Whenever Jose Mourinho had one of his regular rants about Premier League rivals throwing a bucket-load of cash at problem positions, the standard response was for his adversaries to wonder why he’d ordered the £52 million purchase of Fred.
And while the Portuguese was put out of his Manchester United misery in December, the midfielder continues to struggle under new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Even against a bunch of Championship relegation candidates he failed to show nearly enough of the promise United would have been banking on seeing at some point.
Saturday's 2-0 win over Reading in the FA Cup third round was the latest showcasing of Fred’s travails. For the fifth consecutive start he was hauled off within 20 minutes of the second half beginning, and with each curtailed start he cuts a more and more dejected figure.
Playing on the left of a three-man midfield alongside Scott McTominay and the deeper-lying Andreas Pereira, the Brazilian was once more a passenger. In a United performance which saw them command only 40 per cent of possession, Fred’s inability to help get a rein on a modest Reading midfield was stark.
Whereas most of the other senior players who had a nightmare under Mourinho have begun to deliver, Fred continues to fall short. Not for him the turnarounds which have seen Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford dominate since Solskjaer gave them a new lease of life.
Fred isn’t the only one around whom questions remain, with Pereira still to provide any real proof that he can be a holding midfielder of significant quality in the Premier League following his conversion from a more attacking role.
But any player who cost the club so much money is going to be under a brighter spotlight, and although another Mourinho signing, Victor Lindelof, has excelled so far under Solskjaer, Fred’s troubles will continue to be one of the Norwegian’s biggest headaches going forward.
Another issue in the short term is the fitness of Alexis Sanchez, after he was withdrawn 64 minutes in due to what appeared to be a recurrence of his hamstring injury, but there were positives elsewhere.
For a start, Solskjaer continued to promote the youth cause, giving Tahith Chong a 30-minute first-team debut, while Romelu Lukaku netted for a third successive game to give United their final margin of victory in first-half injury time.
Juan Mata had given them the lead by converting from the spot after a lengthy referral to the Video Assistant Referee over a foul by Omar Richards on the Spaniard.
In the second half, United’s pace rarely got anywhere near the level which had seen them rack up four wins from four in the Premier League, even after Fred and Mata had made way for Chong and the returning Marouane Fellaini.
But while this continued Solskjaer’s unprecedented start to life at Old Trafford, the spectre of Mourinho remains in some of the issues on the field.
Few are more pressing than the form of Fred.