The midfielder has been working with a personal trainer to improve his game and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might be about to reap the rewards
Life in lockdown has been difficult. Everyone is just trying to stay safe and healthy, while at the same time adapting to new norms.
The difficulty in doing so hasn’t been any different for Premier League footballers.
They may reside in far more resplendent and spacious homes to the rest of the world, given most players have personal gyms and swimming pools to help them stay in shape, but they face the same mental challenges as the rest of us.
Of course, most have now returned to their respective clubs’ training grounds ahead of this month’s resumption of play but, for two months, they had to embrace a radically different approach to fitness.
Videos on Instagram of Premier League stars working out in their back gardens became commonplace during the most restrictive period of lockdown and Manchester United players were given weekly training programmes to ensure that they would be ready for the restart.
For Fred, the temporary suspension of football represented an opportunity to work on parts of his game that he wouldn’t normally have time to address during a packed season.
The midfielder flew back to Brazil at the start of lockdown and, in addition to his programme set by the club, he worked closely with personal trainer Tulio Horta.
The pair have been friends since 2017 and Horta moved to Manchester in February in order to work with the United midfielder on a daily basis.
That collaboration played a pivotal role in Fred’s fine form before the 2019-20 season was halted in March.
“I meet Fred every day, even in very busy periods during the season,” Horta told Goal. “My job is to help him manage all the factors that influence performance – physical conditioning, sleep quality, nutrition, hydration and mindset.”
The daily contact didn’t stop in isolation either.
While Fred was back in Brazil, the pair would chat online daily and, since the midfielder returned to Manchester earlier this month, they have been meeting in person for socially distanced sessions.
“This quarantine period gave us an important opportunity to work on some details that in the season are difficult because of lack of time,” Horta explained.
“Players have so many matches and need to recover to be able to be ready for the next training sessions and matches, so it means the time available to work on other things ends up being limited
“The club sent a home programme for the athletes and all our sessions were based around that. But we also have some individual goals and we are working hard to achieve them.
“Our main focus has been on Fred’s quality of movement, as that influences his energy levels and, consequently, his actions on the field.”
Horta has also been in constant contact with United’s strength and conditioning coach, Michael Clegg, to align plans and targets for Fred, not only in lockdown but throughout the season.
“I told him that I want to be an extension of the club at Fred’s house, that I want to help not only the athlete but also the club,” he revealed.
“Michael is a very high-level professional and we had a great conversation. We keep in touch every week, I send training and monitoring reports to him, he gives me feedback and we make the necessary adjustments.
“We discussed exactly which exercises could be beneficial for Fred, which areas we need to improve.
“Every stimulus applied to athletes has an individual response, so I focus on some specific actions that Fred needs to improve in his performance and to prevent injuries.”
That last bit has been key for Fred. Before the suspension of football, the Brazilian had been one of United’s standout players, after previously struggling to prove his worth after arriving from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018.
Indeed, the 27-year-old has been a regular starter for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who succeeded Jose Mourinho at the helm last year, and while the midfield has been plagued with injuries during the current campaign, Fred has remained fighting fit.
“We carry out preventive exercises so that Fred remains an athlete with a low history of injuries,” said Horta, who also worked closely with Fred last summer.
“We optimise his nutrition according to the game schedules and the club sent us a nutritional guide to follow. We also use strategies that increase his muscle and mental recovery, and prepare him for the next game.
“Breathing exercises is one of our resources. I monitor his central nervous and cardiac system readiness, quality and quantity of sleep, body weight, level of muscle and mental fatigue every day before we start all the sessions.”
Horta describes Fred as a “very good” trainer who knows what he wants and what he needs to work on to improve his performances on the pitch.
Sessions in lockdown were five days a week and were based around strength and power exercises, speed and endurance training, plus work on mobility, stability, core training and some stretching.
But it is exercises to enhance Fred’s movement that Horta wanted to focus on most during the past couple of months.
“Fred has a very good conditioning, which helps a lot, and we are improving the areas he really needs to focus on and what we can improve,” he added.
“But the main goal is to improve his quality of movement and make him an athlete with the greatest sporting longevity and health possible.”
So, while Paul Pogba’s imminent return to full fitness is attracting most of the attention right now, United might also be set to benefit from a new, improved Fred.