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Brazil’s World Cup-bound Fred set to swap Shakhtar Donetsk for Manchester United as fans and former teammates have their say

Midfielder will follow in footsteps of Kleberson, cult hero Anderson and Rodrigo Possebon at Old Trafford

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 9:44am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 3:26pm

Brazilian midfielder Fred, 25, who became Manchester United’s first signing of the summer on Tuesday in a deal worth £52 million (US$69 million), was the surprise choice in Tite’s World Cup squad for Russia. He didn’t play a minute of Brazil’s epic 18-game qualification run , though he has come on as a late substitute in two of Brazil’s most recent friendlies, including against Croatia at Anfield on Sunday. He stayed in England’s north west to undergo his medical at United.

There are good reasons why Fred, who could make his World Cup debut against Switzerland, has gone under the radar, as Brazilian journalist Alex Sabino points out. “Nobody really remembered Fred until a few weeks before the World Cup squad announcement. He could have established his name earlier in the selecao, but was suspended for a year because of doping. Then Shakhtar Donetsk did not allow him to play in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.”

Born in Brazil’s third biggest city of Belo Horizonte, Fred’s youth career started at local giants Atletico Mineiro before he moved to tiny Porto Alegre FC in southern Brazil, a club owned by Ronaldinho’s brother Roberto Assis. He was offered a deal at Internacional in 2010, breaking into the first team of one of Brazil’s biggest club sides where ex-United striker Diego Forlan was a teammate.

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After impressing, he followed a well-worn path of talented Brazilians moving to Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, becoming a regular in a side which won two Ukrainian league titles, two domestic cups and three Super Cups, as well as in the Champions and Europa Leagues.

Fred was also part of the side which became the first team to defeat Manchester City last season, helping Shakhtar qualify for a last-16 game against Roma. Fred, who scored four times and set up seven goals in 2017-18, scored a match winning free-kick against Roma, but Shakhtar went out of Europe on away goals.

Fred made his Brazil debut in November 2014 and, due to an injury to Luiz Gustavo, was a starter by the time of Brazil’s disappointing 2015 Copa America campaign. He was tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide in a sample taken during the competition and was disqualified from playing. He didn’t appear in a Brazil shirt again until March of this year, by which time he was being strongly linked with United.

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He will become the fourth Brazilian midfielder to play for Manchester United, following Kleberson, Anderson and Rodrigo Possebon. He’ll also be the third player to have played for both United and Internacional after Anderson, Possebon and Forlan.

Possebon, now a sporting director, has no doubts that Fred is ready for the Premier League. “He’s a versatile midfielder, can play any position in the centre of the park, but his best role is as a box-to-box midfielder, because of his capacity to defend, create and finish. He has energy, pace and power, great technique, has good passing vision, dribbling ability and plays with both feet. He has all the attributes that one seeks in a midfielder at an excellent level.”

Not everyone is quite so enthused. One ex-teammate told the South China Morning Post: “Fred’s a good player skilfully, though he’s not physically strong or quick. He’d be fine going to Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester City where the team is already strong and he could fill in if the stars are tired or injured, but I think United need different types of players at the moment. Maybe Jose Mourinho has seen something in Fred which he thinks can improve his side.”

With midfielder Michael Carrick retiring from playing and Marouane Fellaini having refused to sign a new contract and expected to leave, Mourinho wanted to strengthen midfield. He rates youngster Scott McTominay, but Fred is an experienced Champions League player and now a Brazilian international. Tite said on Sunday: “If I were a coach I would try to sign him too.”

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Fred often played as a midfielder for Shakhtar in a 4-2-3-1 formation. If used in the same role at Old Trafford, he will line up alongside Nemanja Matic, allowing Paul Pogba to have a more advanced role. Left-footed, Fred tackles well and hits the killer passes through lines of opponents at which Michael Carrick so excelled, but he’s more skilful than Carrick. He’ll also face a significant step up since the Premier League is of a far higher standard than Ukraine’s top division.

Shakhtar fans, who are usually proud to see their players go onto bigger clubs, wish him well.

“Fred is a really good player,” says Dmitry Nedaivozov, who heads Shakhtar’s London Supporters’ club, “though I’m not sure he is good enough to be a Man U player. He’s played five years for Shakhtar, but still didn’t become their top player. He is only 25, and probably needs a bigger challenge, which will help him grow further.”

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Journalist Sabino offers another interesting insight. “Fred is a sleepwalker. He’s said that many times he’s woken up in the middle of the night thinking he was playing a match and screaming at someone to pass him the ball.”

United currently miss that desire in their midfield, if not in the team hotel the night before games.