As the £47m forgotten man, Fred became a symbol of all that was wrong with Manchester United’s transfer market strategy, or lack thereof.
Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk as the Old Trafford club’s only marquee addition of the 2018 summer window, Jose Mourinho barely gave the Brazilian a chance before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ostracised him even further.
Indeed, it took until the defeat to Newcastle United last month for Fred to be handed a Premier League start this season. Since then, though, the 26-year-old has started four straight league games.
For all that has been thrown at Fred since his arrival at Old Trafford 16 months ago, he’s finally starting to find his feet and show what he can do. Maybe Solskjaer read this writer’s piece written two months ago…
This isn’t to say that he is anywhere close to justifying his £47m price tag. Not yet, anyway.
But Fred is growing in confidence and stature by the week, with his best display in a Man Utd shirt coming in the comprehensive 3-1 win over Brighton on Sunday. Against the Seagulls, the Brazilian looked like the player United must have thought they were getting back in the summer of 2018.
Fred was both effective in driving the ball forward and in providing defensive structure.
No midfielder made more passes than the Brazilian did against Brighton (46). He also managed two shots on goal and two dribbles while going the full 90 minutes without being dispossessed once. In almost every way, Fred has tightened up his game and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Solskjaer.
“[McTominay] has been excellent and now him and Fred have a good relationship,” the Norwegian said afterwards, also heaping praise on the in-form Scott McTominay.
“They’re playing well together. They did it last season – there were quite a few games where they played well together when we had some injuries, like PSG and Arsenal. Now they’re working as a pair.”
Solskjaer is right to highlight the relationship that has developed in recent weeks between Fred and McTominay. Albeit for very different reasons, these are two players who were offered up as a depiction of Mourinho’s failings at Old Trafford and yet now they may well be a central part of the club’s future.
Of course, Fred and McTominay account for just two positions in Solskjaer’s three-man midfield unit, with Andreas Pereira still to fully prove himself despite an impressive performance in the win over Brighton.
Manchester Utd’s midfield offers a reflection of the club’s current state as a whole.
While there are green shoots of progress, it is still largely a work-in-progress.
The return of Paul Pogba from injury would give United another dimension through the middle, but Fred’s recent form gives the sense that Solskjaer is building his midfield without the Frenchman.
That might be wise given that speculation continues to link Pogba with a move to Real Madrid.
It seems inevitable that he will leave Old Trafford, whether it’s in January or at the end of the season.
Man Utd are still in desperate need of central midfielders. Their failure to sign one in the summer, especially after the exit of Ander Herrera, bordered on gross negligence.
While the addition of Dan James, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka undoubtedly strengthened Solskjaer’s squad, they needed more, and a central midfielder should have been at the top of the list.
But Fred’s recent resurgence has at least gone some way to easing Solskjaer’s midfield woes, at least in the immediate term.
The Red Devils are a long way from where they want to be, that is clear in their current position in the Premier League table, but rather than being an embodiment of all that is wrong with the club, Fred is now reflecting how progress is quietly being made.