One word keeps cropping up whenever anyone talks about Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes: leader.
The Portugal star has had an instant impact at Old Trafford, making an impression on his team-mates, manager, staff and former players – though not just with his on-the-field performances.
Yes, the 25-year-old has impressed on the pitch. He has brought creativity and a spark to the midfield that had been lacking and created more chances, played more key passes in key areas, taken more shots and secured more assists than any of this team-mates since arriving in January, but it is the smaller details that have made him standout even more.
“He’s a leader for us,” Luke Shaw revealed during his appearance in a FIFA tournament in early April, and while Fernandes had only shared a dressing room with his new club-mates for six weeks before play was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear he had an immediate impact on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dressing room.
That can be illustrated by what happened just over 24 hours after Fernandes had undergone a medical ahead of signing his United contract.
The playmaker asked his new manager if he could train straight away. Though the rest of the squad were not present at United’s Carrington training base, Fernandes was keen to hit the ground running, and that passionate desire to impress was replicated in his initial training session the next day.
Staff at Carrington described a buzz around the midfielder just from that one training session. An instant impact.
However, it was not just his playing ability that attracted Solskjaer to the former Sporting star. “I saw what he can do on the pitch but also his leadership qualities,” Solskjaer said upon Fernandes’ arrival, and it has not taken long for those qualities to shine through.
From his debut against Wolves, that came just 48 hours after he was confirmed as a United player, the midfielder was seen advising and instructing his new team-mates, many of whom he had only met for the first time the previous day. That confidence left many in the United dressing room feeling assured as the 19-time Portugal international began to help those around him.
As Fernandes has settled into life in Manchester with his wife and three-year-old daughter, Matilde, he has grown into his role both on and off the pitch. Solskjaer is looking for humble players with the ‘X-factor’ for his rebuild, and Fernandes ticks both of those boxes.
He admitted the team should be “mad” after failing to take all three points away from Goodison Park following their 1-1 draw with Everton in March. That was just his sixth game in a United shirt. His post-match interview, where he made his assessment, will have been music to his manager’s ears.
He is showing character, leadership and drive that has been lacking in the United squad, and his ability to establish himself as a leader in the dressing room has enabled him to forge an understanding and relationship with his team-mates on the pitch too.
The free-kick against Manchester City which led to Anthony Martial opening the scoring in United’s final Premier League game before play was halted for Covid-19 may have looked like a carefully planned out training ground move, but Fernandes instead put the execution down to the understanding between himself, Fred and Martial.
“It was one of those things: when you are in the pitch, you know your team-mates when you look at them,” Fernandes told MUTV. “It’s like a pass. You look at him, and you feel something.”
Fernandes has managed to establish an understanding and connection with his team-mates that some players take years to develop, let alone weeks. And an insight into his footballing vision will not have been the only thing to please United fans this week.
He spoke eloquently about his aims and ambitions while also sending a clear warning to any incoming summer arrivals as to what he expects them to bring.
“We already have a big team, but whoever comes needs to come to win,” Fernandes said in a Q&A on United’s official website. “Just to focus to win, I want people hungry for titles and everything. I feel this now in the group, everyone wants to win.”
He may have only been at the club a matter of weeks, but it is clear the midfielder has digested what it means to be a United player and the message he should be relaying to the wider world.
His leadership, which has already been noted by one of the club’s greatest captains in Bryan Robson, came across again as he spoke about linking up with Paul Pogba, aspirations to win the Premier League and competition in the squad.
Fans were right to be excited by Fernandes’ arrival in January, and even though a ball has not been kicked competitively for over five weeks, the Portuguese continues to impress, with United potentially having found the leader they have been lacking for years.