Premier League - The Big Interview with Paul HeckingbottomSep 21
After a year unlike any other in football, Bruno Fernandes is still smiling.
“I see all the problems that we’ve had and it would have been better for me to enjoy my game with the fans but the only thing I’ve missed this year was the trophies.”
And Fernandes has good reason to be pleased with his personal 2020. Since arriving from Sporting CP at the back end of the January transfer window for £47milllion, it’s hard to overstate the impact he’s had at Old Trafford.
Fernandes has scored more goals, provided more assists, created more chances and covered more distance than any other United player since February 2020.
He’s almost single-handedly completely transformed a plodding United midfield into one of the most dynamic in Europe.
Granted, United have suffered setbacks since his arrival. They tasted defeat in the Europa League semi-finals last season and this season crashed out in the Champions League group stages.
But it’s testament to United’s recent revival that they head into the Saturday’s trip to Leicester, one of three Premier League games exclusively live on BT Sport, knowing that a win would take them two points off Liverpool with a game in hand over the league leaders.
What’s been most impressive about Fernandes’ impact is how instant it’s been. For a player joining from Portuguese football, the midfielder has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water despite being thrown in at the deep end.
“Straight away when I arrived the confidence the coach [Ole Gunnar Solskjaer] showed to me was impressive,” Fernandes says. “I have one day of training and the second day I play against Wolves because he trusted me.
“If a coach buys you and plays you straight away you have to do really well and show you have the qualities to play because if you don’t seize this chance maybe you’ll never have the chance again.”
It’s a now-or-never attitude that pervades through Fernandes as he talks about his game. Those who’ve seen United play this season will know that he never has a quiet match.
Fernandes is forever looking for the ball, always trying to make something happen in the final third and never unwilling to take chances in possession.
“With the quality we have in this team, I have to look for the guys up front,” Fernandes explains. “Maybe if I serve them the first time they will miss, maybe the second time they will miss but on the third time they will score.”
“One of the biggest challenges for me was when I arrived, [Marcus] Rashford would sometimes make the run and when the ball didn’t come to him he would say ‘Ah, they need to pass to me!’.
“So I told him: ‘Maybe I will miss the first one but the second one I will do right. So make the move every time and I will try every time. If I make a mistake don’t worry, because I cannot make 20 mistakes in a game. I will play one good ball for you and I know you will score.”
In many ways, Fernandes’ approach to the game embodies that of the modern No 10 – he is more of a box-to-box playmaker than one who entirely plays between the lines. Gone are the days when a creative player would be given a ‘free role’ and no defensive briefing by a manager.
In 2020, a No 10 is expected to run just as much and work just as hard as any of other position while still scoring goals and creating chances for his team-mates.
Having covered more distance on the pitch than any of his United team-mates, it appears Fernandes has embraced those expectations.
“In modern football most coaches don’t want a No 10 who doesn’t run, doesn’t press, doesn’t defend,” Fernandes adds. “In the past the No 10 didn’t run back into the box fighting for the ball, he was the guy who when you have the ball you straight away look for him and then you go.
“Now it’s normal for a No 10 to misplace passes because he runs more. Sometimes I run 10 or 11km in games so I get tired! It’s not an excuse because you can do that and not make mistakes but when you run a lot, sometimes you don’t make the right choices.”
Fortunately for United, most of the time Fernandes is still making the right choices. Nine goals and five assists from 13 Premier League matches has helped propel Solskjaer’s men into title contenders.
For Fernandes, there’s no doubt that at the top of the table is where United should be aiming. While he’s claimed three Premier League Player of the Month awards since arriving, individual accolades do little to satisfy a player who lifted three major trophies with Sporting CP in Lisbon.
Asked if winning trophies is realistic this season, Fernandes is unequivocal. “Everything can be realistic if you believe,” the 26-year-old says.
“You make your own reality and if you have some targets, you have to go for them. In a club like this, with players like this you have to target winning trophies and playing and beating the best teams…
“My target is always winning trophies. It doesn’t matter which trophy it is, I want to win them.”