It hasn't taken Bruno Fernandes long to make his presence felt at Manchester United. The Portuguese midfielder completed the most eye-catching – and expensive – transfer of the January window when he sealed a move from boyhood club Sporting Lisbon to United for an initial €55 million fee that could rise to €80m.
A princely sum but Fernandes has quickly established himself as the new king of Old Trafford. Nine games in to his United career, the 25-year-old Portugal international is yet to taste defeat, scoring three goals and assisting another four to keep his new club firmly in the race for the Premier League top four and into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. After a 5-0 win over LASK in the first leg, United are also all-but assured of their place in the Europa League quarter-finals. How the rest of the season will transpire amid the coronavirus pandemic remains to be seen.
But more than his goals contribution has been his presence in the team. A midfield metronome who sets the pace and leads by example, Fernandes has had a galvanizing effect on both his teammates and the supporters.
United, quite simply, are a more complete and exciting outfit since Fernandes has arrived and the difference he has made is palpable. Little surprise, then, that Fernandes already has his own song, which the Old Trafford faithful belt out on match days.
“The support I receive from the fans since the first day is amazing,” Fernandes told Sky Sports. “I listen to the song they sing for me and I think, ‘I’ve been here two days and already I have a song’.
“The love they give me in this first month is really good. For now, everything is new and when you do something new, they want more, they want to see you take a risk – it doesn’t matter if you fail or not. When you are winning and you win, win, win again, it is good and the fans are more calm. But it’s normal when you lose a game, maybe the next game you take a risk, maybe they are not so happy.”
Praise has also come from former United players who have spent much of the past few years criticising the club for a series of decisions that have seen them fall behind rivals Manchester City, and more recently Liverpool, in the battle for top honours.
Ex-United full-back Gary Neville said Fernandes had “made an impact beyond what anyone could ever have expected” while former club captain Roy Keane – a man famously difficult to please – said “he has lifted everybody at the club, it’s as if he has been there for 20 years. He’s got pure quality”.
“These are big words from a big player,” Fernandes said of Keane’s comments. “This is what I want to do in Manchester: I want to be the best I can and if it’s possible, be remembered like one of the best in Manchester.”
Andy Mitten: Faith in Solskjaer still strong one year after Man United's unforgettable win over PSG
As if Fernandes had not already done enough to endear himself to United fans, a clip of the midfielder appearing to shush City manager Pep Guardiola during the derby – which United won 2-0, with Fernandes once again starring – has only elevated his status even higher.
“At that moment, the words he told me made me mad,” Fernandes said. “I have so much respect for Pep and for what he has won and what he has done for football, but he didn’t respect me so he didn’t deserve my respect at that moment on the pitch.”
As a Portuguese player, particularly one that came through the Sporting academy before joining United, comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo are inevitable. While Fernandes and Ronaldo are two distinctly different players, the impact the new United man has made so far has increased expectations that he can help deliver similar success for the club as his international colleague.
“Ronaldo is an inspiration for me. You start by watching Ronaldo and then you see the team and you start to see these kinds of teams that can win everything, you dream to be here,” said Fernandes, who insisted he “didn’t think twice” about joining United when the offer was made.
After signing a five-year contract, Fernandes looks set to be at United for the long haul and will have a key role to play as the club attempts to return to the top of English and European football.
“We can talk about a new start, but it is not about Bruno, it is about the team,” he said. “One player doesn’t change a team: the team changes when everyone pushes together from the same side.”