Fred gives the camera two thumbs up and smiles. We haven’t even gone beyond the introduction stage of our interview, but already the contagious personality of the Brazilian shines through.
Fred is a popular figure around Carrington, from where he talks to sky sports on Zoom. Popular with his team-mates, who swarmed him in jubilant celebration after his game-winning goal against Crystal Palace in December. Popular with his coaches too.
Jose Mourinho has spoken of his ‘positive influence’ in the dressing room. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has praised his “exceptional” character. Ralf Rangnick, meanwhile, saw the same qualities within days of arriving. “I think everyone loves Fred,” he said. “It’s a ray of sunshine.”
He hasn’t always enjoyed the same popularity with fans. In fact, few players took more flak. But Fred can play a little too and that has never been clearer than in recent months.
The 28-year-old, back in the Brazilian fold – and indeed team – after a long international break, was one of United’s best performers under Rangnick.
There were signs of rust when he returned to the side against Brighton on Tuesday after a Covid fight – ‘I couldn’t train and I felt it during the game,’ he says sky sports – but it says a lot that he was brought straight back at the expense of Paul Pogba.
It also says a lot that Manchester United have a 59% win rate with him in the squad this season, compared to just 25% without him. They are also undefeated in his last 11 starts.
“I think I have a lot to add to the team,” he said, still smiling. “We have a lot of quality players in midfield but also different types of players who can complement each other.
“Whoever is on the pitch always does his best and the most important thing is that we start winning games and winning trophies. We are still with a cry in the Champions League and we have to be in the best possible position in Premier League. League.”
Fred is likely to play an important role on both fronts, with his importance to the team bolstered by a change in position since Solskjaer’s departure in November. A player previously found at the base of United’s midfield now impresses further forward.
“I really like playing there,” he says. “With the SelectionI play in a position which is closer to the opposing goal and the coach here has also changed my positioning and I really like that.”
Fred is now better able to influence proceedings in the final third, allowing him to contribute as many goals and assists in his last 10 Premier League appearances (four) as in his previous 85.
His stunning winner against Palace, struck with his weaker foot from the edge of the box, is the most notable example of his hitherto untapped attacking abilities, but there were others.
There was the superb diagonal cross to set up Scott McTominay’s goal against Aston Villa in the FA Cup; the pretty reverse pass over the top to create Anthony Elanga’s opener against Brentford.
Fred clearly appreciates the change, but he’s happy to do whatever the team asks and even now his defensive influence lives on. No United player has made more tackles or digs this season. He also ranks first in terms of possession won in the middle third.
“I have no problem playing deeper and I like that position too,” he says. “I just want to be able to help the team as much as possible – that’s my priority. I have a great desire to help the team.”
And the manager. Fred describes Rangnick as a “best coach who has arrived at the club to help us”, adding: “Ralf just wants me to do my best. He knows the energy I have but also the quality I have.
“Obviously he has a different way of working than the previous coach, but we have to adapt to that. We have to start over. It’s not easy, but we have to give everything we have in training.
“We’ve had good results and less good results in recent games, but we’re really happy with the win over Brighton and now we have to keep improving. We’ve had an intense month with a lot of important games, we have to so continue to give the best of ourselves.”
Fred has done just that throughout his time at United, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. There was a difficult season of adaptation after his arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018 and his form fluctuated in subsequent campaigns.
“It was very difficult but I learned from it,” he says. “It was a learning experience. Thank God I made it. I’m really happy with my performance now, but I think I’ve been playing well for quite a while.
“I just put my head down and worked very hard in silence, but I also had the help of my teammates and the help of my family. helped through this period. I feel like I’m doing really well here now. I’m happy and I’m 100 per cent.”
Fred had to show fearsome determination in the face of heavy criticism along the way. The key, he says, is knowing when to disconnect from social media – “anyone can open an account to send you offensive messages and it’s really sad”, he says – and to try to use criticism as a source of motivation.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There are people who can say things, people in the media, and people who talk about things they don’t really understand, so you have to prove them wrong.
“But the motivation doesn’t just come from other people. For me it was more about doing it for myself. I already know when I can better, so I just needed to stay focused. I grew up, I learned a lot and that’s what brought me to where I am today, I’m doing very well here, now I can do things calmly and do my job in a relaxed way.
Yet he sees strangers trying to undermine him and his teammates. This week, Marcus Rashford has spoken out against claims of a dressing room split. Last month, Fred felt compelled to deny a report he was looking to leave the club.
“As I said before, a lot of people say a lot of things and sometimes people believe ‘fake news’,” he says. “It was not the first time that false things were said about me.
“We had been going through a tough time at the club back then and there were these rumors that I wanted to leave and that I was unhappy. They were untrue so I felt it was time to speak up.
“I needed to tell the fans that I was 100 per cent committed to the club and had no intention of leaving. It was a good time to speak, I think. I don’t like talk a lot on social media but on this occasion I felt I had to show the fans my desire to stay at the club.”
Fred is also adamant about claims of a player split made by Rashford – and, subsequently, Harry Maguire.
“Our dressing room is really good,” Fred said. “There’s a lot of fake news and a lot of rumors surrounding it, but it’s great. We work together and we all have the same goals and objectives.
“It’s not easy for the manager to keep everyone happy because everyone wants to play and we have so many good players. But we understand each other. We have developed harmony in the dressing room and I think that is the most important thing we have.
“We have maximum respect for each other in the dressing room.”
And how does he see his role within it?
Fred smiled again.
“I think it’s important to bring joy into the dressing room,” he said. “Some players can get frustrated or bored at times, so I try to create a positive atmosphere and make things lively, whether that’s putting on some music or whatever.
“I always try to bring happiness and good energy.”
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