Bruno Fernandes is the BEST Man Utd player of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era

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Bruno Fernandes Manchester United 2022-23
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The Portugal playmaker began dragging the Red Devils up as soon as he stepped foot into Old Trafford - and is finally getting his just rewards

Manchester United were a winning machine under Sir Alex Ferguson, but came screeching to a halt after the legendary manager called time on his glorious 26-year reign at the helm following the 2012-23 campaign.

That season saw the Red Devils claim a record-extending 13th Premier League title, but they haven't come close to winning it since, with David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick all failing to follow in Ferguson's footsteps.

United have struggled despite continuing to spend big money in the transfer market, with Angel Di Maria, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku among those to flop spectacularly. There have, though, been a few successes.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani delivered plenty of goals after joining the club on free transfers, while Ander Herrera and Juan Mata endeared themselves to supporters with their effort levels and passion to make a difference.

Luke Shaw and Fred are loved for similar reasons, with both men still a part of the squad, but there is no one signing that has shone brighter for United than Bruno Fernandes over the past decade.

After a drawn-out transfer saga, the Portugal international was finally snapped up from Sporting CP in a £47 million January deal back in 2020, and he has proven to be worth every single penny.

Fernandes made an instant impact at Old Trafford, and is now the most important member of a squad that finally looks ready to return to the elite stage under Erik ten Hag.

But what makes the 28-year-old such a special player?

  1. Goals and assists record

    Goals and assists record

    United had Fernandes to thank for inspiring their late turnaround in an FA Cup quarter-final clash with Fulham on March 19, as he scored twice to help seal a 3-1 victory in front of a packed home crowd.

    That brace took the midfielder's tally of goals for the club to 60 across all competitions, and his inch-perfect pass for Marcel Sabitzer to open the scoring in the first leg of United's Europa League quarter-final against Sevilla last week marked his 52nd assist.

    Most top strikers in world football would be satisfied with those kinds of numbers after just 175 appearances. What Fernandes is doing in Manchester is unprecedented, and that is further backed up by the records he has broken.

    He became the quickest player to reach five goals and five assists in Premier League history (nine games) after his lightning-fast start to life at Old Trafford, and his haul of 28 goals in 2020-21 saw him break Frank Lampard's record for the most goals from an English top-flight midfielder across all competitions in a single season.

    Fernandes also has a unique European record on his CV, having surpassed David Beckham as the first player to post an assist in six consecutive Champions League games for an English club when setting up an Anthony Elanga goal against Atletico Madrid in February 2022.

    Marcus Rashford has stepped up as United's main scoring threat this season, but Fernandes' output in the final third remains impressive, and he is always capable of conjuring up a moment of magic out of nothing to turn a game on its head.

  2. Leadership qualities

    Leadership qualities

    From day one of his United career, Fernandes has taken it upon himself to drive the team forward, both in and out of possession.

    He is often the most vocal player on the pitch for Ten Hag's side, and he is motivated by a sense of responsibility to the younger players in United's ranks.

    "It’s something that comes naturally to me. Even in normal life I try to help people," Fernandes said in an interview with The Athletic over Christmas. "You have to be yourself and you have to lead by example. Do everything that the coach asks you, do everything that is asked of you in every training session.

    "I try to pass confidence to young players, it doesn’t matter how old they are. I also want them to feel part of the family at Manchester United."

    Fernandes has worn the captain's armband for the majority of the current campaign, with United's official skipper Harry Maguire forced to settle for a role on the bench after losing Ten Hag's favour.

    Maguire is far less suited to leadership than Fernandes, who always demands the highest possible standards from himself and those around him.

    Ten Hag said as much in February, telling reporters after United's Europa League draw with Barcelona at Camp Nou: "As captain, he's an example on the pitch with the energy he puts in. He is so important for the team in our tactical approach and transition. He can match and cope with the load standards that are really high and can take a lot of games. He’s a great example for everyone in the squad."

    It seems inevitable that Fernandes will be named permanent captain this summer, especially as Maguire is being linked with a move away from Old Trafford, and he has all the attributes to follow in the footsteps of the greats that have previously worn the armband for United.

  3. Responding to criticism
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    Responding to criticism

    While Fernandes' leadership qualities are unquestionable, there are times when he lets himself down and leaves himself open to fierce criticism.

    One such moment came during United's shocking 7-0 loss to Liverpool at Anfield last month, as he completely lost his composure and moaned at just about everyone at ground level.

    He also pushed the assistant referee and reports after the game suggested that he asked to be substituted - which were later debunked - with club legend Gary Neville going so far as to label Fernandes a "disgrace" for his behaviour.

    Calls for Fernandes to be stripped of the captaincy were widespread, but Ten Hag backed his most valuable asset. Quizzed on whether the Portuguese would retain the armband, the United boss said: "Yes definitely. He’s coaching players, he’s an inspiration, but no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, we have to learn, he has to learn, he will because he’s intelligent."

    Fernandes waited before issuing his own response to those that questioned his body language at Anfield. "We all know pundits have to say something to keep their work," he told Sky Sports last week. "We all have to live with that but for me, it's about my team-mates being okay with that.

    "Whenever they are not, I would like them to tell me so I can calm myself down. Most of the things that were said after that game were complete lies. Because I waved my arms, they [assumed] that I said something that I didn't say.

    "Sometimes I do go over the line, I know that. It can happen in a game and it is difficult to control the emotions but I never try to be disrespectful with anyone."

    Emotion, passion and pure desire are fuel for Fernandes. Asking him to completely cut off his natural impulses would be to the detriment of his own game and United's.

    The important thing is, he has the mental fortitude to keep doing most of his talking on the pitch. Fernandes' latest stellar display saw him run the show in a 2-0 win at Nottingham Forest, which did more to silence judgemental observers such as Neville than words ever could.

  4. Versatility


    One of United's main issues in recent years has been a lack of depth in midfield, which Ten Hag has tried to address in creative ways this term.

    The summer additions of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen have certainly provided a welcome boost, but the former hasn't always been available due to his poor disciplinary record, and the latter was sidelined through February and March due to injury.

    Step forward Fernandes, who has been happy to operate outside of his usual No.10 station on multiple occasions.

    The former Sporting star has been deployed on both wings under Ten Hag, and of late, has dropped into a deeper role that has seen him favourably compared to two of the club's best former playmakers in Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney.

    "When you miss players you have to find solutions as a manager to bring the game from the back to get the build-up, to progress the ball to attack," the Dutch coach said after Fernandes put in a Man-of-the-Match-winning display in a 2-0 victory against Everton. "We found the idea to bring Bruno down deeper and he's doing brilliant, I think he's playing really good games."

    Fernandes is such a good footballer that he can't be pinned down to just one position. He can make a decisive contribution from anywhere on the pitch, and is happy to bow to Ten Hag's tactical knowledge.

    "I offer what the manager needs me to offer," he told United's official website when asked about his adaptability in January. "I feel most confident playing as a number 10 as it is in the centre of the pitch, compared to out wide or number eight. I know if I have to play as a left-winger, right-winger, left-back, it doesn't matter. If I can help the team in a different position, that will be my main goal."

    If United finish the season in the top four and with more than one trophy in the bank, Fernandes will deserve more credit than anyone else in the squad. He's the main man and is always prepared to make sacrifices for the good of the collective cause.

  5. Will to win at all costs

    Will to win at all costs

    Fernandes finally picked up his first piece of silverware as a United player after a 2-0 Carabao Cup final triumph over Newcastle at Wembley.

    "It has been an amazing period, first trophy of the season but we want more, it is not enough for this club, we want more and we need more because our standards demands more," he told Sky Sports after the match. "For me it was about winning trophies and finally we did it. I am satisfied, but I want more."

    United had endured a six-year trophy drought before that, the club's worst run in 40 years, but it's safe to say that another lean spell will be avoided while Fernandes is pulling the strings in midfield.

    Ten Hag's men are sitting third in the Premier League and in sight of FA Cup final and Europa League semi-final berths, with an unlikely treble still possible.

    Fernandes' continued presence will be vital to United's chances of completing their best season in 11 years, not only because of his fantastic ability, but because of his infectious will to win.

    He added in his sit down with Sky Sports before the Red Devils' win at Forest: "I have been like that since I was seven years old. I don't want to lose any game. I am really competitive, I am always trying to push and give the best of myself but also pushing of the others the best of themselves, because if on the pitch I see someone and I am trying to say something to them, it is because I believe that they can do better than what they are doing."

    United sorely lacked that winning mentality before Fernandes' arrival, as so many players folded under the weight of expectations and accepted mediocrity.

    Fernandes has changed that dressing room dynamic almost single-handedly, and he won't stop pushing until United are back where they belong: right at the very top of the game.