Manchester United are on the verge of completing a £52million deal for Fred, making the Brazilian international their first signing of the summer.
The gap between the Red Devils and Manchester City’s centurions is so vast – 19 points to be precise at the end of the 2017/18 season – that it will take something drastic to realign the two clubs.
How will Fred work alongside Paul Pogba?
First and foremost, Jose Mourinho is tasked with doing what is essential, before his attention can turn to bringing in real game-changers.
A new central midfielder certainly falls into the first category. Marouane Fellaini is reaching the end of his contract and is likely to find a new club in the coming weeks, while Michael Carrick, admittedly only a bit-part player in the last two seasons anyway, has retired.
Fred first caught the eye at Internacional in his homeland, where he scored 7 goals in 33 appearances. The 25-year-old then became more established at Shakhtar Donetsk, making 155 appearances.
What Jose Mourinho will be weighing up is where exactly the South American will fit into his midfield; more specifically, how he will work alongside Paul Pogba, as it seems most likely that they will operate in a three alongside Nemanja Matic, with the Serbian dropping deepest.
A sharper focus on Matic’s defensive duties could give Pogba and Fred more of a free rein going forward and allow both to operate as true box-to-box midfielders.
The major concern is that this deal has echoes of Pogba about it. When the Frenchman moved to Old Trafford in 2016 in a then-world record £89million switch from Juventus, he was supposedly going to initiate a revival. It’s contentious whether any player in that position has the ability to change things on their own, with Paul Scholes noting at the time that for that price, he ought to be offering more goals.
Of course, the other question mark against Fred is his discipline. Last season, in 19 appearances he received 13 yellow cards and was sent off once. In 2015, he also failed a drugs test and was temporarily suspended from international football – one reason why he has only made eight appearances for the Selecao.
A rough diamond
Perhaps it’s that last stat that is most telling. Yes, United are signing a Brazilian international, but one who is still a rough diamond. Since his appointment two years ago, Mourinho seems to have shied away from developing, from nurturing, his notoriously demanding personality instead expecting that his players step out onto the pitch as the finished article.
For all Scott McTominay’s progress last season, it could be the young Scot who falls by the wayside as a result of this latest big-money signing. Ander Herrera may also find himself struggling for game time.
Yet, while Fred seems an upgrade on those options on the surface, the problems at United run deep and it is going to take some similarly extravagant spending on the defence to fix the fundamental issues there, both at left-back and in the middle. It also won’t address the ever-developing mental barricade between the midfield and attack.
For too long, United have looked like a jigsaw that ought to fit together to create a beautiful picture, but somehow the pieces just don’t fit.
Bringing in Fred is ultimately a big positive, but Mourinho must be willing to work on him – work with him – and acknowledge that big-money signings alone aren’t the answer.