Beyond the sweet early summer months of 2017/18, watching the Red Devils became a routinely joyless experience. A collection of supreme individuals frequently stumbled rather than soared.
Their second place – the club’s best since the heady days of Sir Alex Ferguson – in the Premier League felt almost like a Pyrrhic victory, welding the miserly Mourinho to a post that maudlin performances on the pitch scarcely merited.
The feast that Manchester City supporters were gorging on less than five miles away accentuated this feeling of betrayal about attacking traditions.
However, in Brazil international Fred, it appears Mourinho has found the perfect vessel. The multi-faceted £52 million (Dh255.2m) midfielder represents an expansive future, attained without the cost of savaging the boss’ core principles.
Bigger names recruited for higher fees will step through the Old Trafford entrance this summer. None will represent a clearer sign that necessary change has arrived.
After the indignity of watching City sweep their way to the title in record-breaking fashion, more of the same from their chastened neighbours would not do in 2018/19.
Scoring 38 fewer goals, winning seven fewer matches, registering a negative differential of 39 in goal difference and gaining 19 fewer points. United also registered an average of four less shots per game, 3.4 fewer key passes and created 120 less chances than their ‘noisy neighbours’.
A repeat of these patterns cannot be countenanced.
This is a problem Mourinho faced ahead of 2011/12 when employed by Real Madrid. Barcelona appeared at their zenith under Pep Guardiola’s aegis and with Lionel Messi blossoming into a devastating force of historic power.
Los Blancos responded with 121 goals – the most-prolific season on record in La Liga – to wrestle the crown back to the Spanish capital.
Repeating the trick against Guardiola’s current employers is a necessity as Mourinho attempts to quieten the dissenting voices within the unsettled Theatre of Dreams for his critical third season at the helm.
Fred’s recruitment from Shakhtar Donetsk – an objective suitors City failed to complete in January – acts as a totem for what lies ahead.
His demarcation for the Ukraine Ukrainian Premier League winners and with the national team is defensive midfield.
In a Champions League campaign during which he wowed twice against City, he led the way for Shakhtar in tackles per match (2.9). So far, so normal.
But he was also joint third for shots (1.6), first for dribbles (2.9), joint third for key passes (1.1), had the highest average passes (56.8) and made the joint-third highest long balls (5.4).
This is the all-action practitioner Anderson once promised to be.
It is not someone just brought in to add ballast alongside Serbia’s Nemanja Matic, or simply facilitate more freedom for France’s Paul Pogba – a jubilant player who befuddles both Mourinho and Les Bleus’ tactician Didier Deschamps.
Fred will do both these things. But he also brings so much more to this stodgy United.
In the 2017/18 Champions League, he created more chances than Pogba and made more tackles than Matic. Vitally, his talents and outlook represent a sizeable upgrade on Ander Herrera – the reigning ‘third man’ at United.
Whether deployed in a centre-midfield three, or in front of the defence as a two, Fred widens the parameters.
Mourinho has chased Guardiola down before – and this signing sends a message that he can do it again.
Manchester United have reached an agreement with Shakhtar Donetsk to sign Brazil midfielder Fred for a reported fee in excess of £50million.
United announced the news in a brief statement on their official website, which read: “Manchester United is delighted to announce it has reached agreement with Shakhtar Donetsk for the transfer of Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos (Fred).”
Fred played in Brazil’s 2-0 friendly win over Croatia at Anfield on Sunday but remained coy about his future when questioned by Brazilian media after the game.
The 25-year-old, who joined Shakhtar from Inter Milan in 2013, has been named in Brazil’s World Cup squad for the tournament in Russia.
He becomes the first major summer signing by United boss Jose Mourinho, who is also reportedly closing in on a deal for Porto defender Diogo Dalot.
What exactly are Manchester United getting in Brazilian midfielder Fred?
Though the Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder impressed during the Champions League last season, notably catching Pep Guardiola‘s eye during group stage fixtures against Manchester City, the Brazilian remains somewhat of an unknown quantity as he nears a move to Old Trafford.
The 25-year-old describes himself as a conductor of play in midfield, and his stats show he’s worthy of that title.
His 85 per cent pass completion rate in eight European games last season is roughly the same as what Paul Pogba achieved across competitions in 2017-18, although it’s slightly lower than those of Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera.
But what really underlines his credentials as a conductor is the 1.13 chances he created per 90 minutes in the Champions League. That was better than any United player in the competition last season, and when looking at Premier League stats, only Pogba, with 1.53, managed better.
Fred also averaged 0.12 goals and 0.12 assists per 90 minutes, again better than Pogba, Herrera, and Matic in Europe. His corresponding numbers from the Ukrainian Premier League – 0.11 goals and 0.18 assists – would leave him trailing only Pogba’s domestic stats.
If that weren’t promising enough, what should truly excite United fans is Fred’s skill on the ball. His 88 per cent successful take-on rate in the Champions League was a better stat than any incumbent midfielder managed in European competition last season, with Matic’s Premier League rate of 89 per cent just edging him out. As advertised, Fred will be bringing some Brazilian flair to Manchester.
He’s no slouch defensively, either. Only Herrera could best Fred’s 2.25 tackles per 90 minutes in Europe, while that stat tops what any United midfielder managed domestically. Fred also won 54 per cent of his duels, a number that puts him alongside the incumbent trio.
And speaking of Brazilians, any United fan disappointed at seeing Fabinho go to Liverpool should be pleased at getting Fred instead. In the Champions League, the Donetsk man beat his compatriot in every passing stat and just about every defensive stat, losing out only in interceptions and aerial duels. Bear in mind, Fred is 5’7″ and Fabinho is 6’2″.
The new Liverpool signing did have a slightly better goal contribution across competitions, 13 to 11, but much of that was down to Fabinho taking penalties – seven of his eight goals were from the spot.
Put Fred’s attacking and defensive numbers together, and it looks like Manchester United are getting a complete midfielder.