Fred: Why Brazil Striker Could Be Key to Their World Cup 2014 Hopes
If it had been said 12 months ago that Fluminense striker Fred would be central to Brazil's hopes at the 2014 World Cup, there would have been few who would have subscribed to the theory.
The former Lyon striker had a torrid time at the 2011 Copa America and appeared to have dropped completely out of the national team reckoning, with Internacional striker Leandro Damiao and AC Milan's Alexandre Pato seemingly the future of the selecao's No. 9 shirt.
Just a year on, though, and the powerful forward has leaped considerably ahead of his younger competitors. Now, with three goals in manager Luiz Felipe Scolari's opening three games with the national team, it looks like he will remain in pole position for the foreseeable future.
In actual fact, Fred has always been a good striker at club level. His goalscoring record throughout spells at America-MG, Cruzeiro, Lyon and Fluminense has been consistently impressive. However, without doubt, there has been a definite improvement with age.
Over the past two domestic seasons, the Fluminense captain has been an integral member of a successful Fluminense team and, having overcome previous fitness issues, has broken the 20-goal mark in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
There has also been an impressive development of the striker's game over that time. Age and maturity have seen Fred improve his hold-up play and bring those around him into play with increased frequency.
At Fluminense, his leading of the line and linking with the talents of Wellington Nem and Deco have been a major part of the team's success, perhaps more so than his goalscoring. It is in this aspect of his game that he is currently well ahead of both Pato and Damiao.
If he can bring Oscar and Neymar into the game as he does his club colleagues, the decision to play him over more hyped competitors will be more than justified.
It is in this role, linking play, that his most important role lies. If he can free Neymar freedom to perform to his best abilities, then Brazil will benefit immensely. While Pato, for example, may be a better natural finisher, he lacks the ability with his back to goal that Fred can offer.
Fred is no Ronaldo Fenomeno, or even a Luis Fabiano at his prime, but he is a very reliable presence. With Brazil's lack of top class strikers at present, it is this reliability that makes him an attractive proposition.
Who should lead the line for Brazil in 2014?
Scolari has accepted that he will not enter the World Cup with a top class centre-forward at his disposal, but in Neymar and Oscar the side has matchwinners in other positions. The compromise, then, is to choose the player who will get the best out of Brazil's two younger stars.
Fred has proven at club level that he is able to shoulder the burden of carrying a team looking to win titles. The 2011 Copa America cast doubts over his ability to do as such at international level, but there has been a marked improvement in his play over the two years since.
Should he get there, the 2014 World Cup should be the crowning moment of Fred's career. He will be 30 years old and must be considered unlikely to play another tournament of that level.
The feeling has been for a long time that he is simply a "club player". Now, though, he must prove his doubters wrong and seek to guide Brazil's young talents through a potentially difficult tournament.
He has the intelligence and ability to do so, but it is now a matter of putting that into practice for Brazil in a high pressure situation.
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