It was only after Bruno Fernandes’ third game for Manchester United that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer realised he had made the right decision in bringing the midfielder to Old Trafford.
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While the rest of the team was largely satisfied with the 1-1 draw against Brugge in the 2019-20 Europa League Round of 16, knowing there was still one game to play, Fernandes was not. That’s exactly the kind of reaction Solskjaer has seen from the American teams he’s played for, and the Norwegian was quietly elated to see his new Sporting CP player throw his jersey into the corner of the locker room.
Mr Solskjaer also believes that print runs, even those that can be corrected after a week, are never good enough. After playing just the last nine minutes in Belgium, Fernandes asked Solskjaer to start the second leg in Manchester. He scored and United won 5-0.
Before her first anniversary at the club, Fernandes had played just four times for Old Trafford fans. Since their debut on the first. February 2020, the Portuguese International is one of the most transformative signs at the head of the United States of America. His influence was so great that he was even compared to Eric Cantona, whose arrival in November 1992 led to a run of four league titles in five seasons after 26 years without a title.
Fernando still has a long way to go in the cup, but it should be noted that United were finishing his second season before contracting the Frenchman. When Fernandes founded United, he was fifth in the standings, 36 points behind leader Liverpool. A year later they are one point behind the leaders.
His numbers speak for themselves. By winning the Premier League Player of the Month award in December, he became the first player to win the trophy four times in a calendar year, having also won it in February, June and November.
Given his huge influence, it is worth noting that United were happy to see Fernandes move to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2019. Tired of the failure of talks with Sporting and with their nagging reservations about how Fernandes would be able to adapt to the Premier League they were willing to let him go to North London, especially after learning that Tottenham boss Daniel Levy had been offered a much lower price. But the deal never materialised and when United’s Portuguese scouts asked the recruitment department to look at his work, Solskjaer and his assistant Mike Phelan went to Sporting themselves and saw a player they considered a marked improvement on last season.
Fernandes has breathed new life into a United team in need of a playmaker, although her leadership qualities are equally inspiring for the team. Michael Regan – Football Team via Getty Images
Solskjaer wanted to improve his team’s attacking performance and asked Executive Vice President Ed Woodward and chief negotiator Matt Judge to look at Jack Grealish, but after he was rejected by Aston Villa, United opened talks for Fernandez. The deal, which closed on 30. January 2020, could cost £67.6m if certain performance targets are met. However, if Fernandes continues on the same path, Woodward could see him as the signing who offers the most value for money since David Gill took over in 2013.
In just 12 months, Fernandez has established himself as the club’s coordinator. There is already talk of a new contract to reflect his status, although he already has a contract until 2025 plus an option for another year. His jersey is a best seller in the Megastore, and when interviews have to be requested from international broadcasters before and after matches, his name is usually at the top of the list. When Amad Diallo trained with the first team after leaving Atalanta, Fernandes was on hand to advise and assist the 18-year-old winger.
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One of the things that impressed Solskjaer the most was the way he led Sporting. When Solskjaer decided the team lacked leaders when he took over from Jose Mourinho in December 2018, he also shone his light on Aston Villa captain Grialish. Fernandes first became United’s captain in the Champions League group game against Paris Saint Germain in October. He was sitting with Solskjaer at the pre-match press conference when his manager announced it. The blind midfielder was concerned that the cameras had caught him in disorder and was so anxious to show the correct image that he asked the club’s officials to withdraw the video before being assured that everything was in order.
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On the field, Fernandez was equally well controlled. Solskjaer admitted that it bugs me how often Fernandes tends to lose the ball – even for a striker trying to make a risky pass – but that had been reported to him by analysts before Fernandes joined the team, and the United boss told his players, who can sometimes get frustrated during training and matches, to keep trying.
He was expected to score goals and sometimes play against them, Solskjaer said of Fernandes at the start of the season. He’s always on the verge of creating, even if he loses the ball, and that’s the position I want him in and that’s what he’s told to do. I want him to play the passes he sees.
Solskjaer said privately that Fernandez may give the ball away, especially given the number of runs he makes to get the ball back. Members of the coaching staff tried to get him to be more thoughtful with his energy, but they have since realised that he prefers to attack, desperate for the ball and relentless in his pressure on the opponent. That’s how he is in practice, and the staff has had to let him in more than once because they were afraid he would stay at Carrington Field all night without anyone being able to tell him to go home.
After Solskjaer was appointed two years ago he quickly realized that if the team wanted to win on the pitch, they needed to get out. New players are essential to his mission at Old Trafford, and none of them are more important than Fernandes. A year after his arrival, the decision to sign it had already been made.