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Player Profile: Bruno Fernandes – the midfielder that has solved United’s creative issues in less than a year; a Portuguese magnifico

Manchester United signed Bruno Fernandes on Thursday 30 January 2020 after a lot of speculation which started the previous summer and resulted in a lot of disappointment from the clubs supporters. Since the Portuguese midfielder arrived at the Theatre of Dreams, you could sense that his arrival was the start of things to come. Since his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers Fernandes has played 22 times, scoring 12 goals and eight assists. Fernandes, now 26, has come into a United squad which was lacking leadership and was in dire need of such a thing. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in the middle of a club rebuild which seems to have been something that has carried on since Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/13 season – this time though, things were starting to fall in the right places.

Fernandes is the type of midfielder that United needed and he seemed to come in at the right time. Despite football being on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic, spirits were still high in the United camp with things developing in the background with United still aiming to capitalise as soon as the football starts again. The Premier League seem to want the rest of the season to be played out, which will no doubt delay the following season somewhat. Fernandes’ presence in the squad has provided a lot of thinking with desire, hunger and everything else back at the club. There is belief that Fernandes is the player that could propel United in the right direction providing the hierarchy keep investment going in the right direction too.

Bruno Fernandes was born in Maia which is in the Metropolitan Area of Porto, Portugal on the 8 September 1994 and started his youth football career with FC Infesta in 2002, leaving in 2004 for Boavista, a club he was part of for eight years, other than a five year loan to Pasteleira. On the 27 August 2012, Fernandes left Boavista for Novara Calcio in Italy. He was playing for the youth team for only a few weeks before being promoted to the first team and playing in Serie B. Whilst playing for Novara, Fernandes played 23 times for the first team, scoring four goals and a further two assists.

In the summer of 2013, the Portuguese midfielder signed for Udinese in a co-ownership deal, meaning both Novara and Udinese owned the player, but he was registered to one club as a player. In three seasons (2013/14, 2014/15, and 2015/16), Fernandes played 95 times, scoring 11 goals and a further 13 assists. It was clear his confidence in the game was growing. The next stop for Fernandes Sampdoria, signing for them on the 16 August 2016, initially on loan with an obligation for them to sign the player permanently. Fernandes played just 35 times for the Italian side, scoring five goals and a further three assists which helped the club finish in tenth place that season.

This put him on the radar for other clubs around Europe with Sporting Clube de Portugal entering the fray with intent to bring the player back to his native Portugal. On the 27 June 2017, after he returned from representing Portugal in the UEFA European U21 Championships, Fernandes signed for Sporting in a deal which was worth around €8.5 million plus bonuses which included a €100 million buyout clause. In his first season playing in the Primeira Liga the Portuguese midfielder played 56 times for his club, scoring 16 goals with a further 20 assists. It was the type of form to get him noticed even more, seemingly putting an end to a poor season for Sampdoria.

Fernandes was starting to show some of the traits he is known for today; leadership, ability on and off the ball, strong tackling, passing and his defensive contribution. The following season (2018/19), was his best in Portugal with the player involved in 53 matches, scoring 32 goals and assisting a further 18 – a total of 50 goal contributions in 53 matches, an average of 0.94 goals per appearance. This was something that got him noticed by United, Tottenham Hotspur and other European clubs. That transfer saga got a lot of attention last summer with the player being linked to United, then came the dead certainty of the player signing for United which then turned into Spurs taking the lead and a two horse race continuing.

The reports coming out of Portugal were believable then towards the end of the season, nothing happened which resulted in a lot of disappointment from United supporters that Solskjaer had only signed three players; Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, and Harry Maguire. In the first half of the 2019/20 season, Fernandes made a total of 29 appearances for Sporting, scoring 15 goals and a further 14 assists. In January 2020, the rumours of United wanting to sign Fernandes started to emerge again and were at first looked at with disdain after the saga ended negatively in the summer. Towards the end of the month, it started to look as if something was happening and before you knew it, the player was playing his last few matches.

When United signed Fernandes, it was a sense of relief that the saga was over and we would be able to see just what the player can bring to the table. His career at United has started well and you can see what he has brought to the team when he plays. After making his debut against Wolves at the start of February, despite the 0-0 draw, Fernandes had a good game, considering that he was settling into a new team and environment. After the match, he was quoted as saying:

“This is what I want to do and what I need to do.

“Everyone knows we want to get into the Champions League places. I am here to help the team conquer this place and keep winning games.”

Solskjaer feels that Fernandes can be a leader at the club, comparing him to United legend Paul Scholes as a player but having a different personality off the pitch. At the time football ended because of the pandemic, Fernandes had played nine times, scoring three goals with a further four assists, which is a good start. Having Paul Pogba and Fernandes in the same team was something that the supporters feasted on during the three-month break from football, which was well with the hiatus. On comparing Fernandes to Scholes, Solskjaer said:

“He reminds me of Scholesy as a player but definitely a different type of personality off the pitch.

“Against Club Brugge, when he’s on the bench, he walks around, he speaks to the players who start, he helps them, he gives them points.

“And the ten minutes he played you could see that there’s a difference in our team.

“He’s another conductor and leader and winner. He wants to win. He doesn’t take 99 per cent as good enough and he’s impressed me.

“That’s something you see when you watch him but you don’t know about until you have him in your group. He’s been top class.”

Fernandes was one of the stars of the season for United, scoring 12 goals and eight assists in 22 appearances for the club, finishing as the top scorer in the UEFA Europa League and for both United and Sporting, making 50 appearances, scoring 27 goals and 22 assists – 49 goals in 50 appearances. Fernandes is a full international for Portugal, making his debut in 2017. To date, he has amassed a total of 19 caps for his country, scoring two goals. In 2017, Fernandes played a total of two matches for Portugal, making nine appearances in 2018. In 2019, he played eight times. His first goal was scored against Algeria in a friendly, a 3-0 win for Portugal with Fernandes scoring the second goal. In 2019, he scored his second goal, this time the opener, in a UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier against Luxembourg.

So far during the 2020/21 season, Fernandes has played in all but one match in the three competitions the club has appeared in so far. The only match he has missed was the Carabao Cup 3-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion, playing in all 11 of the other matches in the Premier League, Carabao Cup and the UEFA Champions League. Fernandes has started in all seven Premier League matches, playing 90 minutes five times, also starting in two Champions League matches, playing 90 minutes once, coming off the bench against Luton Town in the Carabao Cup. The Portuguese midfielder has had a good season so far and will be seeking to continue to produce the numbers that he has been during his career.

So far in the 2020/21 season, Fernandes has made 11 appearances in all competitions, scoring six goals and a further five assists. This shows that the 26-year-old has been involved in one goalscoring action in each match on average, which is a good sign that United are heading in the right direction with him in the squad. The summer addition of Donny van de Beek from Ajax is a good thing too as Fernandes will not be relied upon all the time, as has been shown already with the player playing a total of 782 minutes out of a possible 1080 in the 12 matches played already this season. It is likely that Fernandes will be played in rotation with the midfield being as strong as it is this season with Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic in the squad. There is so much more to come from both Fernandes and United this season, which is the exciting part.

Written by John Walker

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