Shakhtar Donetsk vs Man City: How Fernandinho flew while Fred flopped


Brazilians have had mixed fortunes in England, with the Man City star enjoying huge success while United’s midfielder fails to make an impact

If you were looking for a contrast between the status of Brazilian stars Fernandinho and Fred, this week provides just about the perfect example.

Both players are expected to be drafted into their teams for their first starts of the season, but for entirely different reasons.

At Manchester City, Fernandinho’s flexibility and intelligence has been likely to see him used as an emergency centre-back for the important Champions League opener at his former club Shakhtar Donetsk.

The 34-year-old had been given extra time off by Pep Guardiola after featuring in Brazil’s successful Copa America tournament.

But after the ‘mini-crisis’ of a first defeat of the season at Norwich on Saturday, his experience and quality means it’s time for a recall.

Fred could also make his first start for Manchester United, in the Europa League Group L clash against Astana – albeit for different motives.

The midfielder was also late returning this summer, but he was not part of Tite’s Brazil squad. Instead, he got married in July and missed part of pre-season.

After playing his first minutes of the season in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Leicester, the 26-year-old could play from the start on Thursday as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rotates his side for what should be a comfortable night against the Kazakh champions.

It’s a scenario that no one would have predicted two years ago when, after successfully replacing Fernandinho at Shakhtar, City identified Fred as his perfect long-term successor at the Etihad Stadium too.

Their quality on the pitch seemed as similar as their early career trajectories.

Guardiola on Fernandinho

After three successful years in his home country with Club Athletico Paranaense, Fernandinho caught the eye of European scouts and in 2005 moved to Shakhtar, which was becoming established as an excellent bridge between Brazil and Europe.

He won six Ukrainian titles in eight years and City finally made a move for him in 2013.

Despite being 28, Shakhtar received £34 million for him. Indeed, the deal only went through because Fernandinho wanted the move so badly that he waived £4m worth of assorted payments owed to him.

He didn’t regret that decision and neither did City.

Fred had also established himself in Brazil with Internacional, before making the move to Shakhtar where he won three titles in his five seasons.

City again came knocking and Fred was initially keen.

“It would be a dream to follow Fernandinho’s footsteps, because he has been my role model,” he said in 2017 when a move was first mooted.

“I am flattered by comparisons with him, because he has been one of the best Brazilians to have played for Shakhtar.”

He did eventually move to Manchester, but there the comparisons stop.

City pulled out of a move when they couldn’t reach an agreement with the Ukrainians, and United stepped in a year ago with a £53m bid and a reported £120,000-a week contract.

With three Premier League winners’ medals and five domestic cups, Fernandinho has been a big success.

His quality has been matched by his quick-thinking and desire, and he was one of the first to understand and execute Guardiola’s philosophy when the former Barcelona coach took over as City boss in 2016.

“It has been a gift to have him,” said the Catalan, who also described the Brazilian as one of the world’s three best holding midfielders because of his importance to the team.

Fred, Luis Suarez, Man Utd vs Barcelona, UCL 2018-19

Now that understanding of the game sees him take on more value as he steps up as cover for the injured Aymeric Laporte and John Stones at centre-back. He will be very important in the role, with Nicolas Otamendi – who struggled badly against Norwich – the only other natural centre-back currently available.

Fernandinho has been perfect for City and City have been perfect for him.

He has been part of the leadership group – along with captain David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero – that speak to Guardiola about any first-team issues.

His young family has been happy in Cheshire and he was instrumental in helping fellow Brazilians Gabriel Jesus, Ederson and Danilo, now at Juventus, settle in Manchester.

Life in England has been far tougher for his countryman Fred, though.

On the pitch, Fred has failed to impress – making just 20 starts and scoring a single goal in his debut season.

At the training ground he has struggled to make an impact. Insiders say he has been confused by Solskjaer’s tough training sessions and the cliques in the first-team dressing room.

Fellow Brazilian Andreas Pereira has been his only close friend at the club and somebody he can communicate to in Portuguese.

His agent, former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva, has emphasised the importance of learning English if he has been to become a success at Old Trafford.

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However, despite finding himself on the periphery of the first team, he has not given up on fighting for his place at the club.

Becoming a Europa League regular may not be where Fred expected to be when he moved to Old Trafford in 2018, but it could at least offer him an opportunity to get his United career back on track.

Fernandinho, meanwhile, heads back to former club Shakhtar on Wednesday for the third season in succession, just as important to City as the day he arrived from Ukraine.


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