The curious case of the consensus around Fred, the Manchester United midfielder’s opinion divider
With another great performance under his belt, maybe it’s time to reassess the Brazilian.
Consensus is a funny thing in modern football. At first glance, in this earthy age of rabid tribalism, myopic support, and militant antagonism, you’d think there would be few. Yet when it comes to the simple question of whether a player is good or not, there is one. In a general way.
That’s because, unpleasant as it may be to admit, we’re mostly followers here. Although we have our own eyes and minds, our opinions are at least influenced by the tide of public opinion. We can go along with that, say we really don’t understand the hype around Jack Grealish, but when some guy on TV wearing dodgy sneakers on an uncomfortable chair says something, it often ends up in our thinking. From Jermaine Jenas the world, picked up by those who respect his judgement, to those who listen proliferates all over social media, until so many people say Declan Rice is the new Steven Gerrard that he becomes a established truth. Groupthink at its best.
With Fred, things are a little different. The little Brazilian continues, 151 games after his Manchester United career, divide opinion. Described on Match of the Day as “fabulous” against Crystal Palace in December, singled out by others on the same program for his praise twice against Leeds this season, and by Jenas himself on Saturday, Fred received more than applause in this campaign than almost any other United player. And yet, its detractors are still numerous.
While many United fans love him for his industry, most also have doubts whether he is good enough for such a high status club. A brief Twitter analysis is full of fans and opponents questioning his place in the team, with far less diplomacy than that. And while the temptation may be to dismiss these voices as myopic and antagonistic, it’s a temptation best avoided. Not only are they the valid opinions of valid observers, even if they were not, to dismiss them would be to miss the point. We are not speaking here of the value of a perception, but of the perception itself. Consensus, or lack thereof.
And this lack is a strangeness that deserves to be questioned. Because Fred is good. Not only the experts who know the game better than we see it, but others too. He has 24 caps for Brazil and would have many more if not for a doping ban that left him stranded in the international wilderness for years. José Mourinho thought him good enough to spend £47million, and despite all his well-known blunders in this area, his voice still carries weight. And the two United managers who will follow Mourinho have also put Fred at the center of their plans. Yes, Solskjaer’s reputation as a judge is now somewhat tarnished, and Rangnick may be doing just that, but their opinions are surely more serious than @FootyTroll69’s.
Apparently not, and perhaps his association with them is where the problem lies. Just as Marouane Fellaini’s heavy presence in midfield was in some way emblematic of the post-Ferguson decline from the Moyes years to Mourinho, Fred is a poster for the second episode of this soap opera. United: The Megafarce Years, with Fred and Slabhead. As pillars of essentially failed or failing projects, players like this become lightning rods, symbols of a wider malaise.
Yet he feels unfair. As you’d expect from a mainstay, everything good about Solskjaer’s reign – of which there were actually quite a few – involved Fred. Famous away wins at the Etihad and Parc des Princes were built on McFred’s double pivot, and Fred’s work rate in central midfield was crucial in sealing consecutive Champions League qualifications. champ; something that, whatever the victory against Spurswill most likely escape them this term.
It must also be said, however, that he exemplified the limitations of this team, with the much-publicized inability to break teams seeming to come from him and McTominay, and the creativity in tight spaces that they often lack. Not only that, there were undoubtedly times when, particularly early in his United career, Fred was unequivocally crap.
There was the 2019 defeat to Newcastle, in which he was so sloppy in possession that the notoriously pirloesque Martin Keown observed that it “almost became a joke when Fred won the ball back”, and similar performances against Everton, Arsenal and wolves too. jump. Yet while most of his first season in England was a disaster, he has been one of United’s most consistent players over the past two years. And while our tendency for confirmation bias means our opinions never change overnight, you’d have thought we knew the old cliché “It takes strangers time to adjust” well enough to apply it here. Anyway, Fred used to be shitty most of the time, but now he’s only shitty. Usually – as evidenced by his seven Premier League goals in an inconsistent team – he is really, really good. Consensus just hasn’t quite caught up with that.
Maybe it will. Perhaps a few more mentions of the Match of the Day studio will permeate into the wider consciousness, our herd instincts will kick in, and the narrative will slowly shift. Or maybe not. Maybe it won’t be because he might not be very good at all, and currently just making a very passable impression of a footballer, to go back to the empty peripheral thing that has first honored these shores. Maybe he’s just inconsistent.
Or maybe the real reason the consensus will never change is because it’s about a Brazilian named Fred. A samba footballer with the name of an Accrington butcher, and just too comical to be taken seriously. Yeah, the more you think about it, the more it could be.
Ed’s capstick – follow him on Twitter