Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 November 2019

Fred not yet on song for Manchester United but says he shouldn't be written off

Brazilian midfielder admits he has struggled but showed against Liverpool he can still be a force at Old Trafford

Manchester United's Brazilian midfielder Fred (L) tussles with Liverpool's Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum in the draw at Old Trafford. AFP
Manchester United's Brazilian midfielder Fred (L) tussles with Liverpool's Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum in the draw at Old Trafford. AFP

There is nothing Fred would like more than to hear the Manchester United fans belting out the "Ole’s at the wheel" song once again.

It includes the line “We’ve got Sanchez, Paul Pogba, and Fred”. Sadly for the Brazilian midfielder it is largely defunct on the terraces now and he knows he must do more to convince his club and the supporters that he has a long-term future in Manchester.

The £52 million (Dh248m) signing has not had the best of times since moving to Old Trafford. But while he can't - and won’t - be given forever to sort himself out, he should not be written off just yet.

The 26-year-old acquitted himself well against Liverpool on Sunday, playing in front of a three-man defence alongside Scott McTominay, in the absence of Paul Pogba. Fred cannot manipulate the ball in tight spaces like the French World Cup winner, but he did perform with credit.

Although Fred needs to show more quality if he is to be considered a worthy midfielder at an ambitious and high-ranking Premier League club, there is a footballer in there - one with the right attitude. It is just that the fans do not see it enough.

Fred trains well, his coaches like what they see, but he needs to reproduce that form in games rather than letting his head drop when he makes a mistake. He lost possession a couple of times in Sunday’s 1-1 draw when a simple forward pass was on, and he did not always have the better of Gini Wijnaldum. He had good energy levels, got around the pitch, and was disciplined in his role.

“Personally, I’m happy how I played in my first 'clasico' against Liverpool. We’re just all a little frustrated that we didn’t hold on to the lead, but we have to be encouraged," he told The National after the game.

"We played at a very good pace against Liverpool. We needed that, we haven’t started the league well, but we played with heart, we played with force, we attacked quickly, especially in the first half. The second half we continued well but it was more equal."

Fred has looked daunted in some of his United appearances, and he knows his first season was not up to scratch.

“My first season was difficult but that is normal when a footballer changes league,” he said. “The Ukrainian league isn’t as strong as the Premier League. It’s faster and more physical here. You need to start games strongly and finish them strongly. It’s the full force for 90 minutes, but it takes time to adapt to English football when you come from Ukraine, even though I was playing against some of the best teams in the Champions League, but I believe I am adapting.”

He is certainly no stranger to high-profile games. “I’ve played in clasicos before, Internacionale against Gremio [in Porto Alegre, Brazil], Shaktar against Dinamo [in Donetsk, Ukraine]. They’re different games, the atmosphere feels different, it means more to the fans. It was very loud inside the stadium today.”

It has not helped Fred joining a side that is struggling to find its feet after so much turmoil over the past few years. “Last season, the team wasn’t strong in the league either, so that didn’t help, but I’m working hard,” he said.

“I have a good relationship with the manager and the coaches. I speak to the coach [Mike Phelan] every day. And to Michael [Carrick] and Kieran [McKenna]. Michael played in my position; he knows what he is saying. They are always encouraging me and I feel the support of fans, too. And I thank them for that.”

In his prime, Carrick was the master of the penetrating pass between the lines - an area Fred needs to improve. Fred started 20 games last season and came on in five more. He also worked his way into the Brazil squad a year ago, but has not stayed in it because his performances for his club have not done him any favours.

He has started five games this season and come on in three more, and is keen to stress he is a work in progress, like many of Solskjaer’s younger first teamers.

“I’m learning day by day. I feel like I’m getting better. I have a big heart. I will play better. I like Manchester. My family are here and they like it too. They are speaking English. I’m having English classes too but it’s not possible all the time because we travel a lot but we speak lots of languages here.”

United’s next game is at Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday. Fred emphasises its importance to the club. “We want to do well in that competition. We want to win trophies this season,” he said.

He has to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, but his attitude cannot be faulted.

Updated: October 21, 2019 03:48 PM

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