Former Manchester United manager José Mourinho knew exactly what he was doing when he went after midfielder Fred four years ago. The Portuguese was keen to reinvigorate his stagnant midfield ahead of his third and, ultimately, last season at Old Trafford, with the Shakhtar star at the top of his list.
Mourinho identified Fred as the man to fill the void left by Michael Carrick’s retirement after an exhaustive search for midfield talent. He had compiled a dossier of midfielders from around the world, telling scouts to watch Jean Michael Seri, Marco Verratti, Arturo Vidal and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic as he narrowed down his targets.
In the end, they settled on Fred, a player who had been pursued by Manchester City in the January window before Shakhtar turned down what was described as a major offer. Pep Guardiola’s team focused their attention on Jorginho, who opted for a reunion with Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea. United were left with a free kick to the energetic midfielder.
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In April of that year, Mourinho spoke tactically to the Brazilian press and paid tribute to the rich tapestry of talented players the nation had produced.
“I think a team without a Brazilian is not a team,” Mourinho said. ESPN Brazil. “I think his talent is fantastic and the creativity of the Brazilian player cannot be measured. If a European team, like many Europeans, could have a Brazilian in their squad, they would bring a Brazilian ‘thing’ to the game and I think that is very important.” .
Two months later, Fred was introduced as United’s second summer signing after Diogo Dalot, becoming the 100th player Mourinho had signed in his entire career.
Four years on, United may well be looking to add another Seleção star to their side this summer, with Erik ten Hag believed to be eyeing a potential hit for Ajax winger Antony.
Last week, Ten Hag admitted that “there is no deal that excludes him from bringing players to Manchester United”, a comment that naturally fueled further suggestions of a move for Antony this summer.
United are in the market for a right-wing attacker at the end of the season, although he is not a priority given the obvious problems elsewhere in the squad. Mason Greenwood’s suspension has amplified the need for a new specialist at the position, with United overloaded with right-handed forwards who prefer to play on the left side of attack.
There is still great hope that Amad, signed two years ago from Atalanta, could be a long-term solution to the problems on the right flank, but his expectations may need to be lowered after his poor loan spell with Rangers this season.
In contrast, Antony, now a full international for Brazil, played a key role in Ajax’s successful title bid this season, scoring 12 goals and registering 10 assists in just 33 appearances. Surely those stats would have been even more impressive had a recent ankle injury not sidelined him for the final games of the season.
He would certainly bring samba stardom to his attack.
One of the games he missed was the Dutch cup final loss to PSV Eindhoven, a game in which Ten Hag regretted losing the 22-year-old winger wizard.
“Without Antony, everything is a little less fast and dynamic on the right, which also makes it more difficult for the team. So the spaces become much smaller,” he said.
Ralf Rangnick has already advised United to sign two forwards at the end of the season, and the position could become an even bigger problem if Anthony Martial joins Edinson Cavani in leaving the team this summer.
With an over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s clear that United will need to find a way to supplement their attacking strength, and Rangnick suggests the addition of a versatile wing option could be one way of solving the conundrum.
“Modern strikers don’t necessarily have to be strikers,” the interim chief recently noted. “Liverpool or Manchester City have five or six top strikers. If you ask me if Gabriel Jesus or [Jack] Grealish is a winger or a forward, everyone can play there. Mason Greenwood would have been one, but after the West Ham game he was no longer part of the team.”
Ten Hag’s answer might well be hidden in the most obvious place. His former manager would surely approve too.
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