It has become fairly obvious in recent weeks that Roy Keane is not the greatest fan of Manchester United midfielder Fred.
That Keane chose to divert his attention from one of his normal targets, David de Gea, and concentrate on criticising the Brazilian at half-time of United’s game against Southampton at the weekend, said it all.
For Keane, Fred’s mistake was in fouling Moussa Djenepo, a major demeanour in the eyes of the unscrupulous Irishman.
“I’d be more critical of Fred. Fred giving away the free-kick,” Keane began, speaking on Sky Sports as United trailed to two goals that had come from James Ward-Prowse set-pieces, the second a direct free-kick that curled in past De Gea.
“I’d be disappointed with my goalkeeper, but I’d be more disappointed with Fred for being really lazy and really sloppy. Giving away free-kicks in that area is like giving away a penalty.
“Corners can happen, obviously, you’ll take that, but the free-kick, if you look at Fred closely, I’ve been criticising him for years. My eyes don’t lie to me. Really poor decision, really lazy.”
Now to criticise a United midfielder for being hasty in the tackle is quite the accusation from a man who gave away more fouls than anyone at Old Trafford. Anyone can give away a free-kick at any stage of a game; they ought not to be blamed if it leads to a goal from 20 yards.
Of course Keane had immense qualities as a player, too — attributes that surpass what Fred is capable of, in truth. But clearly Keane and his friend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer see different players when they look at United’s current No.17.
And the evidence of the past season or two suggests it is the Norwegian who is the better judge of midfielder.
Fred is not the rounded, all-action box-to-box midfield general that Keane was, nor is he a leader like the former United captain. He is small, smiling and largely unthreatening, though he’s the first to stand up to referees or opposing players when his teammates need him — as the footage at the end of United’s win at Brighton early this season will attest. Fred, as he often does with his tackling, pressing and intercepting, protected Bruno Fernandes as the Portuguese was lining up a crucial late penalty.
He is the ultimate team man. A foil to more talented footballers, a very responsible and reliable presence in Solskjaer’s side, someone who binds his teammates together as a cohesive unit.
Which is why Keane’s comments about Fred, not just the preemptive criticism during the win over Southampton, seemed so wide of the mark. Surely he can see the importance of more unglamorous players who complement talents like Fernandes, Donny Van de Beek and Marcus Rashford?
Judging by what Keane said a month ago, clearly not.
“People talk about Fred and McTominay in midfield, they’ve had their chance, we’ve seen them,” he said in the same Sky studio after United lost 1-0 to Arsenal.