With Manchester United eyeing a deal for Fred, here are five things to know about Shakhtar Donetsk’s 25-year-old Brazilian international midfielder:
1. He scored his first goal against his hero Ronaldinho
Fred is a holding midfielder nowadays, but started out as a left-back at Atletico Mineiro in his home town of Belo Horizonte. Upon moving to Internacional of Porto Allegre at the age of 16 in 2009, he was used as a winger and playmaker at the academy, and unsurprisingly Ronaldinho was his ultimate idol.
At the time Fred’s agent was Roberto de Assis Moreira, Ronaldinho’s brother. And Fred scored his first goal in the Brazilian championship in July 2012 against his beloved Atletico Mineiro, who featured Ronaldinho. Internacional lost 3-1, though, and their coach Dorival Junior was fired.
2. Dunga was a great help
Frequent coaching changes at Internacional were eventually beneficial for Fred and Dunga taught him a lot after arriving in December 2012. By that time, the youngster was playing as a defensive midfielder and thus had a suitable mentor in the man who captained Brazil to World Cup glory in 1994.
Dunga held Fred in high regard and, when he became the coach of the national team, called on his protege. The midfielder was included in the 2015 Copa America squad and started two games alongside Neymar, Roberto Firmino and Fernandinho.
3. Shakhtar signed him to replace Fernandinho
In the summer of 2013, Fred was picked by Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu and CEO Sergey Palkin to replace Fernandinho, who was sold to Manchester City for £34 million. Internacional received €15 million for the 21-year-old, who became the latest Brazilian to join the Ukrainian club.
At one point it looked as though Fred would follow in Fernandinho’s footsteps but Shakhtar refused to negotiate with Man City club in January, claiming they needed the player for the Champions League knockout stages. Fred was in the group stage and the decision to keep him proved worthwhile when the midfielder scored a majestic free kick — his first goal in the competition — in a 2-1 round-of-16 win over Roma.
Now it looks like Fred could move to the other side of Manchester and face Fernandinho in the city’s derby. It wouldn’t be a new experience for him, given he played against his fellow countryman in the Champions League group stage this season.
4. Paulo Fonseca changed his life
It remains to be seen whether joining Jose Mourinho’s side is a good idea, but one Portuguese coach most definitely made a positive influence on Fred. Lucescu did not use Fred too frequently but, after the player was suspended having tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide during the 2015 Copa America, he developed into a leader until Paulo Fonseca.
“Fonseca allows me to play both offensively and defensively and my main task is to change the direction of attacking moves. Under Lucescu, forwards and full-backs were responsible for that, but now I am the conductor. Everything had changed completely. The coach trusts me and sees qualities that went unnoticed by Lucescu,” he said.
Fonseca often used the 4-2-3-1 formation favoured by Mourinho and Fred flourished. Two-footed and precise in possession, he was almost ever-present as Shakhtar defended their league title this season.
5. He is World Cup-bound
Such versatility might have been the reason behind Tite’s somewhat controversial decision to include Fred in Brazil’s World Cup squad. He didn’t play a single minute in qualifying and more creative players like Lazio’s Felipe Anderson, Besiktas’ Talisca and Fenerbahce’s Giuliano were left at home to make space.
Gaining experience at the top level would certainly be useful ahead of a move to Old Trafford. The level of the Ukrainian league has dropped significantly and Fred has only played a handful of meaningful fixtures. That would not be the case in England.
Michael Yokhin is an experienced international football journalist who writes for ESPN, Blizzard, Guardian and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @yokhin.