Arsenal legend has helped improve United’s midfield

Before the World Cup, Manchester United secured the signature of highly rated Brazilian midfielder Fred. The 25-year-old had been subject to a €50 million bid from Manchester City in January, with Pep Guardiola seeing him as a replacement for Fernandinho, but it was Jose Mourinho who got his man ahead of the World Cup.

However, it may be an Arsenal legend that United have to thank, as Gilberto Silva is the player’s agent.

“There were options in England and in Europe,” Fred told ESPN. “Manchester City, PSG, but I chose United. I spoke to my agent Gilberto Silva, who played for Arsenal. He told me that United was a huge club.”

Gilberto won the World Cup with Brazil back in 2002 and played 93 games for his country. Fred currently has eight caps and, although he was part of the squad this summer, made no appearances in Russia due to injury. Yet it’s no surprise that Gilberto is a figure that he looks up to.

The Arsenal midfielder made over 200 appearances for the club and won three trophies in his six years there, including the Premier League title during their unbeaten season in 2003-04. He was also in the side that beat United in the FA Cup final the following season, a result that still pains many supporters who watched their team dominate for two hours, only to lose out on penalties.

There’s no love lost between Gilberto and United though, with him playing for Arsenal during the peak of the rivalry between the two clubs. He was one of the players who crowded around Ruud van Nistelrooy following his infamous penalty miss in the last minute against them in 2003. He was seen squaring up to Cristiano Ronaldo after the final whistle.

Gilberto captained the side that beat United at Old Trafford at the beginning of the 2006-07 season, although saw his penalty saved by Tomas Kusczak, only for Emmanuel Adebayor to score a late winner. United went on to win the league that season and Arsenal finished fourth, 21 points behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s team.

The midfielder’s last appearance against United came at the end of the 2007-08 season. With five games to go, United were top of the league, three points clear of Chelsea and six of Arsenal. A defeat for Ferguson that day would have left the title race wide open. Adebayor scored for the visitors first, directing the ball in to the back of the net with his hand. Cristiano Ronaldo soon equalised before Owen Hargreaves scored a sublime freekick to end Arsenal’s title hopes.

Still, he seemingly hasn’t held any of that against the club when advising his client to sign for them.

“Gilberto was a top midfielder who played for Arsenal,” Fred said this week. “But he has a lot of respect for Manchester United, who are obviously a big club here in England. He praised the club a lot and, after he was granted the opportunity to speak to Jose Mourinho and other senior figures at United, we made the decision together for me to come here. We decided it would be a good move for me. Gilberto is a top guy and his advice means a lot to me. He played in the same position as I do and he won the Premier League, so I look to him for inspiration, I listen to what he has to say and I take on board what he tells me.”

Fred has made a positive start to life at United, even if the results haven’t gone their way so far.

In the opening fixture against Leicester, only three United players completed more passes than him, with him boasting an impressive 92% passing accuracy. Only one player on the pitch, compatriot Andreas Pereira, made more interceptions than him.

In the second game against Brighton, he completed more passes than any player on either side, again with a 92% accuracy.

It’s still early days for the Brazilian but he looks as though he is settling in well, with Mourinho singing the midfielder’s praises.

“I think people already like him,” the manager said. “People can already feel his positive influence on the team and on the style of football that the team wants to play. When we brought him here, we knew he could influence the dynamic because he could attract other people to follow him in the way he thinks football and the way he likes to play football. So we are really happy. And a part of that is his character, he’s a good guy to have around, a funny guy and a guy who always has a smile on his face. He doesn’t speak good English but he speaks with everyone and understands everyone and they understand him. He’s a really, really good guy and he brought new music to the place because we were a bit tired of De Gea and Ashley Young’s music all the time!”

The midfield has been an area where United have struggled for some time but the hope is that Fred can bring the dynamism needed to help the team dominate in this area of the pitch. He has a long way to go but it’s so far, so good, and United have Gilberto to thank for that.


By Scott Patterson

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