Bruno Fernandes: Ronaldinho and Cristiano Ronaldo are my heroes and Paul Scholes was better than Steven Gerrard

Manchester United playmaker reveals the players who inspired him

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Less than a year after he arrived at Manchester United, Bruno Fernandes is making solid progress towards becoming a fan hero. The Portuguese international had heroes of his own.

“The first one was Ronaldinho,” he says of the former Barcelona and Brazil star. “When I grew up, the first player I really liked to watch was him. He had this kind of magic that nobody else had. He was just a different player. He went everywhere with a smile on his face, he’d take a tackle and still smiling, he gives a ’meg and he’d have a smile on his face, he loses, he has a smile on his face, he wins and he has a smile on his face.

“He’s just the sort of player you enjoy watching. It was really important for me watching him when I was growing up because when you are a kid, you have to enjoy your football. That is the time to enjoy football. And when you watch him, you understand what it means to enjoy football. For me he was the first player I ever watched and then, growing up, everyone knows Cristiano [Ronaldo] was my favourite player.”

Fernandes told the new UTD podcast, which is out on Monday, why Ronaldo became his favourite.

“I think it was a little bit of everything,” said the 26-year-old playmaker. “When Cristiano began to take his first steps in the national team, it was in the Euros in our home country [Euro 2004], so I was nine years old. That year stays with everyone because we lost the final in Portugal, we saw him crying after the final, he was a young boy who was starting to shine and from there I started to watch him.

“It wasn’t because he plays in my position, but it was the way he worked every day, the mentality he had, the capacity he had to give 100 per cent in every game at a high level, for me it was like a motivation, like you always have to do better. He was scoring goals every game, but game after game he was still trying to improve, get better. My mentality comes a little bit from understanding what sort of player you want to be. Do you want to be that player who has a good season, and maybe goes up and down, up and down, or do you want to be the player who always wants to be at the top?”

Fernandes enjoyed a superb start at United after arriving from Sporting, but, like his team, his form dipped at the end of the season and hasn’t been at the same level in 2020/21.

“OK, you will have bad games for sure, everyone has – Cristiano has had bad games, 100 per cent – but the point is, coming back from a bad game,” he said. “Coming back with the mentality that is, ‘OK, I didn’t play well in that last game and I really need to do well in this one’. The mentality to do better day after day is really important for me. I’m improving a lot because of this, and that was my biggest motivation.

"I can say there are three players in my position who I appreciate a lot. One of them is Andres Iniesta, for me he is the best one, the one I like most, and the other two are Zinedine Zidane and Andreas Pirlo. Pirlo started out as a No 10, then he started to move back to become a No 6, and I think my career will be a little bit like this! I hope not, because I prefer to play as a No 10, but every coach I’ve had in the past, they’ve all said the same – you will be a great No 6. I don’t know, I prefer to be a No 10 because I’m closer to the goals, I’m closer to assist my teammates and I like to play there, but Pirlo was a player who improved in all positions. He plays as a No 10, then he plays as a No 8 and he improves, then he plays as a No 6 and he improves. He was always good, he’s that kind of player. You look at him and his hair is always in the same place – and he has big hair, it’s impossible! He has that class, he has something different to everyone else. And Zidane … what a player. A masterclass No 10.”

Fernandes, United’s top scorer so far this season with six, also has words of admiration for former United player Paul Scholes and his 34-year-old compatriot Joao Moutinho, now at Wolves. He thinks he’s closer to Scholes than his aforementioned heroes.

“Paul Scholes was a guy who likes to be in the box, who likes to give an assist, who likes to score a lot of goals, and maybe the ones I said aren’t like that – like Pirlo scored some goals but maybe more from free-kicks, Zidane scored some goals, Iniesta – no-one really remembers Iniesta for scoring goals, you remember him for assists and everything else he did. It’s funny, I remember when we were about to play Club Brugge [at home] last season, and I was in the dining room with Fred, and on the television they were playing all Paul Scholes’ goals in a Manchester United shirt.

“We had eaten, but we just stayed there to watch all of the goals of his. And it was funny because I was talking to Fred, and I said to him, ‘You see what Paul Scholes is doing, you need to be more closer to the goal, because if not, you will never score!’ And then Fred, in that game, he scored twice! I appreciate Scholes a lot but maybe because, at that time for me in Portugal, when Scholes was playing at his best level, it was difficult for us to see English football, maybe it was because Spanish football was closer so it was more on the television, and we grew up with those names. Being realistic, with Iniesta I started to see him when I was 17, 18 years old. In the beginning most of the players I watched were from Portugal. I didn’t say this before but the first midfielder I really watched and really appreciated was Joao Moutinho who is now at Wolves. He was a player who, when he played for Porto, I would watch their games just to see him, the way he moves, the way he did his things. Because, for me at that time it was easier to see Moutinho than it was Paul Scholes or Iniesta or Zidane or Pirlo. With Pirlo, I first started watching him when I went to Italy at the age of 17, and at that point you can watch everything [football from around Europe]. When I was in Portugal and just watching the Portuguese league, for me Moutinho was the reference because in the national team at that time, it was about him. Before him, for me it was Rui Costa and Deco.

“In that national team from 2004, those were the best two we had – for me as a No 10, after them we never had a No 10 like those two. Moutinho is a No 8, and you see now he plays deeper. I always play as a  No 8 there, because in Portugal now we play with three midfielders, with a No 6 and with two midfielders in front. Normally I’d be more playing as a No 10, or as we say in Portugal, an 8-and-a-half! There is one No 8 who goes that half extra in front, then the other No 8 who goes that extra half back.

“But after watching that video of Paul Scholes, I knew he was a player who scored a lot of goals – I remember him scoring a goal against Porto, it was not offside but they gave it offside, I don’t know if you remember it but it was here at Old Trafford in 2004, when Costinha scores right at the end of the game – that was lucky for Porto, and for Portuguese football as it was important for a club from Portugal to win the Champions League. Scholes was one of the best midfielders in the world. For England, a lot of people talk about Frank Lampard because he scored a lot of goals, of course, one of the best in England too, you have Steven Gerrard too, but I think Scholes is the one who makes more difference than anyone else. And before everyone starts talking about this, I haven’t seen every midfielder in England, OK! But I think in the last generation, those three were the three best ones, and for me Scholes was best.”