Diogo Dalot – Right Back in Contention?

After looking like he was on his way out of the club, Diogo Dalot now appears to be an important part of Manchester United’s larger squad. He could be set for a big season ahead and has the chance to kickstart his United career.

The Portuguese right-back was signed by former United manager, Jose Mourinho, from FC Porto in the 2018 summer transfer window. Arriving for a fee of £19.8 million, Mourinho was impressed by Dalot’s experience in the Porto academy, physicality, technical ability and attacking nature and envisaged him as a long-term successor to Antonio Valencia. His ability to play both right-back and left-back also made him an attractive prospect. Dalot was a relatively unknown quantity outside of the Portuguese Primeira Liga and had only made his debut in that league in February 2018.

Mourinho showed great faith and belief in the young defender’s ability and potential by bringing him to United, clearly trusting his scouting network. There was a sense that Mourinho, as a Portuguese manager, had a good knowledge of the league and believed he had uncovered one of Europe’s hidden gems.

In December 2018, Mourinho was sacked by Manchester United and replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, originally as interim manager. Initially, it was unclear if Solskjær regarded Dalot as highly as his predecessor and fans waited to see whether the Norwegian would give the young full-back playing time. At the start of his tenure, Solskjær primarily used Dalot as a right-winger, due to injuries in the squad. Thanks to his strong crossing ability, signature step-over and relentless drive to get forward, Dalot did not look lost in this position. In a season highlight, Dalot came on as substitute in United’s Champions League round of 16 second leg against Paris Saint-Germain.

Brought on in the 36th minute to replace the injured Eric Bailly, Dalot put in a good performance in the biggest game of his career to that point. Memorably, a late, speculative shot from the young right-back struck the hand of PSG defender, Presnel Kimpembe, leading to Marcus Rashford’s injury-time penalty that won the tie for United. That match provided an iconic European night for United fans and is considered the result that led to Solskjaer’s permanent appointment as manager, all of which would not have been possible without Dalot. After players began to return from injury, Dalot saw his gametime decrease over the remainder of the season and he finished his first United campaign with 25 appearances.

In the summer of 2019, now as permanent manager, Solskjaer began assembling his squad for the upcoming season, filled with his own choice of players. In addition to new signings Harry Maguire and Dan James, Solskjær acquired young, English right-back, Aaron-Wan Bissaka from Crystal Palace. Wan-Bissaka proved to be a consistent performer, rarely injured and a favourite of Solskjaer, meaning Dalot was restricted to his role as back-up right back. The highlight of Dalot’s season came when he scored his first goal for the club, in a 6-0 victory over Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup. Overall, Dalot’s chances were limited and he made just 11 appearances in the 2019/20 season.

That summer, Diogo Dalot joined AC Milan for the 2020/21 campaign. The acquisition of Alex Telles at left-back and the development of Brandon Williams at right-back, as well as first-choice full-backs Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka continuing to perform to a high level, meant that there was no clear path to the first team for Dalot, who was now third-choice in each full-back position. In a search for more minutes and gametime, Dalot ventured on loan to Serie A with Italian giants AC Milan.

Dalot impressed at his new club and was used fairly evenly at both full-back positions, playing 17 times at right-back that season and 12 times at left-back. While a large portion of his playing time came in the Europa League, Dalot was given significantly more chances than the season prior and made 34 appearances in total for the 2020/21 season. Dalot’s strong loan spell was rewarded with a call-up to Portuguese National Team for Euro 2020, replacing the injured João Cancelo. Dalot made two appearances in the tournament, making his full senior international debut.

After the Euros, Diogo Dalot returned to Manchester earlier this summer, following his time away in Italy. Early rumours suggested he was likely to be on his way out of Old Trafford, either on loan or a permanent deal, with both a return to AC Milan and Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid reported as possible destinations. Additionally, Manchester United’s strong links to Atletico Madrid and England right-back, Kieran Trippier, seemed to cement Dalot’s imminent exit. However, in a turn of events, these links seemed to have cooled, with United reluctant to meet Atletico’s asking price, while also struggling to offload unwanted players in order to fund new arrivals.

Dalot has shone in preseason, with strong performances against Brentford and Everton, and even a remarkable headed goal in the latter game. Reports are now suggesting that United are happy to keep Dalot for the new season and believe he could prove to be an important team member throughout the campaign. Left-back Alex Telles’ recent injury, as well as Brandon Williams’ possible departure on loan, has pushed Dalot up the pecking order and increased his role in the squad. His ability to play in both full-back positions could now serve him well. He is now second-choice at both right-back and left-back and, if either Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Luke Shaw face injury or suspension, Dalot will be the first in line to come into the team.

On the right of defence, Dalot offers a different style of player to Wan-Bissaka. Dalot is not as strong defensively, and can’t compete with Wan-Bissaka’s elite level one-on-one tackling. However, Dalot’s surging runs forward and dangerous, accurate crosses (now even more useful with aerial threat Edinson Cavani in the team) can offer a strong attacking threat, an area where Wan-Bissaka struggles. Therefore, in matches against weaker teams, where United have more possession of the ball and are facing less attacks from the opposition, Dalot may prove to be a more attacking and adventurous option at right-back.

There is also a chance that Dalot could be utilised at right-wing-back. As an attacking full-back, and occasional right-winger, Dalot suits the more advanced wing-back position well. If Solskjaer chooses to deploy a back-five against teams such as Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea, Dalot could be used as the wing-back in the system. Rumours this summer suggested that Solskjaer wanted to try Wan-Bissaka at the right of three centre-backs in a back-five. This choice would take advantage of Wan-Bissaka’s defensive strength, pace, and tackling prowess, while not requiring him to venture forward and support the attack.

Additionally, Solskjaer has already pushed Luke Shaw back to the left-side of the three centre-backs multiple times when adopting a back-five during his tenure as United manager. In this way, if Solskjaer opts to use either of the two first-choice full-backs at centre-back, when playing with five-at-the-back, Dalot could see an opportunity to play at either vacant wing-back position.

Still only 22, Diogo Dalot now faces his best chance at getting game time for Manchester United under Solskjaer. His versatility may prove to be a valuable asset, as he now finds himself second-choice in both full-back positions. Players will certainly be rotated during cup games and throughout the duration of the season, providing important game time, and there is always the chance of injury or suspension to either Shaw or Wan-Bissaka, and Dalot may finally be able to make an impact on the Manchester United first-team.

Written by George Lavin

Bruno Fernandes: The man to take Manchester United back to the top?

Bruno Fernandes is a 26-year-old Portuguese midfielder formally of Sporting Lisbon who plays as the ‘10’ or attacking midfielder for Manchester United. He joined United in January of 2020 for a fee of £47 million, although due to addons it could rise to £67.6 million. At the time of Fernandes’ signing, United were in a dire situation having just lost to Burnley 2-0 at home.

United were six points adrift off top four and fourteen points behind Leicester in third. Furthermore, to make matters worse, United were only four points above Newcastle in 14th place. Therefore, United were in a dreadful position, the team looked vulnerable every game, the fans had lost faith and the owners looked close to following suit. But the signing of Fernandes in January changed everything…

United were in major need of some creativity, Andreas Pereira was not living up-to expectations, failing to find pockets of space and create chances for the forwards. United were very stale, predictable and the once fortress of Old Trafford was becoming a lottery, any result could happen. Furthermore, the whole dynamic with the team was low, the squad needed fresh impetus, someone new around the training ground, someone to spark life into the team, to turn the season around.

When Fernandes joined, he had expectations due to the large fee of £47 million, but the results he brought far exceeded this. His first match saw him win man of the match against Wolves at home in a disappointing 0-0 draw. After this, his ability was abundantly clear; he had leadership qualities to bring the best out of others,  his eye for a pass mixed with the incredible ability to weight each pass perfectly into the path of his teammates, was a simple sounding yet highly effective feature which opened up opposition defences.

In games which United struggled to break teams down, Fernandes had the ability to find those tiny gaps, and even singlehandedly win games for United. He also has great long-distance shooting ability, as seen with his long-range effort past England number one Jordan Pickford, which then leaves defenders in two minds whether to press him to stop the longshot, but leaving inevitable spaces behind them, and with his vision and accuracy he could find, or stand off him making sure the defence is compact and tight, with no space to slip any forwards in, but leaving them exposed to a potential deadly longshot.

As the last half of the season progressed, United with Fernandes started rising up the table, picking up big results, in particular a 2-0 derby day win against Manchester City, in which Fernandes created a lovely assist with a perfectly dinked ball into Martial who slotted it home to give United a 1-0 lead before Scott McTominay cemented United’s win with a sublime longshot into an open net with Ederson stranded. This was the last time Fernandes and the team played in front of 75,000 at Old Trafford again.

But with the relaxing of guidelines for the upcoming season, Fernandes will be playing with 75,000 fans shouting his name which could take his game to the next level. Against all odds, Fernandes managed to take United into the top four finishing third with the final day win against Leicester City. Unfortunately, in the Europa league, United fell to the eventual winners Sevilla in an action-packed game in which United failed to take their chances and were punished. United ended the season with Champions League football but no trophies; so, was it really a success? 

Onto his second season, Fernandes was the established creator in the team, with a lot of United’s creativity solely reliant on him. He managed 18 goals and 12 assists in 37 games in the league, and five goals in the Europa League. Throughout the season, Fernandes scored 28 goals which surpassed Frank Lampard’s record with 27 as well as racking up 17 assists. Individually, Fernandes had a great season peaking in the first half and potential fatigue due to United’s reliance on him hindering him in the second half.

However, at a club like United success is defined by trophies and United fell out of the Champions League after a disappointing defeat to RB Leipzig which sent them down to the Europa League. United then looked favourites to win it, but due to a valiant stand from Villarreal saw United lose on penalties in the final.

In the FA Cup, United bowed out to Leicester City in a disappointing defeat but did finish second in the league which was progress from third the year before, and the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign that United had managed to secure back-to-back Champions League football. Therefore, as a result, I feel Fernandes himself has had a very successful season, but the lack of trophies means it’s not a successful season overall, as success at Manchester United is only met through trophies and United failed to achieve this. 

One cause of dispute with Fernandes is his overall impact on games, especially against the so called ‘Big Six.’ He has undoubted ability to get goals and assists but some doubt his overall impact as he can be susceptible to trying the ‘miracle ball’ until it works. Fernandes has struggled in the big games in the league this season failing to get many goal contributions against these teams. However, this maybe due to the approach United have taken against the bigger clubs, as rather than trying to dictate and control the tempo they have sat off and tried using a counter attacking approach.

This contrast Fernandes’ style as he likes to have ball to feet looking to find the gaps, but with counter attacking the game can pass him by or he can attempt the ‘miracle ball’ and give possession away in desperation due to the lack of ball as they are sitting back. For all the stick Fernandes gets about his involvement in the big games, I feel he is subject to unnecessary criticism from rival fans as they envy him as a player and would love to have someone like him in their team.

This means that he is subject to any criticism possible which overlooks his actual performances. He has played well in big games but his flattering statistics almost hinder the public outlook of him as if he doesn’t get a goal contribution then his performance is judged as bad and so the belief Fernandes doesn’t turn up in big games is a myth. However, he’s not perfect, and I feel to take his game further Fernandes should sometimes look to play the simpler pass to retain possession rather then playing the ‘miracle ball’ as it can give away unnecessary possession. 

Overall, I feel Fernandes has had a major impact on this Manchester United team instilling belief in the players and providing that creative spark that has been lacking at United for years. He’s brought United back-to-back Champions League football, with unbelievable goal contributions; but to take his impact further and assure his spell at United is successful, I feel he must lead United to silverware, and if he could bring back a Premier League title or the Champions League trophy, he could cement himself as a United great.

Written by Ethan Bents

Player Profile: Diogo Dalot – the future right-back at Manchester United, rivalling with Aaron Wan-Bissaka?

Manchester United signed then 19-year-old Diogo Dalot from FC Porto in a reported £19 million fee in the summer of 2018 and from the time the interest in the young Portuguese defender was first made known to the eventual signing of the player was around a week with negotiations coming to a conclusion just over a week before he signed for the club. Dalot was a relatively inexperienced player at the time he signed for United, playing only a handful of matches at first team level, also playing out of position in the left-back role, covering for a player on the sidelines. This did not stop United’s interest in a player that could grow massively.

The fact that then United manager Jose Mourinho spoke so highly of the player suggests to me that United and Mourinho will have seen the player extensively, which is why he came to the club as highly rated as he was. It is suggested that he could make his debut for the club that season, which he did, where he will be expected to take over from Antonio Valencia, who was the main right-back at the club at the time. Dalot seems to be a very level-headed player, thankful for the chance he has been given but also confident of what he could achieve. On signing for United, Dalot, speaking to the official Manchester United website, said:

“Joining Manchester United is an unbelievable opportunity for me. I have grown up in Porto’s Academy and I am so thankful for everything they have done for me. But the chance of coming to the biggest club in the world is something I just couldn’t turn down. I’m excited about working with Jose Mourinho and learning everything I can from such a successful coach. I am looking forward to playing alongside the fantastic players in the squad.”

Mourinho also commented about his first summer signing of 2018, speaking to the official Manchester United website, saying:

“Diogo [Dalot] is an extremely talented young defender with all the qualities to quickly become a great player for this club. He has all the attributes that a full-back needs: physicality, tactical intelligence and technical quality, combined with a Porto Academy mentality which prepares players for the maturity they need at the professional level. In his age group, he is the best full-back in Europe and we all believe he has a bright future ahead of him at Manchester United.”

It shows that Mourinho and United had been tracking Dalot for some time, especially in the fact that Mourinho had branded the player as the best full-back from his age group in Europe. The player obviously has a good head on his shoulders, not only to be able to move to one of the biggest clubs in the world at his age but to be confident of his abilities, which at his age is not something every player has in their remit. Dalot started his footballing career at the age of nine in the Fintas Academy in his hometown, Braga and left the Academy in 2008 when he joined FC Porto.

He was also wanted by Benfica at that time. Dalot is a player with natural pace, a modern full-back, one that can cross the ball, which will be great to see in the years to come, one who can play on the right or the left, which shows just how good he can be in the years to come. During the 2014/15 season, Dalot was loaned out to Padroense in the Portuguese Second Division and his experience in the Porto reserve team helped him on the way to where he is today, also giving him youth international experience, of which he has played alongside United third choice goalkeeper Joel Pereira.

Dalot has been capped for Portugal from U15 to U21 level, leaving just the senior team for him to be called up to, which after a year or two at United, could be something he achieves. The 19-year-old made his debut for Porto’s first team in October 2017, playing his first Primeira Liga in February 2018. Despite lacking experience at first team level, what Dalot has shown was encouraging, also suggesting that his future is bright. Mourinho will probably have been scouting the player for some time, or United were. Perhaps Javier Ribalta, United’s new scout, who came to the club last summer, was the lynchpin in bringing Dalot to the Premier League.

During the 2018/19 season, Dalot made his debut for the club against Young Boys in the UEFA Champions League group stage, a 3-0 victory for United. He then played in the EFL Cup against Derby County, a 2-2 draw with ended up with Derby winning 10-9 on penalties, knocking United out of the competition. He made a total of 25 appearances that season, not scoring any goals but assisting three times. Mourinho was sacked in December 2018 paving the way for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to manage the club with Dalot featuring more times under Solskjaer than for Mourinho, but he was injured from 17 October to 30 November.

Dalot featured in fewer matches for United during the 2019/20 season because of injury. He started the season with a hip injury, keeping him out from 4 August until 17 September, then suffered a groin injury from the 18 October until the 2 January 2020. This meant he only played a total of 11 times for United, scoring one goal, in the Emirates FA Cup in the 6-0 victory over Tranmere Rovers. The arrival of Aaron Wan-Bissaka may well have cost him a place at United, at least for the current season and maybe beyond. I feel that Dalot would benefit more on loan, which seemed to be in the plans of Solskjaer too.

The Portuguese full back played once for United in the Carabao Cup during the 2020/21 season and was named on the bench for another. From there, he was loaned to AC Milan for the remainder of the season, which should benefit him as a player, getting him more first team experience, which was not likely at United. So far he has made 10 appearances for Milan, more often than not in the UEFA Europa League where he has played six times, scoring one goal and two assists. He has played both at right-back and left-back for the Italian club. He has started in all six Europa League matches, starting only once in the Serie A.

Dalot will no doubt benefit from his loan spell in Italy, which may also pave the way for an exit of the Theatre of Dreams, although it is suggested that Solskjaer rates him and has no desire to sell him, according to reports in The Mirror. It is possible that Solskjaer has earmarked Dalot to rival Wan-Bissaka at right-back for United given that Tim Fosu-Mensah is out of contract in the summer and Brandon Williams, who can play in both fullback positions but has played more times in the left-back role. Solskjaer seems to be assembling a young squad, so perhaps the Portuguese defender will prevail at the club in the future.

It could well be an exciting future for United under Solskjaer with a young squad developing each and every match plus with the newly signed 19-year-old Facundo Pellistri chomping at the bit and the incoming 18-year-old Amad Diallo, who will arrive at the club next month after confirmation on deadline day back in October. United are also linked to Ecuadorian midfielder Moises Caicedo, who is also on the radar of Chelsea, according to the Daily Mail. Solskjaer is building something and if he is reluctant to sell Dalot, it would suggest that his plan for the player is in the future with United looking to succeed.

Written by John Walker

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

Bruno Fernandes has been a great signing for Manchester United, hence why add-ons are being paid quickly

Manchester United completed the signing of Bruno Fernandes during the January transfer window and the player made his United debut in a 0-0 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League. The 25-year-old got his first assist in a 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the Premier League on the 17 February, scoring his first goal for the club a matter of days later in a 3-0 victory over Watford, also getting an assist in that match. During the 2019/20 season, Fernandes made 22 appearances for United, scoring 12 goals and eight assists. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was pleased with his midfielders performances last season and continues to be this season.

In total, including his heroics for his former club, Sporting Clube de Portugal, Fernandes made 50 appearances, scoring 27 goals and 22 assists – meaning he was involved in 49 goal contributions, almost equalling one goal per match. He also finished the season as the UEFA Europa League Golden Boot winner, scoring eight goals in the competition with a further four assists. United signed Fernandes for an initial £45 million and could spend a total of £66.7 million for the player if all add-ons are paid. The Sun has reported that £2.74 million has already been paid following United’s qualification for the UEFA Champions League this season.

Former United central defender Rio Ferdinand was quoted on BT Sport regarding Fernandes, where he works as a pundit, as saying:

“This man is ice cold in these situations. He changes his run-up a little bit there from his usual hop, skip and jump thing. The pressure was on but he calmed himself down and went back to basics.”

Former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole, also working as a pundit for BT Sport, was quoted as saying:

“We could see that while all the melee was going on, Bruno was the coolest man in this building. It was a great penalty.”

Since ha arrived at United, Fernandes has changed the mentality of the team and been a player that has underlined Solskjaer’s plans for the club moving forward. Prior to his January arrival, United were in a period whereby they were without Paul Pogba for a number of months with two separate ankle injuries and there was a distinct lack of creativity in the midfield which hampered United’s attacking players and their hunt to score goals. Before his arrival United had scored 61 goals in all competitions with 51 goals being scored after his arrival. This season, Fernandes has made three appearances for his club, scoring one goal and two assists.

The latest clause to become payable, after the Champions League qualification clause, is his 25 appearances for United, which was achieved in the 3-2 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon, which saw United concede the equaliser in added time then win a penalty, which was awarded by VAR after the referee blew the final whistle. Fernandes took the penalty, winning the match for United, meaning that in his 25 appearances for the club so far, the 25-year-old has scored 13 goals and 10 assists, meaning that he has 23 goal contributions or 0.92 goals per match at the club, which is a great statistic and one which will become even greater as the season goes on.

If Fernandes can achieve 25 goals for the club this season, adding 20 assists, it could see United have a very strong attacking side. Added to this, if Anthony Martial can build upon his 23 goals and 12 assists from last season, with Marcus Rashford also building on his 22 goals and 11 assists and last of all Mason Greenwood building on his 17 goals and five assists, United could be close to reaching 100 goals or more just from four players at the club. Should this happen, it will not only enforce that United attacking line is one of the best in the league but also that Solskjaer has achieved a feat in turning a United team that limped across their hurdles into a team worthy of challenging for trophies.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United joined in pursuit of young Portuguese fullback this summer

Manchester United have been joined by Liverpool, AC Milan and Arsenal in the chase to sign Sporting Clube de Portugal’s 18-year-old left-back Nuno Mendes this summer. United were linked to the player earlier in the summer alongside teammate Eduardo Quaresma, 18 in what could have been an £82 million swoop in Bruno Fernandes’ former club with each player subject to a £41 million release clause – which would be a good investment if the players do develop as they are expected in the next few years or so.

Portuguese newspaper O Jogo, as reported by The Mirror, has reported that Arsenal are not interested in the left-back alongside ‘stern interest’ from Italian side AC Milan, who have reportedly made a €15 million (£13.5 million) offer for the teenager, along with a percentage of any sell on fee for the player. Sporting, being Sporting, want a much bigger fee for the player. It was suggested earlier in the summer that Mendes has a £41 million release clause.

This release clause would need to be matched in order to sign the player this summer. United are said to be interested in signing Sergio Reguilon from Real Madrid this summer, to add competition for places in the left-back position with Luke Shaw needing a challenge to bring out the best of his abilities. Brandon Williams has done well this season, but he will need to develop a but more to take on Shaw in the left-back role but has had a good start at the club, playing lots of first team football.

During the 2019/20 season, Mendes made a total of 26 appearances, making 17 in the Liga Revelacano, scoring one goal and three assists. The remaining nine appearances were made in the Liga NOS, the first team league at the club – scoring no goals or assists. Obviously, with United seeking a more experienced player in the left-back position this summer, Reguilon, should they be successful, Mendes might be a player more aligned to the future, which is a similar thought for Williams, who is already at the club.

It is good to see United linked to some up and coming players as in the past seven summer transfer windows, United have been linked with players who seem to be experienced with no real thought as to how they will fit in at the club and what will happen in the future. During Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure at the Theatre of Dreams, he eventually set forward a plan to bring players through the academy, also signing young players from all over the world to continue that success. Sometimes it worked, others it did not.

It is good to see that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have a plan on where he wants to take United in the future and the club seems to be on board with that, to a stage. Solskjaer will need to be backed as United lack a lot of quality in areas of the pitch, which is a problem when rotation is needed or if the club needs to cover for injuries, Shaw for example. Williams has learned a lot but is not the finished article, so needs time. United could do with experience, class, hunger and thirst for trophies and that will come at a cost.

Written by John Walker

Cristiano Ronaldo played a part in Bruno Fernandes signing for Manchester United

Former Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra has confirmed that he sought out the advise of former United winger Cristiano Ronaldo during the time when United were considering a move to sign Sporting Clube de Portugal midfielder Bruno Fernandes. The 25-year-old has had a good season, both for his former club and United, making 50 appearances, scoring 27 goals and 22 assists – 49 goal contributions. Fernandes has played 22 times for United, scoring 12 goals and eight assists.

Fernandes and Ronaldo play together for Portugal so Evra thought he would get some good insight from the Portuguese winger, getting in contact with him on behalf of United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It was enough for United to get the deal done, which should have been completed last summer in my opinion, which could have seen United have a much better 2019/20 season. Evra recently spoke to The Guardian, where he was quoted as saying:

“When they wanted to sign Bruno Fernandes, Ole texted me. I asked for advice from Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Cristiano says: ‘Bruno’s a good guy and very professional.’ I say: ‘Ole, I’ve spoken with Cristiano. Let’s go for it.’

“And Fernandes had a massive impact. Without him I don’t think we would have qualified for the Champions League.”

Fernandes has been a revelation for United since making his debut on the 1 February against Wolverhampton Wanderers, despite that match being a 0-0 draw. The Portuguese magnifico has recently given the warning that he is going to become more lethal next season, which will be something the 25-year-old will be confident with after making the impact that he has done at the club. However, Evra is not so confident about United’s chances of taking on Liverpool for the Premier League title, saying:

“United can’t challenge Liverpool or Manchester City. Not yet. There’s been massive damage but we’re moving in the right direction.

“United have qualified for the Champions League. It’s not a big achievement but it’s massive progress from where we’ve come. I love Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer].”

United require some major investment to bring up the quality of the squad this summer. Whilst the preferred starting XI is strong, United do not have the same kinds of quality across the remainder of the squad with many players struggling to perform to the level the manager wants them to. The likes of Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira could leave the club this summer, failing to make the grade for the last two or three seasons now. United will need to rotation throughout the season, so will need the quality to do that without the team struggling on the pitch, like they have done this season, which was there to see towards the end of the restart.

Written by John Walker

Bruno Fernandes warns Premier League rivals that he’s going to become more lethal next season

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes has warned the clubs rivals that he will be more lethal next season. Since his arrival during the January transfer window and making his debut for the club at the start of February, Fernandes, 25, has made 22 appearances for the club, scoring 12 goals and eight assists – giving him 20 goal contributions in 22 appearances. In total during the 2019/20 season, playing for both United and Sporting Clube de Portugal, the midfielder has made 50 appearances, scoring 27 goals and 22 assists – 49 goal contributions in 50 appearances.

United were in a bad position in the Premier League as Fernandes was signed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during the winter transfer window with United seeming out of sorts in the race for top four. However, with United undefeated in the Premier League in their last 14 matches, it changed their fortunes with the club, at one stage, 14 points behind Leicester City, taking on the likes of them and Chelsea to finish third in the league, therefore earning a UEFA Champions League group stage place next season.

Fernandes scored eight penalties this season with United awarded a record 22 penalties during the course of the season – something that has upset the ABUs which is always great entertainment. The Portuguese magnifico feels that his performances could get better next season, which is a great sign. It has been a long time before a player like Fernandes has been at United and it is great to see that he is determined to earn some success at the Old Trafford club. Speaking to, Fernandes said:

“I don’t have a secret. I think that I train a lot, I like to train a lot. I always pay attention to what the goalkeepers are doing – how they position themselves, how they best prevent shots on goal.

“Based on that, based on the match, and based on how I’m feeling on the pitch, I decide how to take a penalty. I don’t have a specific technique in taking penalties. There’s no certain run-up I take, I just stick to what I feel is most comfortable.

“If I change it every so often, it might make the goalkeeper uncertain. I change my run-up for how I’m feeling during the match, or how I feel the goalkeeper [will move].”

Despite only making 14 appearances in the Premier League during the 2019/20 season, Fernandes quickly became a superstar in the league, despite scoring many penalties in the league. His determination and winning mentality seemed to change something in this United squad which inspired them to push for a third-place Premier League finish, even though the club did not take the advantages handed to them then those above them had dropped points. Fernandes spoke about his instinct, which is something the best footballers tend to have, which could be the major change at United. The Portuguese midfielder said:

“It’s instinct. Over the years, because of the position in which I was playing, I developed my ability to move around and look forward.

“When we lose the ball, I try to be the first one to react and to call on the other attacking players to help out in winning back possession.

“And obviously for me, to be able to build up the play, to have the ball and provide passes to my team-mates to enable them to score goals – it’s very important.

“I think that’s what I need to do a bit more because, yes, I’ve provided some assists but I could have provided more, given the quality we have up front.

“I believe I can improve on my numbers given the quality we have up front.”

When United signed Fernandes, and he started to show what he could do earlier this season, you could see that it was going to be a match made in heaven for United. The fact that the club waited so long was the major problem. If United signed Fernandes last summer, when he was heavily linked to the club, the season could have been a little bit better for United, especially at a time whereby both Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay were missing from the squad due to injury – but hindsight is fantastic, eh? The best thing is that Fernandes is a United player now and will be for years to come. United should be able to achieve things if the rebuild is allowed to continue, otherwise, things may start to fall apart once again.

Written by John Walker

Cristiano Ronaldo: Nurtured in Manchester, starred in Madrid and now reigning in Turin

Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aviero was born in Funchal on the island of Madeira, Portugal on the 5 February 1985. He started playing football in 1992 playing for Andorinha, leaving in 1995 for Nacional. In 1997 he signed for Sporting Clube de Portugal. In 2002 he was playing for the clubs B team and was fastly promoted to the first team. It was playing in the first team that Sir Alex Ferguson first saw Ronaldo, signing him a matter of days later. The Portuguese winger famously made John O’Shea need an oxygen tank, according to Rio Ferdinand.

When Ronaldo signed for United for a fee of £12.24 million at the age of 18, he had effectively replaced David Beckham, who left for Real Madrid for a fee of £25 million after a public spat with Ferguson, something which has now been buried by history with the two correcting their differences. Ronaldo donned the famous number seven shirt at the club and despite his showboating antics, he quickly found his feet and set his sights on becoming the best player in the world, rivalled by Lionel Messi.

In his first season at the club, Ronaldo helped win the FA Cup in the 2003/04 season beating Millwall 3-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff with Ronaldo scoring the opening goal and Ruud Van Nistelrooy scoring a brace. His second trophy (in his third season) was the Carling Cup in the 2005/06 season, beating Wigan Athletic 4-0, against at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, scoring the final goal. Wayne Rooney scored a brace with Louis Saha scoring the other.

In his fourth season (2006/07 season) at United, won the Premier League title after a three year absence with Arsenal winning one and Chelsea winning two. It was something that United would dominate for the remaining three seasons of Ronaldo’s career at the club. However, in the 2007/08 season, United started off by winning the FA Community Shield, retaining the Premier League title and ending by winning the UEFA Champions League with Ronaldo famously scoring against Chelsea and missing a penalty with United winning in sudden death.

In his final season at United (2008/09), United started by winning the FIFA Club World Cup beating Gamba Osaka 5-3 in the semi-finals before beating LDU Quito 1-0 in the final. It was the first trophy won that season. United also won the League Cup again, beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 on penalties. Importantly, Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or in 2008 becoming the first player since George Best (1968) to win the award. The club also won their 18th league title with their third Premier League title in a row – the second time the club had done this in the history of the Premier League. They also made it to the Champions League final in Rome but were beaten 2-0 by Barcelona.

It was the summer Ronaldo left United with it rumoured to be happening in the summer of 2008 after United won the Champions League for the third time, the second time under Ferguson. At United, Ronaldo made a total of 292 appearances, scoring 118 goals and 69 assists. He obviously went on to become a much better player scoring goals for fun but will be thankful for his time at United, which helped him become the player he is today. Real Madrid spent £80 million on the Portuguese winger who would break records at the Santiago Bernabeu.

At Real Madrid, Ronaldo spent nine seasons at the club, winning two La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys, two Supercopa de España’s and most notably four UEFA Champions League trophies, taking his personal haul to five. He also won the UEFA Super Cup twice and three FIFA Club World Cups, taking his personal haul to four. In terms of personal achievement, Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or four more times (2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017) winning five of them so far in his career. He made a total of 438 appearances in Madrid, scoring 450 goals and 133 assists becoming the clubs top scorer, topping Raúl by 127 goals.

It could all have been different though as Sir Alex Ferguson had a plan to re-sign Ronaldo for United just two weeks before announcing his retirement as revealed by Patrice Evra as reported by The Mirror in May. There were rumours of Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford almost every transfer window something that might still happen today, as long as the player is still playing. It could have changed the players entire career in the summer of 2013, if Ferguson had not retired. Speaking about the audacious plan, Evra speaking on the UTD Podcast reported by The Mirror, said:

“You know, you talk about the hardest moments [in my United career], I would say maybe this (Fergie’s retirement) is the one.

“Two weeks before that, I remember there was a lot of media saying Ferguson will maybe retire next year, and he said, ‘Patrice, I will never retire. I will be here another 10 years’.

“He then said: ‘My target is I’m 99 per cent sure we will have Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. I just need these two players to win the Champions League again. Ninety-nine per cent.’

“And to be fair, when I speak with Cristiano, I ask him and he said yes to the boss, and was coming to join United. He told me this.”

Ronaldo left Madrid for Juventus in the summer of 2018 with the Italian club paying €100 million for the player with a further €12 million in other fees. In his first season at the Old Lady, Ronaldo helped the club win the Supercoppa Italiana and the Serie A title. In his second season at the club, Juventus retained their Serie A title but were knocked out of the Champions League at the hands of Lyon which saw Maurizio Sarri sacked days later with club legend Andrea Pirlo taking over. So far in Italy, Ronaldo has made 89 appearances, scoring 65 goals and 18 assists. He has two more years remaining on his contract and at 35 he still seems to be playing at the top of his game.

Former United teammate Gary Neville recently spoke to Sky Sports about Ronaldo, which was reported by the official Juventus website in which the former United captain stated that he thought Ronaldo would be seeking to break Pele’s goalscoring record of 1,281 goals in 1,363 matches, So far, Ronaldo has made 850 appearances, scored 638 goals and 223 assists so he has a long way to go with 643 goals needed to match Pele’s record. Ronaldo will be celebrated during his career as he has won multiple league titles in three different countries; England, Spain and Italy, winning all his other honours and showing his skill and class in every step of the way. Neville said:

“Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlos Queiroz, I think it’s important to put Carlos Queiroz in the category with Sir Alex, they were both champions of him, they both believed in him.

“I think that Ronaldo came back from the World Cup that summer it was like everything had changed. His maturity and his decision-making, which was a big thing, his experience, his physical attributes had completely changed overnight.

“He went from someone who, if you look at his early pictures at Manchester United, he was scrawny, really thin, wiry, didn’t look very strong.

“All of a sudden, I think it was after that 2006 World Cup, he came back like a super-middleweight boxer. His body had just completely transformed, he was absolutely incredible.

“From a strength point of view and a plyometric point of view, the ability to leap, the ability to score with his head, the ability to change direction, everything seems to fall into place. It was just a maturity, physically, mentally, everything happened to him.

“It was brilliant to watch, there was a point I remember going into the gym after one training session and speaking to Mike Clegg [United’s strength and conditioning coach] who worked very hard with Cristiano physically in the gym and saying to him, ‘I don’t know what he’s going to do next’.

“You didn’t know where he was going to be defensively, you didn’t know when he was going to release the ball, players in the middle of the box didn’t know when he was going to cross it. It was just erratic.

“But they had great faith in him, Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlos Queiroz, and they believed in him, put him forward in front of players who had greater reputations at the time and he developed into something brilliant.

“His drive was out of this world to become the best in the world. He’s one of the very few players that I’ve played with that would publicly announce that the individual trophies were important to him.

“He just wanted to be the very, very best in the world and it’s so important to him.

“It’s an obsession. Absolute obsession with scoring goals. Applying himself every single day, being the fittest he can possibly be. I think he’s lifted his professionalism every single year and progressed.

“Jamie [Carragher] mentioned before about James Milner wanting to play into his late 30s and 40s. I think he [Ronaldo] has a plan to go on and take over Pele’s record.

“I genuinely believe he wants to go on and beat Pele’s numbers.

“That’s where I think he’s at in his mind, he wants to be the greatest of all time, that is his sole purpose, understanding that along the way if he is the greatest of all time, the teams that he plays for will win trophies and be successful.”

Ronaldo is one of the best footballers of his time, if not the best. His rivalry with Lionel Messi will have been something that contributed to two of the best footballer players in the world play together, in the same league for much of their careers. The two players dominated the Ballon d’Or for ten years from 2008 to 2017 with Luka Modric breaking the monopoly of the two world-class players in 2018. Ronaldo has won five Ballon d’Or’s with Messi winning six. For the first time since 1956, there will be no Ballon d’Or winner in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of this Ronaldo will be looking to win his sixth title in 2021.

Written by John Walker

Everton interested in signing Diogo Dalot with fullback not in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans

Manchester United fullback Diogo Dalot could find himself heading to Everton this summer with manager Carlo Ancelotti reportedly interested in the 21-year-old Portuguese youth international. United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not seem to have any plans for the fullback, even with Luke Shaw on the sidelines for the rest of United’s participation in the UEFA Europa League.

It would also seem that Tim Fosu-Mensah is favoured over the Portuguese player after he featured in the left-back position whilst both Shaw and Brandon Williams were out of action – after all it is a position that Dalot played in at FC Porto before former United manager Jose Mourinho signed the player two years ago. It might seem unfair to some that Solskjaer does not seem to have plans for the 21-year-old.

However, as the player arrived under the plans of another manager, despite being tested sparingly, it does not mean the player will remain in the plans of the manager who takes over from the departing manager. Dalot as been at the club for more than 18 months under Solskjaer, having fewer than five months under Mourinho. His current contract expires in the summer of 2023.

This season though, Dalot has made just 11 appearances for United, scoring one goal – playing a total of 577 minutes on the pitch. The 21-year-old started seven times, coming off the bench four times. Since the restart though, he has featured once against Norwich City in the Emirates FA Cup and was on the bench, albeit an unused substitute, against both Crystal Palace and West Ham United.

In the past few weeks, Dalot had emerged as a target for Barcelona but now The Mirror have suggested that Everton are interested with a possible £10 million fee involved in the transfer. Two years ago, United paid £19 million for the then teenager, so will absorb the loss, if he is sold to Everton for the reported fee this summer. It might not be easy at Everton with Seamus Coleman in the right-back position.

However, it is stated that Dalot could be the long-term replacement for the 32-year-old fullback which would set Everton up for the future. It would seem clear that Solskjaer is not interested in helping to develop the player with Aaron Wan-Bissaka the first choice right back with Williams able to fill in at both fullback positions. Then there is Ethan Laird, a player from the academy, who could rival Wan-Bissaka in the future.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW