Bruno Fernandes is once again being linked with Manchester United having spent most of the summer in their sights and in those of many of Europe’s big hitters. But still he remains at Sporting Lisbon, where he continues to set the Portuguese league on fire.
Should United take a punt and cough up for Fernandes?
He would instantly improve United’s dire midfield – Ian Watson
Even if all their midfielders were fit, United would still be short. As it is, Solskjaer’s first-choice pair are both sidelined with little prospect of a swift return, leaving Fred, Andreas Pereira and Fred to battle it out for the two deep-lying spots. Matic is almost certainly on his way at the end of the season; Fred is improving but like Pereira still some way off the required standard to play in central midfield for Manchester United.
Matic, at least, has a defined role. He is a screener, a workhorse who tackles and intercepts – but don’t rely on the Serbian to create. Fred and Pereira can be neat and tidy in possession but ultimately harmless, unless you happen to have a season ticket behind either goal at Old Trafford. All three like to look forward but rarely pass in that direction. To summarise, United’s midfield carries all the threat of a Care Bear wrapped in rainbows.
It would be negligent, though not surprising, if United fail to strengthen their midfield options this month. Ed Woodward can brief whoever he wishes about how difficult it is to attract their top targets mid-season, but his excuses grew tired many windows ago. United would almost certainly baulk at the price being asked, regardless of the time of year, for any of the likes of Jack Grealish or James Maddison.
But there is at least one midfielder within United’s reach who would immediately improve their core: Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes.
United were heavily linked with the Sporting Lisbon star for most of 2019 but at no point did they make their move. Many clubs took note of Fernandes, as you would expect given his output, but no one took a punt on the 24-year-old.
Those numbers: Last season, Fernandes scored 32 goals and created another 18 in 53 Sporting appearances. The madness continues this term: In 24 matches, he’s scored 13 goals and laid on 13 more. Fernandes has been good for more than a goal per game this season.
Stats can only tell you so much; your eyes can fill in the blanks, which is presumably why Solskjaer and Mike Phelan went to watch him take on Porto last Sunday. Typically, Fernandes’ only tangible contribution in a 2-1 defeat was a caution for mouthing off, but in the first half especially, the United coaches will have seen more guile and spark from the midfielder than anything in a red shirt has offered this season.
Fernandes could fill one of a number of holes in the United XI. Ideally, in a 4-3-3 alongside Pogba and McTominay, Fernandes would thrive in the pockets behind the front three but since Solskjaer prefers 4-2-3-1, the Portugal star could play deeper next to a more defensively-minded holder, or in the No.10 role off the main striker.
Fernandes and Pogba together would be a tantalising prospect, but it seems almost certain that one would be replacing the other. Pogba wants away from Old Trafford, he has done for almost two years now, and there is increasingly little point holding him against his will. Fernandes would ensure Pogba isn’t missed.
To talk in Woodward’s terms, there is an opportunity for United to make a tidy profit. United wanted £180million for Pogba in the summer; a more likely value would be just over half that amount. Sporting are said to want around £60million, which doesn’t seem an unfair price to ask of a club with United’s dire need and one with the means to pay comfortably. Remember, they coughed up £52million for Fred. To wait and go for Grealish or Maddison in the summer would cost United whatever they pull in for Pogba and, crucially, valuable time, which Solskjaer might not have without urgent strengthening. And this is hardly an either/or situation. A club of United’s stature should go for both, if the need is there.
Much of the noise around Fernandes in summer was likely being made by his agents and Sporting, all keen to make a few Euros on their prized asset. Spurs went for a try-before-you-buy deal for Giovani Lo Celso instead, while Real Madrid opted to wait a year before picking their preferred midfielder. Real can afford to hold fire; United cannot. There is little question that Fernandes would significantly enhance Solskjaer’s currently-limited options – so what are they waiting for?
Hold fire and wait for Grealish – Will Ford
Why would United sign Bruno Fernandes now rather than wait and get Jack Grealish in the summer? They’re probably thinking they won’t get into the Champions League without midfield creativity for the rest of the season – and they’re absolutely right. But the likelihood of Fernandes coming in, hitting the ground running and immediately becoming the bright spark that can feed the chance-deprived Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial is slim-to-none anyway. May as well wait for Jack, as Fernandes will take at least half a season to settle.
The Portugal international has been a creative machine since he joined Sporting and averaged a goal or an assist in every game he played in the league last season. But while the overly caveating statement that ‘he’s only done it in Portugal’ – as his period in Serie A was nowhere near as fruitful – is mundane and clearly not a predictor of success at United, he is surely more of a risk than the floppy-haired rockstar from the West Midlands, with quality proven at Premier League level.
If United could get Grealish now, they would. It’s rarely a question of money at Old Trafford and in fact they would probably have to fork out less for the Villa skipper than the proposed €70million wanted for Fernandes. Solskjaer was clearly impressed by his performance for Villa at Old Trafford, which included one of at least three wonder goals he’s scored this season. And if it weren’t for the 24-year-old’s loyalty to his boyhood club he would likely already be Instagramming at Carrington with J-Lingz – although he could just as likely be slipping into a Villa shirt as part of a swap deal…
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Grealish doesn’t want to leave Villa in the lurch. He knows – like we all do now – that if he leaves in January, they are definitely going down. Villa already without Tom Heaton and Wesley for the season and John McGinn for a significant period, without Jack the Lad they would drop like a stone, so he’ll wait until the summer.
This is why United are tempted by Fernandes. And if he was moving to Liverpool or Manchester City in January he would make an immediate impact – though he would probably do so from the bench. Playmakers will always flourish in teams where the dynamism, fluidity of positions and off the ball running gives them endless options for a forward pass or space for a shot at goal. But that’s not the case at Ole’s United, and won’t be until United is not his anymore.
At the moment, Fernandes will need to perfect one pass if he’s to move to Old Trafford – the one into the channel for Rashford to run on to. A pass which Perreira is (sometimes) capable of, and one which will paint Fernandes as unimaginative before his United career has got going , despite it being the only option available.
Just wait for Mauricio Pochettino, he loves Grealish and may not want Fernandes. He’ll know best.