Fred EXCLUSIVE: Man United's win at PSG my "best moment" since moving to Premier League
PARIS -- On Wednesday night, one of the greatest nights in Manchester United's history, Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos ("Fred"), the club's fourth-most expensive signing ever, had his best game for the club he joined last July. Alongside Scott McTominay in central midfield, the two "irregulars" stepped in due to injuries and suspensions, and faced the daunting prospect of taking on the brilliance of Marco Verratti and Julian Draxler, with Marquinhos just behind them. It was a tough test, one the unlikely midfield duo passed with distinction.
Fred stopped Kylian Mbappe, provided a barrier against Angel Di Maria and was one of the first players on the scene when PSG's players tried to get at and unsettle Marcus Rashford ahead of his tie-winning penalty.
"We've had a great game," Fred told ESPN after the match. "We are so happy tonight. We played without the ball all game. We knew it was going to be hard, but we have a knowledge and humility to look for victory."
Fred needed a good performance, too.
"This was my best moment since I moved to Manchester United," he said. "I felt had a great game. It's a long time since I played like this: two games in a row. I'm very happy. I want to continue to play like this, to play games."
The watching football world might have been caught unawares by the outcome, but the Brazilian, who turned 26 on Tuesday, was not.
"I wasn't surprised that we won," explained the man from Belo Horizonte, Brazil's sixth biggest city. "All the team played well. I played well. We knew it was going to be hard, but we are Manchester United. PSG knew that whatever happened in the first game, that we are still Manchester United. We have injuries but we are Manchester United. That is our name. Everybody knows us around the world. It was great that we got the win in a place like this."
Fred has had a difficult first season in England so far, featuring in only 18 games and starting in 13, including the first three matches and two of the past three against Crystal Palace and PSG, the team he had an option of joining only to choose United instead.
On the available evidence so far, United fans might find it difficult to believe PSG and Manchester City also wanted him. He played only 81 league minutes of a possible 1,440 after his two starts against Everton and Bournemouth -- United won both -- and the Palace game last week.
"It's been a hard few months," said the man who lists the "three R's" -- Robinho, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo -- as his biggest influences. "I have not been playing. There has been a lot of things going on in my mind. Ole has helped me a lot. He had a lot of chats with me. [Michael Carrick] also speaks to me a lot. That brings me calm that things will turn around for me. They trust me and I feel that trust. And they were right to trust me because I showed tonight that I can play against one of the best teams in the world and play well.
"I'm very, very happy. My confidence is getting better."
Fans saw him always wanting the ball against the French champions and nobody can say he and McTominay didn't put in the hard yards on a slick Parc des Princes surface. Fred told ESPN he likes to "link the defence to the attack, to tackle, to win the ball back." He looks to quickly pass forward, and while there are still errors in his game, more minutes should bring more confidence and better form.
With United in the last eight of the Champions League and the FA Cup, there will be no shortage of matches either. He'll also be cut slack in his first season and there are enough football people around who think he's got what it takes.
"When United signed him I thought it was a good move," explains his compatriot and former United player Fabio da Silva, now at Nantes. "I'd watched him in the Champions League for Shakhtar and thought he would be perfect for United. He's box to box, he runs everywhere. Darren Fletcher used to run everywhere.
"Fred's fast and he's aggressive: two qualities which you have to have in English football. You have no chance without aggression in English football.
"It's like something had held him back," Fabio continued. "Maybe the high price, which is not something a player decides. Maybe a few bad games early on and that can affect your confidence. Don't forget that he's in a new country where he can't speak the language. I speak from experience. It's hard when you try to explain your feelings and you can't fully do it.
"But he has the qualities to do well as a United player and he showed that against a great PSG team -- one I've played against [since joining Nantes]. And a team we were supposed to play against this Saturday. Plus, I never have a problem with a Brazilian playing for Man United."
Fred, who rates Luka Modric and Paul Pogba as the best two players in the world at his favoured position, has featured in every game under Solskjaer even when not on the pitch. His name is sung in the "Ole's at the Wheel" fan chant, which was bellowed out loud and proud throughout again in Paris.
"I like it," he said, smiling. He'd just like to be playing more so he can hear it out on the pitch, but on Wednesday night, he did his case no harm as United overturned the odds in the rain in Paris.