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Andy Mitten column: Fred exclusive – how the Brazilian is finally becoming the player Manchester United wanted

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Fred was the final Manchester United player to leave Old Trafford after Sunday’s derby win. Along with a Manchester City player, the Brazilian was chosen for the random drug testing, which requires passing urine. 

That can take some time – as Mike Phelan, United’s now assistant manager, found out after his team had won the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam. Phelan was selected and, in the words of Gary Pallister: “My roommate Micky Phelan had to do a drugs test, but he couldn’t pass urine so I agreed to wait with him. So did Paul Ince. We didn’t want to leave him alone and said we’d get a taxi back to the hotel. We waited for ages, then saw television pictures of the players celebrating on the bus back to the hotel. And one of them was Micky!”

As Fred was waiting to take a piss after taking it out of City on the pitch, a satisfied Phelan also left him behind at Old Trafford on Sunday.

“Fred understands the club he’s at more and the expectations,” said Phelan. “He understands his position more and what we want from him. He’s more confident and playing well.” 

Fred finally appeared to the delight of his waiting wife, son and family. They were the ones who stuck by him when his confidence hit rock bottom under Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese didn’t call him out publicly, but in private Fred was left in no doubt that his manager didn’t think he was good enough and that he had no future at the club. It was an unhappy time and was only helped when rival players like Fernandinho, his former captain at Shakhtar Donetsk, did his best to help his compatriot settle in Manchester.

“A very kind man who helped me a lot,” is Fred’s description – and that from a fellow professional from a club which also had wanted to sign Fred, though fans struggled to see why as he had a very difficult first season in England, getting to grips with the physical side of the Premier League and constant pressure of playing for United. 

Coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna also helped him, including giving him one on one sessions.   

“They talked about a faster speed of thought to move the ball forward, positioning, about how not to be knocked off the ball which happened when I arrived and the importance of starting games well,” he explains. “That helped in my adaptation to English football.”

It was notable that as his teammates celebrated Scott McTominay’s goal in front of the Stretford End, Fred ran towards to the bench to hug McKenna and Carrick.

Fred is flying now. He’s not the Bruno Fernandes man of the moment game-changing player who has revitalised United’s stuttering season, but he’s playing the perfect supporting role and he loves to attack. The pair played one-twos against City, their connection is working and after being overlooked for United’s first four league games, he’s played more times than any other United midfielder or attacker.

Fred smiles when he picks up his son.

“Another great game.” He smiles again as fans shout ‘Fred! Fred!’ behind the Stretford End. “And result. The situation for me and for the team is looking much better. We have to continue this. My confidence is higher than at any time since I moved here. I feel like I’m fully adapted now: to this huge club, to my team-mates, to living in England. And so are my family.”  

Not that he is entirely satisfied. “When I first knew that United were interested in me it was the idea of winning titles which appealed. The league position not is not where we want to be, but I feel we are getting better.”

Although Fred’s upturn in form began before Bruno arrived, he’s even better with him alongside.

“A great player,” says Fred. “I watched him for Sporting and Portugal before he arrived and I was very happy when he came here. He started to play well immediately and I feel we have a good connection on and off the pitch. I’m having more classes but he speaks better English than me so we speak in Portuguese. He’s a different player to me, but that’s a good thing for the team.”

A central midfield pairing of Fred and Nemanja Matic would have unnerved United fans at the start of this season. Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay were the chosen two, yet Fred and Matic are thriving in a winning team that is now 10 unbeaten and has scored 24 and conceded only two in those ten games.    

Fred says he is also enjoying being with Matic in the midfield. “He has class. He has football intelligence. I feel like the different players in the centre of the pitch all compliment each other. We have other players and we’ll need them. We are trying to win the two cup competitions this season and we need to play Champions League next season.”  

Fred looked fine alongside Scott McTominay in Solskjaer’s preferred in a 4-2-3-1 formation until the scorer of United’s second goal got injured before Christmas. Solskjaer had only positive things to say – unlike his predecessor: “The boy works hard. He’s creating a relationship with Scott which is very good for us — they’ve been consistently picked and that gives them confidence.”  

Solskjaer still wants to strengthen and feels that it will be much, much easier to attract the two or three players he feels he needs if he can offer them Champions League football. Their pay would be significantly higher due to United’s highly incentivised wage structure and Champions League football is far more prestigious to top players than the Europa League. It’s also worth six times more financially.

Fred meanwhile wants to add to his 11 Brazilian appearances.  

“Of course I want to play more for Brazil,” he states ahead of the summer Copa America. “And I feel that if I’m playing well for my club then I have a realistic chance of playing for my country.”

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