Fred’s erratic nature needed in Mourinho’s controlled environment at Manchester United!


Fred’s style of play may not be as refined as Mourinho may want it to be, but he is the kind of player that could improve the midfield considerably.

In Manchester United’s Champions League fixture this past Tuesday night, close to the centre circle, Marouane Fellaini attempted a sort of incisive lofted pass to Marcus Rashford in the second half that didn’t fizz, or set the Englishman through on goal, but ballooned into his feet, leaving Rashford confused at the thought of what Fellaini was trying to do with nowhere to go.

In all fairness, this isn’t what the Belgian is on the field to do. He is on the field to score important goals when all seems lost for United. The player who could’ve been in a position to let Rashford spread his wings and fly had been substituted a few minutes earlier.

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His name is Fred; I’m sure you’ve heard of him before? The problem was that he had been substituted off for Paul Pogba, a weird thought in itself given the lavish amounts spent on both players, the theory that Fred was signed to “unlock Pogba”.

Yet the unlocking, it seems, needs to come from the shackles placed on him by José Mourinho. He doesn’t like to see it that way, always emphasizing the fact that what happens on the pitch is in the expensive hands of his players, Mourinho playing the “it’s not me, but you” card in the only way he knows how.

And amidst his reactions to Rashford’s miss or his handy bottle service at the end of their clash against Young Boys, there’s a case for having Fred, erratic and all, in amongst the assumed controlled variables that the Portuguese manager seems to feed off.

Indeed, Mourinho’s obsession with Fellaini is always found to be justified when the Belgian delivers last-minute winners when all else has failed, but what’s striking is that not everything has failed – Mourinho seems to shy away from the one plan that could work.

Marouane Fellaini celebrates with his team mates after scoring against Young Boys at Old Trafford
Marouane Fellaini celebrates with his team mates after scoring against Young Boys at Old Trafford /

That is, deploying Fred, Pogba and Nemanja Matic in a midfield trio to try to add some fluidity and creative ideas to a too often stagnant piece of Mourinho control. It’s an idea that hasn’t been seen often enough, a worrying thought when you think of the potential bubbling underneath the surface.

And given Matic’s lethargic performances of late, it’s surprising that he still holds a major role in the side. But as we have come to realize with Mourinho and his love for what can be held in his power, Matic provides that symbol of pure Mourinho-ism, hence his constant inclusion in the side.

It’s probably the single most important thing that has left United in a zone of confusion for a long time now, too long for a team that has gone from being a potential title challenger at the start of the season, to now being given an ultimatum to be in the top four by the end of December.

The 2-2 draw against Southampton had provided an opportunity for United to “bounce back” in some ways from uninspiring performances against Crystal Palace and Young Boys, teams that in the past would’ve been swept away with minimal fuss and sweat.

Nemanja Matic competes for the ball during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Manchester United at St Mary’s Stadium
Nemanja Matic competes for the ball during the Premier League match between Southampton FC and Manchester United at St Mary’s Stadium /

Yet, fans were reminded of the idea that Scott McTominay can play at centre-back – granted, he didn’t have a terrible game – with Matic and Phil Jones.

It would’ve been a breath of fresh and much-needed air to see Fred do what he does best – try new things, be it an expansive forward ball through the centre or a clever give and go with Anthony Martial or Pogba, rather than the sideways and backward passing that fans have become accustomed to.

Sometimes, his flair seems to come with little thought, natural instinct like Picasso’s paintings or Beethoven’s symphonies, but it’s all in the efforts of getting the ball forward quickly, looking for ways to make the ball move in the right direction with purpose.

There must be some kind of player in there that’s good enough to be in the starting line-up, especially if Pep Guardiola had him on his radar. With good reason, too, given Fred’s impressive performance against Manchester City in the Champions League last season in Donetsk, a constant avenue for forward-thinking passes to the likes of Taison, Marlos and Bernard in their 2-1 win.

When Fred was signed in the summer for £52 million, the hope was that he and Pogba would forge a long-standing partnership, the sort of twinkle toe magic associated with flair players like themselves. There seems to be an understanding between them – you could see it in the games against Everton and Bournemouth – that needs to be nurtured if United have any hopes of pushing up the table.

Maybe it’s a matter of Mourinho weighing up the risk involved – if he had played Fred and Pogba, he may have had to relinquish some level of defensive stability. Yet having both of them in the team could’ve only been a positive move in a season that has had fewer ups than downs so far, and would bring some help to the attacking qualities of Martial and Rashford.

And whether Fred has a long-term future in Mourinho’s initial plans remains to be seen. It would be a pity, though, to not at least try to see this uncontrollable entity disturb the very control that hasn’t served Mourinho well thus far this season.

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