Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fred rises from dead to regain cred

Former washout now admired

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Nov. 11, 2012, Estádio do Pacaembu: Fred slams an accurate cross from the right past Palmeiras goalkeeper Bruno to seal the Brazilian championship for Fluminense.

Nov. 21 2012, La Bombonera: Following Jean's desperate strike from outside the area, Fred clips the ball over Argentina's Augustin Orion to give Brazil the temporarily advantage in the Superclásico de las Américas, which they'd end up winning on penalties.

Ten days, two goals and, according to the man himself, his best season in professional football.

Nearly four years after falling out with Olympique Lyonnais and leaving Europe with his tail between his legs, Fred (Frederico Chaves Guedes), at 29, has undergone a transformation that has turned him from a national embarrassment into one of the most-admired strikers in Brazil.

The plaudits have come and continue to come from teammates, coaches and pundits. Everyone, it seems, wants to have a part in Fred's revival, in the rebranding of a player who, until recently, was more a source of groans and eye-rolls than collective admiration.

"Fred is fantastic on and off the field," gushed SporTV's Ledio Carmona following Brazil's shootout win in Buenos Aires.

"Fred is punctual; he is well-positioned, and when the ball arrives he rarely misses an opportunity," added Wagner Vilaron.

Such universal affection is a rare thing in soccer, and the goodwill coming Fred's way from all directions likely has more than a little to do with the fact that with only 19 months to go before the World Cup, Brazil's preparations -- both on and off the field -- are in desperate need of a pick-me-up.

That said, there's more to this feel-good story than merely the national team.

It wasn't that long ago that Fred, who had moved to Lyon for Ǩ15 million in 2005, returned to Brazil a shadow of the player who had become one of the country's up-and-coming stars while at Cruzeiro.

His European adventure had started out well enough.

The 14 Ligue 1 goals he bagged in 2005-06 were second-most in the division and helped Lyon to the title, and he still managed 11 tallies in an injury-shortened 2006-07 campaign as the French giants again finished atop the standings.

But after suffering another injury at the 2007 Copa America he quickly fell out of favour with new Lyon manager Alain Perrin, and by December 2008 he was begging club president Jean-Michel Aulas to terminate his deal.

"As I am not playing I asked the president to terminate my contract," the striker revealed in an interview with RTL radio.

"When I come on with 20 or 15 minutes to play, that is not enough time to express myself...Because of that I want to leave."

Two months later he joined Fluminense, but it wasn't until 2011 and the arrival of manager Abel Braga that Fred was finally able to hit his peak.

He scored 22 goals as the Tricolor came third last season and this time around has so far contributed 19 goals to a side that secured the championship with three matches remaining.

"I'm having the best year of my career, with many goals and three titles (league, state and Superclásico)," he said in a post-match press conference following the win over Argentina. "Now I'm going to stay focussed. The Confederations Cup and World Cup are coming -- those are my main goals."

Even two years ago anyone within earshot when he made that statement would have scoffed.

But not anymore. These days Fred is scoring goals and winning trophies -- and winning over fans where once there were only critics.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @peterssoccer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 C7

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