Bruno Fernandes, James Maddison, Sean Longstaff, Christian Eriksen, Youri Tielemens, Adrien Rabiot, Ivan Rakitic, Saul Niguez, John McGinn… all were linked with a move to Manchester United over the summer. Such speculation illustrated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s desperate need for a new midfielder before the start of the new season, yet not one of these players were signed.
When the 2018/19 season ended, Solskjaer’s need for central reinforcement was clear.
It was even clearer when Ander Herrera left for Paris Saint-Germain after refusing to sign a new contract at Old Trafford. Man Utd’s failure to sign someone to replace the Spaniard was a dereliction of duty and is already having an impact on their season.
Indeed, United have struggled to break down opposition teams in the opening four Premier League fixtures largely due to their meekness in midfield. Paul Pogba might be a force of nature in driving forward with the ball at his feet, but the Frenchman is being left to perform the roles of two, sometimes even three, players.
Scott McTominay has shown promise, but does anyone truly believe Man Utd can return to the top of the Premier League with the Scotland international as their central anchor? Elsewhere, Solskjaer’s midfield is a wasteland, with Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Daniel James sharing the third spot alongside McTominay and Pogba. Not one is truly suited to the position.
With all this in mind, why has Fred been frozen out?
While Solskjaer has chopped and changed in desperation to find the right midfield formula, the Brazilian midfielder has yet to even make it on the pitch once this season. Despite United’s desperate need for a player of his type, Fred has well and truly been exiled from the first team squad.
This is a player who just over a year ago was deemed worthy of a £47 million transfer fee, a player only 18 months ago wanted by Pep Guardiola to join Manchester City. It’s been well documented just how demanding the Catalan is, especially of his midfielders, so why did he see Fred as good enough for his team, the Premier League champions, while Solskjaer is far from convinced?
Of course, Jose Mourinho wasn’t a fan of Fred either. The 26-year-old failed to make an impression in his first season in England after joining from Shakhtar Donetsk, with Mourinho citing a lack of balance in his team for the scant opportunity to his big summer signing. “When the team is defensively stronger and doesn’t need people in midfield that are more worried about giving some balance to the team than being involved in creation and attacking dynamics, I think the horizons for Fred change completely,” he said.
However, the dynamics have still to change for Fred and they don’t look like changing any time soon. Solskjaer has shown little inclination of inviting the Brazilian back into the first team fold despite the player’s apparent desire for the fight. “Stay focused, and don’t let anything stop you to accomplish your goals,” he posted to his Instagram account this week.
Solskjaer has shown a willingness to use players in different ways in order to squeeze all he can from his unbalanced squad. Fred, however, remains a spare part. Does Solskjaer really have the luxury of ostracising such a high calibre player when his team are in the situation they are in at this moment?
Fred has become a symbol of Manchester United’s wastefulness in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson age. He wasn’t wanted by Mourinho and there is no long term plan for his future at the club. But that doesn’t mean Solskjaer should give up on him. United need midfielders and in Fred they have one who not so long ago had his admirers. He is surely worth another chance.