Very few would have predicted that Bruno Fernandes would have had this much of a positive impact on Manchester United so soon after joining.
Last summer, the Portuguese midfielder was persistently linked with a number of clubs, most notably United – but a move didn’t materialised. Indeed, one of last summer’s longest-running transfer sagas was set to drag on until the next window. That was until Sporting CP announced in November of 2019 that he had put pen to paper on a new contract.
It appeared as though Fernandes had committed his long-term future to the club. As a result, when news broke that United had reached a breakthrough in talks to sign the player towards the end of January, it came as quite a shock to many.
But as we had all become accustomed to with this particular transfer story, the following days saw the move being labelled a ‘done deal’ before ‘collapsing’…to then ‘back on again’ – you get the gist.
It was a transfer story that drained Man Utd fans – and indeed the footballing world. Of course, his goal contribution statistics at Sporting were simply outrageous, but the question of whether he would be able to carry his form into a league such as the Premier League, remained.
After finally signing for the Red Devils late on in the January window, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wasted no time in including him in his plans, naming him in the starting lineup against Wolves after he had completed just one training session with the team.
While he was making his debut, playing at Old Trafford with teammates he had only met a matter of hours before, Bruno was playing with authority, guiding his side and leading the way.
Sure, United weren’t able to pick up a win on his debut, but he showed exactly what he would bring to this team.
Fast forward just six months and it is already clear to see just how much Fernandes has transformed the Red Devils. Since his arrival, United have remained undefeated in 13 matches, while his personal statistics have been phenomenal.
Typically renowned as a league that can be very demanding with players needing time to settle before making much of an impact, Bruno’s form has been sensational – having already registered six goals and four assists in all competitions.
Sure, the numbers are hugely impressive, but it is his overall character and demeanour which has been so influential and pivotal to the team’s newfound confidence. A humble person, but equally one who demands certain standards, Bruno ensures those around him are working to their maximum capacity.
Bruno was the leader at Sporting CP, standing up and being the man to take responsibility when no one else would. From his stunning performances on the field to constantly demanding more from those around him, Fernandes was irreplaceable.
After all, how many other players can score 48 goals and provide a further 38 assists in just two seasons (2017/18 and 2018/19)?
Those numbers would have been astonishing enough for most strikers in Europe, yet to do it while playing mainly as an attacking midfielder and sometimes even deeper? This is a player that doesn’t just give out the orders, he leads by example.
Of course, there were cries that ‘it’s just the Portuguese league’, but he has proven during his short time in England so far that he really is one of the very best attacking midfielders in world football.
During the first half of the 2019/20 season, United looked lost against so-called lesser sides and were seemingly incapable of breaking them down. It was a team that only ever really looked threatening when playing on the counter-attack.
But following Bruno’s arrival, this has changed.
Most recently, United produced arguably their best performance of the season as they comfortably swept aside Brighton 3-0. Far too often in the first half of the campaign United would take too long before getting into their stride and actually looking to cause problems. But Bruno has helped the Red Devils to start quickly, with his intensity and hunger setting the tempo.
Against Brighton, they looked menacing right from the off, with the Portuguese firing against the post just before the 15 minute mark. But the Red Devils soon took the lead through Mason Greenwood before Fernandes got himself on the scoresheet not long later.
His ability to know when to make a run and where exactly to go is phenomenal, and he arrived to meet Paul Pogba’s pass and fire in to make it 2-0.
Never satisfied and always looking for more, Fernandes would be seen pressing and forcing the goalkeeper to kick it long, and encouraging his teammates to do likewise. On the ball, he continued to find pockets of space to work in, connecting beautifully with his midfielders and the attackers.
And again, it was his hunger and willingness to get forward that allowed him to finish off a simply stunning counter-attack for the third goal, volleying home after sprinting forward.
Indeed, by the 62nd minute, he had run 7.3km – more than any other player.
He had played the full 120 minutes just three days prior against Norwich in an FA Cup clash.
Some have pointed towards his passing accuracy figures, suggesting he’s too wasteful in possession. But in reality, this merely represents who he is as a person and as a player. Fernandes has matured over time, to the extent where he now will look for audacious and eye-of-the-needle passes when his side are on the attack and he knows his defenders are in position.
He has the ability to spot and execute passes not many others would recognise and therefore, while he may give the ball away from time to time, not only does it not cost his side, the rewards are clear for all to see.
Take his pass to set up Anthony Martial in the Manchester derby for example, it was perfectly weighted and allowed the Frenchman to fire home. Or his pass to Juan Mata against Club Brugge in the Europa League. Spotting the run of the Spaniard despite having numerous defenders around him, he played a pinpoint pass into the feet of Mata, who rolled the ball across for Odion Ighalo to tap home.
United fans had high hopes for Fernandes when he signed, but few could have imagined he would have had this much of a positive impact.
Fernandes has transformed this Red Devils side with his dazzling displays, while his overall influence off the field really shouldn’t be ignored either. United’s Portuguese magnifico is continuing to prove week after week that there really are few better attacking midfielders in world football right now than him.