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English lessons & axed agents: Why Shakhtar star Fred has Man Utd, Man City fighting over him

Boom, boom, boom. For Fred, it's happening. One by one. Those targets Shakhtar Donetsk's dynamic, all-action midfielder, set himself at the start of season are now being knocked off...

A League and Cup Double with Shakhtar. World Cup selection with Brazil. And now the third and final goal is weeks, maybe just days, away - a money spinning move to the Premier League.

Fred's camp laid the foundations earlier this season. Out went prime agent Roberto de Assis. A decade together wasn't enough for Fred to maintain the relationship. The older brother of Ronaldinho, De Assis had taken Fred from Atletico MG at 16 to Internacional - via his own Porto Alegre for a tidy sum - before relocating the then 20 year-old to Europe and Donetsk. Five years later and Fred has moved on. De Assis dumped and replaced by Gilberto Silva, the former Arsenal captain.

A sure sign of Fred's intent is Gilberto didn't have to do the chasing. Fred's camp actually reached out to him and the Gooner quickly made things happen, with a first Premier League offer arriving in January.

Manchester City came calling and laid almost €70m on the table. But Shakhtar weren't interested. Sergei Palkin, the club's sporting director, refusing to do business midseason.

"Boy, it was a good fight," recalled Fred, with a broad smile. "It can be difficult to get a release here. But I've made it clear that next season I want to take this bigger leap. The football director, (Sergei) Palkin, did tell me he might let me go."

Indeed, while the winter market shut with the door left ajar - it is now swinging wide open as City and Manchester United make contact.

"Fred's leaving us in July," conceded Palkin. "If he does not go to Manchester City, he goes to Manchester United. Fred is ready for a stronger league. He is not only a great athlete but also a very good professional."

PSG have also been mentioned, but like with Gilberto, Fred leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to his transfer ambitions.

"I've been taking regular English lessons for some time - and all with the support of the club," says the midfielder.

"On and off the pitch, I know I've matured and grown from my time with Inter. I've played with and against great teams and star players. This has helped me grow as a player."

...and transform. At Inter, indeed in Brazil, Fred left for Shakhtar as a recognised striker.

"Dunga at Inter was the first guy who tried to drop me back in 2013," recalls Fred. "The team then had Forlán, D'Alessandro, Dátolo, and he dropped me deeper so I would not be left on the bench.

"It lasted only a little time, I'd never played like that before, it left me super-tired!

"It was at Shakhtar that I matured into this role. And in this season's Champions League I realised I belonged there. I was competing at a very high level."

That restyle is owed to Paulo Fonseca, Shakhtar's head coach. The Portuguese building on the work of predecessor Mircea Lucescu to transform Fred into one of the most complete, box-to-box midfielders currently running around in Europe.

Fonseca has told Brazil coach Tite publicly that Fred is the best his country has.

"His opinion makes me happy, of course," says Shakhtar's No8. "I have worked hard to help the team and give my best on the field. The coach's words are gratifying. He is a very intelligent person who has helped me a lot."

Of course, a move to United would see Fred working with another Portuguese manager, Jose Mourinho. While with City, he knows he has a fan in Pep Guardiola.

Speaking of Shakhtar this season, the City manager enthused: "They're one of the best teams I've faced.

"They have great players, are well organised and well defended, they put a lot of players ahead of the ball and they combine very well between Marlos, Taison, Bernard and especially Fred. With one touch, he manages to serve them all..."

For Fred, the feeling's mutual.

"With an excellent coach like Guardiola and a great team like City, I would develop a lot with them," he said in response.

After five years in Ukraine, Fred is in a hurry. By his own admission, he's a good year - maybe two - behind where he believes he should be in his career.

Two separate doping suspensions stalled his plans - and saw him miss the Rio Olympics. Fred has always insisted he was the victim of "contaminated food".

"I think it was a little (injustice)," he says. "But this question of involuntary doping is very complex, it's hard to argue. It was really bad, because the thing I like to do most is to play football. On the other hand, I have matured a lot.

"If it had not been for that, maybe I could have already made a bigger leap in my career ... But now I have a World Cup to play. I believe that everything is happening at the right time."

And that timing will also include a well engineered summer move to England. Whether it's United or City, one Manchester giant will be landing a player who has given himself every chance to reach his career goals.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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