How Bruno Fernandes Transformed Manchester United in a Year
The January transfer window is still open for clubs to strengthen their squads for the remainder of the season and finding the right player can make all the difference as history has proved over the 28-and-a-half years of the Premier League.
Last year, Manchester United made it clear they wanted to sign Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. Their pursuit of the 26-year-old began in the summer of 2019, but a deal was unable to be agreed between the two clubs.
The drama resumed last January and just as it looked as though the transfer saga was going to end without a breakthrough, United finally announced the signing on the penultimate day of the transfer window on a five-and-a-half-year contract.
Fernandes cost £46.5million and he has already repaid a huge chunk of that fee in the 12 months he has been at Old Trafford.
Fernandes’ Premier League Stats At Man Utd
It was the biggest and most significant signing made in January's transfer window last year. During his time in the Portuguese capital, Fernandes scored 63 goals and provided 52 assists in 137 games.
Some players are weighed down by a big-money transfer to United where expectation levels are higher than at any other club but as soon as Fernandes pulled on the United shirt, it looked as though he had been playing for the Red Devils for years.
The majority of the good things about United's play has come through him. Before his debut in a goalless draw at home to Wolves, United were 36 points behind leaders Liverpool, but after eight goals and seven assists, Fernandes helped United finish third and secure a place in this season's Champions League.
Right now, United are three points clear of Liverpool after the latest round of fixtures and Fernandes has carried on his impressive form from where he left off last term.
He is the club's leading scorer with 16 goals, 11 of which have come in the Premier League. Not everyone, though, has been impressed by what Fernandes has achieved during his time at Old Trafford.
United's previous manager and fellow Portuguese Jose Mourinho passed comment on how many penalties are included in Fernandes' total of goals.
"Some players score 10 goals a season on penalties," the Tottenham manager said. "I'm not speaking about Harry Kane, by the way."
Indeed, Mourinho could have done with a player like Fernandes during his spell in charge of United which ended with his dismissal in December 2018.
Fernandes' impact at Old Trafford has drawn comparisons with Eric Cantona, who was also a very accomplished penalty taker.
Cantona joined United from Leeds in November 1992 after a chance request by Alex Ferguson to the then Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson who allowed Cantona to leave for £1.2m.
The Frenchman helped United win four of the five titles available during his time at Old Trafford to become a fans’ favourite.
United supporters called Cantona 'Le King' and while fans are not currently allowed inside the Theatre of Dreams because of Covid-19 restrictions, they may be calling Fernandes 'O Rei' when they are finally able to attend games again.
Since arriving in England, United have only lost once when Fernandes has scored and that was when Tottenham won 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier this season.
Fernandes' penalty to beat Aston Villa on New Year's Day was his third winning goal in the league this season and those extra six points have helped United become title contenders, with bookmakers pricing them up as 12/1 third favourites.
Breakdown of Fernandes' 19 League Goals
- 9 penalties
- 3 winning goals
- 3 equalisers
- 7 opening goals
- 7 home goals
- 12 away goals
His goals have often come at crucial times such as his 86th minute goal at Newcastle in October with the score tied at 1-1. United went on to win 4-1.
In November, trailing 1-0 at Everton, Fernandes scored the equaliser and the second goal as United won 3-1.
He also sparked a remarkable comeback at Southampton who led 2-0 with half an hour to play. Fernandes scored United's first goal as they claimed the points in a 3-2 win. And against Leeds, he scored the third and sixth goals as United won 6-2.
Fernandes has started all but one of United's 20 league games this season. The one he didn't start was at West Ham when United trailed 1-0 at the interval.
He replaced Donny van de Beek at half-time and United went on to win 3-1 after Fernandes provided the assist for Paul Pogba's equaliser.
The midfielder's importance to the team is so great that rarely does he get a rest. He has been taken off six times to be replaced by Daniel James (once), Scott McTominay (twice) and van de Beek (three times).
These three players are not known for their goal-scoring ability and offer other attributes to the team like a more defensive mindset or the ability to create chances.
Even when he does get a rest he can still be a match-winner - as evidenced in the recent FA Cup win over Liverpool in which Fernandes came off the bench to fire in a free-kick to win the game for United in a 3-2 thriller.
Jesse Lingard is another player in the United squad who is capable of doing the role played by Fernandes, but consistency has let him down to the point that he has yet to feature in the league this season.
United's first choice midfield of Fernandes, Pogba and Fred is set up perfectly for the Portuguese talisman to have a free role in midfield. He can join attacks as and when he wants to, knowing Pogba and Fred will maintain their positions and protect the back four.
It wasn't that long ago that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time as United's manager looked to be coming to an end following their exit from the Champions League.
Their last three losses have come in Europe's elite club competition and since their defeat to RB Leipzig that confirmed their elimination, United have won five and drawn two of their last seven league and cup games.
Few expected United to be challenging for the title this season, but with Fernandes pulling the strings, Solskjaer has genuine hope that he can win his first trophy as United manager.
Despite defeat to Sheffield United on Wednesday, United remain firmly in the title race and, with a favourable home tie with West Ham in the FA Cup fifth round coming up, they could win their first piece of silverware since they lifted the Europa League at the end of the 2016/17 season.
Solskjaer knows he needs to land a trophy to truly win over his doubters and that first honour could well come before the end of the season if Fernandes can maintain his form.
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