We take an in-depth look at Fred, his qualities, and what he will bring to Manchester United.
Scampering across the Etihad pitch, snapping at heels, resisting the press and driving at the sky blue-clad opponents, one five-foot-seven Brazilian bounced into the brain of the Man City boss Pep Guardiola.
But following an impressive season, domestically and in Europe, with Shakhtar Donetsk, and a Brazil call-up for the World Cup, Fred is on his way to Manchester this summer – just not the side he suspected to start with.
Twice this year Manchester United have stolen a march on signing Manchester City transfer targets, and Fred is a special talent close upon stardom. The £50 million price tag, if the deal concludes, may prove a snip come opening day in August.
Fred began flirting with United in January, angering City and ultimately prompting them not to sign him, a decision that may come back to haunt Guardiola – though, with the depth of quality currently at City’s disposal, he’s probably better suited to a move to United.
The Red Devils have been starved of a tempo-dictating centre midfielder since peak Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, and Fred has all the attributes to be a top-quality addition to the United middle-ground as Carrick departs.
Fred is no direct replacement for Carrick, however. While the two share a creative streak and a good range of passing, that’s where the similarities stop.
Carrick is a deep-lying playmaker in its purest form, perhaps the best true regista England have produced in years, quarter-backing United’s midfield with his supreme vision and distribution while his defending relied primarily on instinct and excellent positional awareness.
Fred is not quite the same, though what the diminutive 25-year-old brings perfectly compliments his potential partners at United.
Fred is an excellent technical player, coupling his passing range with a high-intensity work-rate, great balance, composure, and a delightful dribbling ability even in the face of intense pressing.
A proper press-resistor is lacking in United’s midfield options, with Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay lacking mobility, Paul Pogba better deployed further up the pitch, and Ander Herrera a more effective defensive weapon than a transitional weapon.
A dribbler from deep has been absent from the red shirt for a long time, to the point some wanted to see Jesse Lingard swapped into a deeper role in midfield this season to provide the spark, but Fred’s skillset suits those around him and would fill in a lot of gaps at United on paper.
His ability to connect defence and attack combines Pogba’s dribbling with Herrera or Matic’s deep distribution, freeing up the Frenchman to push higher up the pitch as Fred’s awareness, pace, and top tackling ability takes hold.
Often compared to compatriot Fernandinho, especially when linked to City, Fred’s style more closely resembles that of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, but with more creativity.
Although untried as a lone holding midfielder, usually operating alongside the equally-impressive Ukrainian Taras Stepanenko at Shakhtar, Fred resembles an ideal modern number 6 that could easily slot into a sole defensive midfield role, a double-pivot beside Herrera or Matic, or on the right of the midfield three with Matic and Pogba.
The balance of that final three suits all parties, with Fred sliding in as the hard-working ballast between Pogba’s maverick tendencies and Matic or Herrera’s conservatism, bringing the solidity that Mourinho requires while also showing off a little something different and having the ability to contribute at both ends of the pitch.
The fact he made both the most tackles and the most dribbles for Shakhtar in the Champions League this season not only says it all about his playing style – high-octane, all-action – it also shows a man who’s up for the biggest occasions, willing and ready to adapt to the bigger games and brighter lights that go hand-in-hand with any Premier League move.
His versatility speaks to his quality, as do a lot of calls for him to start at this summer’s World Cup in place of Tite favourite Renato Augusto. The sight of Manchester United’s new acquisition lining up alongside Philippe Coutinho, Marquinhos, and Neymar as a key cog in a quietly-impressive Brazil side is tempting.
His man-of-the-match performance against United’s closest rivals launched him into the collective consciousness of Premier League fans last year, and United fans will be hoping he can stay there with quality performances for them this season.
The transfer strategy under Mourinho has never looked the most coherent but, whether they intended to or not, United have identified a real player in Fred that can plug gaps in the side where they are glaring.
Should they also secure the signing of Willian from Chelsea, another hard-working, team-playing Brazilian, that would plug the gap on the right wing too, and provided they do not lose any of their rotational options or younger talent, the squad will be looking very strong next season.
The stage is set for Mourinho and Fred next season, now let’s see if they will shine.
Alex Dunne, Pundit Arena.