Bruno Fernandes: How one man transformed Manchester United’s fortunes

An FA Cup victory in 2016 under Louis van Gaal and Europa League glory under Jose Mourinho in 2017 were two of the highlights of what has not been an uninteresting period since Ferguson retired in 2013 – and a far cry from the 38 trophies won by Scot in his 26 years at the club.

The future didn’t look much brighter in January. The club, now managed by former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, found themselves fifth in the table in the new year.

Football was mediocre, the atmosphere was toxic and star man Paul Pogba, once considered the saving grace, seemed ready to go as soon as he could.

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But, fast forward seven months, and there are now signs of new life under Solskjaer, especially since the arrival of a Bruno Fernandes.

The Portuguese playmaker showed up at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in January and was thrown into a squad lacking in creativity, quality and leadership.

Luckily for his new hires, it seems Fernandes has all three of these attributes in abundance.

Since making their debut earlier this year, United had not lost a league game, moving up the rankings to finish third and qualify for the UEFA Champion League next season for the first time since the 2018-19 season. It was a remarkable achievement considering the club started the campaign with their worst start to a league season in 33 years.

Moreover, Fernandes brought excitement back to Manchester’s red half after years of uninspiring and often deplorable performances.

His eight league goals and seven assists demonstrate the kind of player United now have in their hands.

“It [Fernandes] told me about the league, how intense it is to play in this league, ”Porto star Danilo Pereira told CNN Sport.

“It’s no surprise to me to see the impact he has had at Manchester. I think United can go back to their golden years with him, Pogba and other players.”

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Bruno Fernandes had an instant impact on Manchester United.

“ A very, very good signing ”

If a typical Manchester United player existed, Fernandes surely would be.

A risk-taker, thrilling to watch and able to cope with the extreme pressures of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, the attacking midfielder became an instant hit.

He has been a leader from day one; step up to take (and score) six penalties in his short spell at the club – including the center kick against Leicester City which has helped United on their way to Champions League football next season.

Former players and pundits have loved his performances since moving to England, where he has won the Man of the Match award in almost every game he has played.

“You can see he has the talent and he’s not afraid. He wants the ball, which I expect from a very good player,” the former Premier League star told CNN Sport and current Monegasque player, Cesc Fabregas.

“But what I love is that he’s smart at moving around the field. He knows when to get in between the lines. He knows when to go into space when he sees someone is available for it. make a token. He arrives at the second line fantastically.

“He supports the midfielder when they are developing and struggling a bit, and when teams put a lot of pressure on them.

“He can play a long time, he can play little short passes. He has the personality to take free kicks and penalties. He is not afraid. He is not hiding. I think Man United have done a very good job. choice. A very good signing. “

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The playmaker has helped the club enter the UEFA Champions League next season.

Instant impact

Adjusting to the Premier League is no easy task. It usually takes a while for players to get used to the physiognomy and hectic nature of the league, but it hasn’t been a stumbling block for Fernandes.

While his performances in Portugal gave an indication of what was to come, such an instant impact surprised many.

“You looked at the Sporting Lisbon player and he was clearly someone who scored a lot of goals and someone who created a lot of goals, but there is always a challenge as to whether they can translate that into one. better league and a new club, ”British journalist Richard Jolly told CNN Sport, adding that he saw no realistic way to finish United in the top four without Fernandes.

“But he was a transformative player and a revelation in terms of how quickly he did it, I mean it really was from day one.

“You look at both the number of goals and the number of assists, and they’re fantastic. If you could keep that form throughout the season, he’s an incredible player there.”

Improved Pogba

While his individual brilliance is evident, Fernandes’ arrival saw the rise in the form of players around him.

The attacking trio of Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford have scored at will after football returned from the lockout (the team has scored 22 goals in their last nine league games), and players like Pogba and Nemanja Matic seemed more settled in the midfield. .

Pogba, in particular, is a different player than one who was apparently weighed down by the pressure of being the biggest star in the starting lineup.

The Frenchman’s relationship with the club appeared to have bottomed out earlier this season, with constant rumors linking the midfielder with a move away from the club.

Fans have also been frustrated with Pogba for spending much of the season on the treatment table after suffering two ankle injuries. When they saw him on the pitch, he was often disappointed.

But now, since returning from his last injury after the lockdown, there have been early signs that a partnership with Fernandes could blossom and the World Cup winner suddenly seems more at ease.

“I think Pogba enjoys being around great players and great full-fledged characters, I don’t think he wants to be the only big name there, and therefore have all the pressure on him,” Jolly said.

“I think he probably doesn’t want to be in a midfield where he’s surrounded by mediocrities. I think you’ve already seen signs of a little chemistry between Pogba and Fernandes which helps, but I think that he also just appreciates the element that he plays with other quality players around him. ”

Paul Pogba has improved considerably since Fernandes joined.

The new Cantona?

Fernandes had been linked with a move to Old Trafford throughout 2019 and there had been a disappointment when the deal was not made in time for the new season.

So when the transfer went over the limit in January for an initial $ 61million (£ 47million) fans were ready to see what it was all about. It’s safe to say that they weren’t disappointed.

Mark Goldbridge, United supporter and presenter of a fan channel The united stand, can’t wait to see how the team evolves.

“I compare it to what Eric Cantona did when he came to Manchester United from Leeds [in 1992] and we won our first Premier League title, “he said.” It was kind of the kick-off for a real success.

“Now I’m not saying Bruno Fernandes is going to lead Manchester United to the same level of success as Cantona, but it’s not just a player who comes in and makes us great.

“He’s a player who came and improved everyone around him.”

It’s easy to forget that Fernandes has only been at the club for a few months, but he has already established himself as a fan favorite – with one particular moment, in a game against local rivals Manchester City, a defining moment of its short period. at the club.

Fernandes got embroiled in a side feud with Pep Guardiola which resulted in the Portuguese player putting his finger to his lips and silencing the city manager.

“I think Bruno, in a very short space of time, has certainly walked in and really understood what Manchester United is,” Goldbridge said.

“At the end of the day, there is a thin line between understanding what Manchester United is and just being someone who loves the game, wants to play the game the right way and is passionate about winning.

“I remember his little argument with Pep when we played at Man City, and the fans loved it because I think Fernandes just wants to win.”

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Fernandes gave United's top three more chances.

Another false dawn?

As United’s form plummeted for the last two games of the season, fans will retain these encouraging signs of life and hope it is not yet another false dawn at the club.

Third place, while not matching the club’s true ambition, should be seen as progress and attention can now turn to the Europa League victory, which is set to resume on August 5.

United face a simple task in their second leg against LASK on Wednesday, leading 5-0 in the first leg and almost guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals.

While winning the European Football Club Cup secondary competition isn’t a smirk, the real prize is the Premier League.

Despite all the improvements seen at the club in recent weeks, the gap between himself and Liverpool and Manchester City remains wide – he has finished 33 points behind eventual champion Liverpool this season.

A productive summer in the transfer market could be just what United need, and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is just one of the names linked to the move to Old Trafford.

There had been signs of success both during Van Gaal and Mourinho’s time at the club, but something is different about United under Solskjaer.

Maybe a return to its glory days is not too far away.

“It feels more sustainable and one of the things they do is they don’t just beat teams, but, if you look at this winning round, they’ve won a lot of those games comfortably and with a lot of strength, and, quite entertaining, ”Jolly said.

“I think what you might see next year is not necessarily United winning the league, but placing in the top four a lot more comfortably.”

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