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Dublin: 20 °C Friday 29 May, 2020

Man United's hapless €57 million man becoming a symbol of their wastefulness

A poor performance from Fred against City last night summed up a disappointing season for the Brazilian.

Manchester United's Fred has struggled to live up to expectations at the club.
Manchester United's Fred has struggled to live up to expectations at the club.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

ON A HUMAN level, it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Fred.

Growing up, he would have been consistently one of the best players in his age group.

He first gained prominence as a teenager playing for the senior team of Brazilian side Internacional. He has earned 11 caps for his country.

In 2013, he joined Shakhtar Donetsk, making over 100 appearances in the Ukrainian league, winning three titles, three cups and three Super Cups during this time. Up until recently, he was accustomed almost exclusively to unequivocal success in the game.

Fred’s seemingly meteoric rise was not without its setbacks, however. During his time at Shakhtar, he served a doping ban, having tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide at the 2015 Copa América, which he claimed to have unwittingly taken, owing to a need to combat headaches during plane flights.

Still, this unfortunate saga aside, Fred’s career has comprised of the stuff every boy dreams of — at least, until it started to unravel in recent months. And you do not sign with Man United for a reported fee of €57 million without possessing a great deal of talent.

Yet buying the Brazil international always looked like a gamble. Success in the Ukrainian league is hardly the most reliable indicator when it comes to identifying players capable of thriving at the game’s highest level, even if Fernandinho’s success with City has proven it can happen.

While Jose Mourinho would have hoped that Fred was the man to solve the Red Devils’ longstanding midfield problems, so far, he has only added to them.

And granted, incoming stars have thrived at United in the past despite shaky starts — Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic are two examples of players who overcame early woes. Increasingly though, Fred looks like going the way of Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and a heap of other misguided past purchases.

The 26-year-old has played 25 times in all competitions for United. His first seven appearances for the club were an unconvincing 2-1 win over Leicester, a 3-2 defeat by Brighton, a 3-0 loss to Tottenham, a 3-0 win over Young Boys, a 1-1 draw with Wolves, an EFL Cup penalty shootout defeat by Derby and a 3-1 loss to West Ham.

And if anything, rather than gradually adapting to English football, the situation has gone from bad to worse for Fred. His last two appearances were the 4-0 defeat against Everton, where he was substituted at half-time, and the loss last night to City, where he was partially at fault for both goals.

City’s all-important second was especially egregious from the midfielder’s perspective. He gave the ball away cheaply (a recurring feature of his game last night), before allowing Raheem Sterling to glide past him all too easily. “Cheating” was Man United legend Roy Keane’s rather brutal assessment of the player on Sky.

It would, of course, be unfair to solely blame Fred for United’s disappointing season, when there are clearly deeper reasons for the team’s underwhelming performance. But as it stands, he feels like a symbol of the club’s wastefulness. Much has rightly been made of the Red Devils’ failure to appoint a Director of Football in recent years, with their continually inept business in the transfer market strengthening calls for a shake-up behind the scenes.

Granted, not all of City’s transfers have been resounding successes either – Eliaquim Mangala and Danilo, for instance, failed to set the world alight at the Etihad. Liverpool have also not been immune to dodgy purchases in recent years (Lazar Marković, Mario Balotelli, Alberto Moreno). But while their rivals have got more deals right than wrong, four of United’s back five against Barca also featured when they were dumped out of the Champions League group stages by Basel in 2011 — Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ashley Young and David de Gea, with arguably only one of those (De Gea) totally justifying the faith shown by the club in them.

Unless he can improve fast, Fred looks set to be another player that will be remembered as epitomising the ineptitude of one of the most forgettable spells in the club’s recent history. 

The midfielder is far from the only United player who could not complain if he was sold in the summer, but having signed amid such high hopes, it would a majorly disappointing outcome for a star who was one of the hottest properties in Europe this time last year, as well as being mooted by Pep Guardiola as the ideal long-term successor to Fernandinho not so long ago.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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