so at the moment he’s very, very useful for that central midfield, especially so with his physical capacity."

Fred now has 23 caps for his country, one of the favourites to lift the World Cup in Qatar next year. Since making the bench for the qualifier with Venezuela in October, he has started the last four fixtures in the South American pool and Brazil have only conceded one goal in that time, a consolation for Uruguay in a 4-1 triumph.

When asked how much the United man will be involved at the tournament, Vickery replied: "It depends a little bit on what the system is. If Brazil go with a third man in midfield, a triangle, as was the team in the build-up to the last World Cup, then maybe they don’t need him as much.

"They can have a player with a more attacking balance in that case. But while they have the wingers opening up the pitch like this, they really need someone who can cover ground. I think another thing they’ve found is that they’ve tried a couple of other players in there who are bigger names in Brazilian football, but they don’t play the ball as quickly as Fred.

"One of the things he’s been doing is just playing quickly. Not glamorous passes, just knocking it off first time, keeping the tempo up. Some of the others, like Bruno Guimaraes at Lyon, Gerson at Marseille, seem to need to take time to get it onto their stronger foot and then move the ball, but Fred is moving the ball quickly. It’s totally unglamorous, never noticed, but it keeps things ticking over. At the moment, the spot in Brazil’s starting line-up is his to lose."

Fred, like his colleagues, can concentrate on United matters now, starting with Saturday afternoon's trip to Watford in the Premier League.