It was only in April that Jose Mourinho said: “I think that a team without a Brazilian isn’t a team.” He was half-kidding, but effectively confirmed there would be a Brazilian addition to his squad in the close season. Mourinho coveted Willian, Alex Sandro and Fred.
United supporters sing: “We’ve got Sanchez, Paul Pogba and Fred,” to Stone Roses’ Waterfall and but they didn’t against Arsenal. Fred smiled sheepishly as he headed towards the home dressing room, clutching a wash bag that would remain zipped for the evening. He watched the game from the directors’ box with compatriot Andreas Pereira.
Both began the season in United’s midfield yet the Brighton debacle still stands as Pereira’s last start and his situation is startlingly similar to three years ago under Louis van Gaal. Pereira, 23, demanded a mid-season loan back then that was rejected and was restricted to one substitute appearance in the league post-January. A permanent arrangement is maybe more desirable in the New Year.
Fred is a more complex case. At £52million, he is the fourth-most expensive signing in United’s history and third out of the current squad. Mourinho indirectly billed him as Michael Carrick’s replacement yet has depended on players he has inherited – Marouane Fellaini and (Ander Herrera), the surrogate son he signed (Nemanja Matic) and bred (Scott McTominay).
Mourinho’s exclusion of Fred from the Arsenal squad has prompted debate over whether he really wanted him amid United’s split transfer strategy. Ed Woodward and Matthew Judge did not go over Mourinho’s head – Fred was earmarked as Carrick’s replacement months in advance of his visit to Carrington on June 3 and United ‘did lots of homework’ on Fred, a source said.
The context behind Fred’s signing is key, though. Manchester City did not conceal their interest in January but a deal failed to materialise as the £57m Aymeric Laporte was prioritised. As the MEN reported at the time, Fred’s representatives then encouraged United to enter the bidding and flew into England on deadline day in the event United would try and capitalise on City deferring.
By mid-April, City had moved on from Fred since they were convinced they had Jorginho, so United intensified their interest and pushed to conclude the signing early in the transfer window, mindful of Fred’s €60m release clause and Paris Saint-Germain’s enquiry.
Fred is not an obvious braggart buy, but he received a hashtag, a transfer trailer and there was more tinkling of the ivories in his promo. He has to be categorised with Pogba and Sanchez, players City wanted before they conceded. A Pogba move in 2015 was kiboshed by wranglings over the Frenchman’s image rights and City baulked at Sanchez’s salary demands, as well as the commission his agent Fernando Felicevich was due.
In a recent FourFourTwo issue, their interview with Fred featured the cover pull-out quote: “I joined to play for Jose.” That intimated Fred plumped for United over City when he hadn’t, and his comments at a late May Brazil press conference were translated obliviously by certain British outlets, convinced City and United were vying for the same player again.
This Mancunian one-upmanship has become a theme of United’s spending as they resort to claiming bragging rights over City in the transfer market. Even Eric Bailly claimed he had rejected City, much to the chagrin of the Etihad press department, who disputed that claim.
Sir Alex Ferguson duelled with City in the money table and encountered a defeat (Samir Nasri) and a victory (Robin van Persie). Ferguson might have lobbied harder for David Silva and Sergio Aguero if he had not toed the Glazers’ party line.
A blinkered City fan’s Twitter thread in January charted ‘all the other occasions when United have snatched players from under City’s noses’, citing spurious reports, disinformed lines and even gossips, so convinced were they Sanchez would end up in blue rather than red. At the time of their City switches, United were not in for – deep breath – Ilkay Gundogan, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Ederson, Benjamin Mendy, Kevin de Bruyne, Fabian Delph, Eliaquim Mangala and Danilo.
That Ferguson resorted to that leaves those United supporters despairing at Woodward’s policy deprives them of the moral high ground. Woodward has clinched legitimate signing successes, only it has been more brazen, more exorbitant and the success has not extended to the pitch.
Fred was clutching a pick ‘n’ mix tub in the Old Trafford directors’ box and Mourinho’s team selections are starting to feel as random as the bulk confectionery sweets.
He has a team without a Brazilian.