After finishing runners-up both in the Premier League and FA Cup, Manchester United are looking to improve this summer in an attempt to bridge the gap from local rivals Manchester City.
The latest on Fred has come from the Godfather of transfer news, Gianfranco Di Marzio, who claims United have reached an agreement with Shakhtar Donetsk for £50 million.
Here, we speak to Demetrio Tozzi, who has been supporting Shakhtar Donetsk ever since 1999.
Dale: Manchester United have been heavily linked with Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred, who is going to the World Cup this summer with Brazil. That suggests to me that he has something about him and our interest is warranted, but we’ve made some terrible signings following World Cups in the past. So, to cut to the chase, should the Reds sign Fred, what can we expect?
Demetrio: Of course, Fred has a lot to perform greatly at Manchester United and achieve great things at Theatre of Dreams. No guarantees, but I don’t think you’ll be sorry. And I shamelessly think that being part of Shakhtar’s midfield line is a proof of quality in itself. Either way, he’s about to be sold, even if it’s still not set in stone yet, it is pretty much decided, and as of now United is a definite leader to get him, though PSG and Man City were in talks as well, so don’t get too relaxed, as our board intends to sell him after World Cup in hope that they can up their valuation. Fred has signed another contract with Shakhtar this winter, just to sell him for a better price (and for Fred to gain financially from the deal too, I presume).
Shakhtar usually asks for big sums, but cause no problems for players to move and buyers to get those players when the club’s evaluations are met. As far as I know, that evaluation is €60 million at the moment, but could change after the World Cup, but not too much. I think Fred is what United need no matter if he’ll be a starter or a sub within the centre trio of Pogba, Matic, Herrera (he’s equally capable on all these positions), he’ll add to the team should he move.
Dale: Is the leap from Ukrainian football to the Premier League likely to be a struggle for Fred?
Demetrio: The struggle will be present, no way around it, but it wouldn’t be so dramatic as some English pundits tend to believe. Despite ever since the war in the Eastern Ukraine (Donbas, home of Shakhtar) erupted in 2014, Ukrainian football is in decline due to non-football reasons, therefore, the league has become weaker, but I can assure you, before 2014 it was much tougher than Premier League fans are lead to believe. Also, it’s physical-oriented, fast, focused on radical defending and long balls ever since Soviet times, so it’s often way easier to score vs. City or even Chelsea in the Champions League than break 10-men defending teams which the Ukrainian league is full of when playing against Shakhtar with various degrees of success. So Shakhtar and the Ukrainian league became a great school for Brazilians and other foreign talents that became successful in the Premier League such as Willian and Fernandinho.
For example, Willian, who was lazy prior to his transfer to Shakhtar and was only capable of spectacular attacking moves, pedaladas and other Robinho-esque circuses, but with us, he became a tireless team player, who works 90+ minutes on different areas and he even contributed to defending. Fred came to Shakhtar in 2013, just enough to witness and being molded in all the past glory and better league standards, learning from Mircea Lucescu who made the likes of Fernandinho the player he is today. I can tell you, these Brazilians usually struggle for the first two years after very different Brasileirão, so I think we doing everyone a favour preparing them for European football. And Fred is ready, you can confirm that by watching Shakhtar games vs. City in the Champions League.
Dale: What are Fred’s strengths and weaknesses?
Demetrio: It’s wise to compare him to City’s Fernandinho, as Fred is called “Ferna’s heir” because he plays the same role as Fernandinho did at Shakhtar before he left for Manchester City. A deep-lying playmaker, box-to-box centre midfielder in 4-2-3-1, one of the 2s CMs, the more creative one — being both Shakhtar’s engine and Shakhtar’s brains – with most of our plays coming through Fred. He was also an attacking player in Brazil league, playing as a winger and using his left foot mastery to beat defenders with unexpected twists and turns. He will be up to physicality as I’ve said above. He’s aggressive, presses much, good at tackling, not so much at marking. Fred isn’t tall and uses his head not too often, heading is generality his weakness, though not a crucial one. He plays sexy through passes, is fast and cunning, and can be described as an all-rounder.
Recently he started working on set-pieces and scored a beautiful goal vs. Roma in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and became our free kick taker, though he’s still far from great. He’s pretty much the end product (except for a few defensive issues), despite lacking slightly in experience and is a bit rawer than Ferna was prior to his move to City, but he’s younger and has more room for improvement and growth. In fact, he plays deeper than Fernandinho did at Shakhtar and helps the defenders. He intercepts greatly and he’s aggressive and knows when to press the opposition.
Dale: There was speculation regarding Fred joining our local rivals Manchester City in January, but that has since faded away. In Ukraine, which of the Manchester clubs is most popular (United/City)?
Demetrio: Manchester City indeed made an official offer worth €50 million to Shakhtar this winter, but it was rejected. Shakhtar is easy to negotiate with – our club just informs the interested the amount of money required, although that doesn’t always end up with the player going the opposite direction. Shakhtar has good relations with the City board after the Elano and Fernandinho deals, also with Guardiola himself even before his City spell (for example, he has signed Chygrynskiy for Barcelona and Douglas Costa for Bayern).
Of course, Manchester United is the most popular in Ukraine. Just a few years ago, even here, supporting City was frowned upon and considered glory-hunting. But now the situation is changing, it’s not taboo anymore it seems, also, a considerable amount of Ukrainians cheer for Zinchenko (Shakhtar Academy product). The majority of Shakhtar fans, myself included, have only the best things to say about Fernandinho, who is considered one of the best Shakhtar players of the entire post-soviet era. So you’ve got yourself a rival here for the future, the one you should watch out for.
Dale: Finally, I’d like to thank you for answering the above questions for Stretty News. Before we let you go, have Shakhtar any other players we should be looking out for?
Demetrio: Nice talking to you. Ismaily is the power on the left, still very overlooked and underrated yet, just exactly what United needs right now. Quite often he outshines Fred. He’s potentially is one of the best players that can play left-wing-back throughout Europe and he’s already living up to those expectations.
We bought him after United won a transfer battle with us for Alexander Büttner, so I think we got ourselves the far better deal in the end. Also, Ismaily scored a funny and important goal vs. City in the Champions League, which I guess you’ll like. And recently he was called up for Brazil national team for the first time, but failed to make it to World Cup list alongside Fred (also Taison, and former Shakhtar players Willian, Fernandinho and Douglas Costa, the last one never disappeared from United’s radar and was set to move there before Shakhtar got him due to Gremio being too greedy and Douglas himself wasn’t very keen playing for reserves).
You’re welcome. If Fred happens to sign with United, I wish him all the best and to you, to have the best experience with him, we’ll be watching.