Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United footballer
Wikimedia Commons/ Ardfern

Three years of Bruno Fernandes

Deadline day 2020. Manchester United announced the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. Arguably, at the time, he was a relatively unknown entity. Even those who had seen him play in Portugal couldn’t predict how he would perform in a notoriously physical league. In fact, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact he was going to have on a team that seemed to be on a vicious downward spiral.

Despite being in fifth position, United felt like a team in disarray when Fernandes came into the squad. The first half of the season had been littered with inconsistency and disappointing equalisers. The squad felt uninspiring and lacked a true sense of purpose. However, there were hints of potential, notably Rashford’s free kick that knocked Chelsea out of the League Cup in October 2019 and a resilient performance at the Etihad that December.

Despite these games, the team was lacking something overall, something to tie everything together. Fernandes was supposed to be that missing link. Looking back three years on, I think to simply call him that understates the impact he has made. Bruno Fernandes didn’t tie together a broken team; he completely refigured the direction Manchester United were going.

Bruno Fernandes has become integral to this United team, both on and off the pitch. Regularly captaining the side, his hunger is evident, not only through his ability to create chances out of nothing, but also the manner in which he interacts with others on the pitch. Manchester United had been without that desire and drive and were not getting the results. Bruno has never lost that passion, and now more than ever, you can see the team truly flourishing under Erik ten Hag – with Fernandes playing a pivotal role.

United fans want players on the pitch that care as much as they do

There was a fear that the team would become too reliant on the Portuguese midfielder and when he hit form in his first full season at the club, this seemed to become reality. There was an issue at United, where players were lacking confidence and consequently struggling to create. This led to seemingly everything going through Fernandes, meaning he couldn’t find the space he needed, and his output decreased. Question marks were raised as to whether the honeymoon period was over and if Bruno Fernandes was as good as his first few months had implied. There was almost a sense that if Bruno didn’t create a chance, then United had little chance of victory.

The following season was disappointing for United, with poor cup performances and a failing to finish in the top four. Despite this, Fernandes still managed to provide the most assists in that season’s Champions League, even though United got knocked out in the round of 16. Yet, the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo loomed large, and Fernandes’ output was largely ignored. Not until Erik ten Hag took over this summer has Bruno’s significance come back into the conversation.

Now with a stronger midfield around him and a front line playing with confidence, United’s new number 8 plays a vital role in the team. His range of passes are invaluable, and plays into United’s strength of pace, allowing the likes of Marcus Rashford to get into positions where a goal feels inevitable. Not only is he technically brilliant, which his goal contributions highlight, but he is also highly intelligent which is evident in his vision and subsequently his delivery, something United had been lacking for some time before his arrival.

It is more than footballing ability; it is the all-around character that United have gained in Fernandes

Yet it is his personality when not kicking a ball that offers his true worth at United. More than anything, Fernandes is a team player and it is clear how much things matter to him. Although to some he may seem over-emotional, and he does often make his opinions known to the officials, United fans want players on the pitch that care as much as they do. This is why he has been such a success with those who visit Old Trafford every other week. He truly plays for the badge and gets involved, which fans have been begging for. The emotion you feel for your club is difficult to comprehend for those who do not follow sport, but the result at the weekend can make or break your week, and when you feel those on the pitch don’t want it as much as you, it is a hard pill to swallow.

That is what Fernandes has changed about this club in his three years. Since his arrival, it feels like the team want it as much as those in the stands. His attitude is pivotal to his success at the club.

After Jadon Sancho scored against Leicester on 19 February this season, Bruno Fernandes pushed him forward. He wanted Sancho to have his moment to celebrate. He knew what it meant. It is more than footballing ability; it is the all-around character that United have gained in Fernandes. Now he also has a Carabao Cup medal to show for it.


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