Why Manchester United must build their team around Bruno Fernandes
- The pressure remains on Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but in Bruno Fernandes, he may have found the perfect leader for his Manchester United side.
He was named Manchester United’s Player of the Month for February following his first full month at the club, but January signing Bruno Fernandes already has one hand on the Player of the Year award too.
The hefty price paid for his signature brings with it a certain level of expectation, and the protracted transfer negotiations did question just how much the club wanted to get the deal over the line.
While United were clearly aware of his Premier League potential, if manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær had realised just how immediate his impression on the team would be, efforts would have been made to complete the deal much sooner.
Such is his contribution to the Manchester United midfield in a short space of time, Fernandes has become the most talked-about player at Old Trafford, and his performances since his arrival has reduced the number of column inches devoted to Paul Pogba and the speculation over his future at the club. Unlikely to remain at the club past the summer, it appears that Pogba has already been replaced.
Presence on the field
And the reason why Fernandes is so influential is that his value is determined by his performances on the field. He is a throwback to a traditional footballer, and his career is reflected on the ball rather than on social media. Like many before him, it was the reputation and traditions of the club that attracted him to Old Trafford, and his character was evident by his clear passion for representing his former club, Sporting.
Fernandes arrived at Old Trafford at a time when the club were making steady progress in the league and cup, and he has brought a new dimension to the midfield of the side since his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the beginning of February. His technical qualities have already complemented those around him, and his commitment to making the most of this new opportunity and challenge has added another level to his game.
In many ways, Fernandes is the anti-Pogba, and his status at Old Trafford is elevated by the inevitable comparison with the French World Cup winner. Controversy has followed Pogba around since his return to Manchester United, and his reputation with the fans has suffered through his inability to halt the decline of the Premier League’s once-dominant force.
Manchester United have been criticised intensely by the media in recent years, and while a lot of it has been justified, the recruitment of Fernandes should be heralded. It is his character that is as important as his ability, and it is clear that his arrival has offered a much-needed boost to the changing room morale. In contrast, the desperate nature of their pursuit of a striker on the final day of the transfer window confirmed that there is still much to do in the recruitment department.
For club and country
It takes an exceptional talent to swap the Primeira Liga for the Premier League and immediately influence a club as big as Manchester United in the way that Fernandes has. Although he is still in the honeymoon period, his consistency and continued progress since his debut suggest that there is still a lot more to come from the Portuguese star before the end of the season. Meanwhile, his performances will offer a timely boost for his national team as they prepare to defend their EURO title this summer.
These are testing times for Solskjær and Manchester United, and while the turn of the year has brought a change in fortune, the vulnerabilities that exist were still on show against Everton on Sunday. It was Fernandes who scored from long-range to ensure they claimed a share of the points in the 1-1 draw. It was a fitting contribution from the player who held the midfield together, and he provided the attacking creativity necessary to compensate for goalkeeper David de Gea’s early error.
Building for the future
It is in Solskjær’s interests now to focus on building his Manchester United team around Fernandes, and if the side can qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season, it should be enough to buy the manager some more time. The form of Fernandes has eased the pressure on Solskjær temporarily, but a clear plan for the short and long-term future of the club is needed now more than ever before.
The injury to Marcus Rashford has had a negative effect on the team, and Mason Greenwood is a striker for the future rather than for the present. Releasing Pogba and Alexis Sánchez from the wage bill this summer will offer hope that the club are finally moving in the right direction, and the additional funds will enable the club to build on the investment made on their new Portuguese star.
At 25, Fernandes is likely to improve over the next couple of seasons as he reaches the peak of his power, and his central role will allow him to continue to be as influential for a few more years after that. He is an inspired signing, and given the protracted nature of United's pursuit, it is incredible that no other leading clubs attempted to make their move.
There remains a vulnerability about Manchester United, and the small steps taken by Solskjær are unlikely to keep him the job long-term. His recruitment has been a welcome shift from the panic buys of his predecessors, and while players like Harry Maguire and Daniel James remain a work in progress, there are signs that the club are finally moving in the right direction.
A season-defining signing
Few experts expected Fernandes to make the impression he has while he still finds his feet at Old Trafford, and his arrival will be remembered as the defining moment of the current campaign. It is clear that he will have a big say in what United achieve before the end of the season, and few would rule out a positive conclusion despite things looking so bleak at the midway point.
The traditions of Manchester United demand a high-intensity attacking game, and there is a deceptive attacking streak to Fernandes that has helped his acceptance with the Old Trafford faithful. Despite the pressure of his high-profile transfer, he has played without fear and has shown leadership in his game that has been significantly missing at the club in recent years.
While his late arrival may deny him the Player of the Year award, there is no doubt that he is the current key player in this Manchester United side. He has embraced the opportunity and challenge presented to him, and his determination to succeed is displayed in the confidence he has shown since his debut. If his time at the club is to be for an extended period, he will inevitably wear the captain's armband soon enough.
What Solskjær must now ensure is the initial lift is not temporary, and any negativity that remains within the group must not drag Fernandes down with it. There will be difficult times before the end of the season, and his reaction to that will say more about him than his current form. The early indications suggest he has the character to carry the side through a run of bad results.
What is certain though is that Manchester United have signed a player to build a team around, and the question now is whether Solskjær will stay around long enough to see this particular project through to fruition. Players like Fernandes are few and far between, and for their Premier League rivals, he already appears to be the one who got away.Published 03 Mar 2020, 01:13 IST