We often hear the phrase: “He’s (not) a Manchester United player” and it gets me thinking, what does that mean? How do you define whether or not a certain player fits your club but not others. What’s that definition based on and in these turbulent times with the team in a constant state of flux, what even does a Manchester United player mean nowadays?
For what’s it worth, here’s my take. In order to identify as the ideal Manchester United player: you must firstly be a good footballer, both in mind and in body, you must take risks, be dedicated, aggressive, adventurous, take pride in your work and be a vocal presence. You must always want the ball, look to make a difference with it and offer that special something that us fans can’t describe but can only admire.
For much of the last decade, there haven’t been enough ‘Manchester United’ players at the club. Zlatan Ibrahimovic instantly springs to mind as the most obvious exception, along with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford. The rest have shown that we’ve shied away from what makes this club so special – a jumbled collection of mercenaries, not good enoughs, has beens and never weres.
You could write a similar story on the state of Manchester United’s midfield – from the halcyon days of yesteryear, with the likes of Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Bryan Robson et al, the midfield has become defined as much by its absence as by its presence.
From Darren Fletcher to Scott McTominay via Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin, United’s midfield has felt like a mishmash selection of discombobulated bits and pieces. If something doesn’t do anything, can it count as merely existing?
There has been the chronic over-reliance on the injury-hit, can’t be bothered and frustratingly inconsistent Paul Pogba, not to mention the consistently overused and about-as-much-use-as-a-chocolate-fireguard Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard.
No one seems to want the ball, therefore instantly falling below the per-requisite standard we touched on earlier in the article. McTominay probably comes closest with his work rate, energy and use of the ball admirable, and his importance to the side has only grown mightier in absence.
But we needed someone different, someone to be a match winner, a creator, a string pulling tormentor in chief. Not just another big name. Enter, Bruno Fernandes. He may only have been a Manchester United player for a matter of weeks, but the difference he’s made already is frightening.
After an impressive debut in which he was the best player on the pitch for 65 minutes before he understandably faded against Wolves, United’s trip to Chelsea presented an entirely different proposition. Having struck the post and played a part in both goals, Fernandes was substituted in the closing minutes to vocal acclaim from the traveling Red Army and a fanbase that have already taken him to their hearts.
Fernandes ran the show, he outshone Chelsea’s attacking triumvirate and was at the heart of everything United did. Always wanting that ball, he showed leadership, knew when to drop deep and when to push forward, took risks and always tried to play forward. That may sound simple and the least you’d expect a 47m player to be able to do, but he immediately stood out because no one else is willing, or able, to do it. We’ve needed a player like this for years.
The first goal showed what’s he all about: picking up the ball from deep, moving it on quickly and then bursting forward to surge into the box. Fernandes, Fred, Wan-Bissaka, Martial. Goal. Simple but effective. Not to mention his set piece delivery. After years of watching Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia thud corners into the shins of the first man, we actually have a player that can cross a ball. Not since his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo left have we had anyone to look such a constant danger from set pieces. His assist for Harry Maguire’s header was simple but a thing of beauty and he almost scored from a free-kick of his own, firing against the base of a post.
His touch, vision, ability on the ball, awareness, final third decision making and dead ball prowess brings a whole new identity to this side. He’s no slouch over the ground, either. We don’t want to be proclaiming him as a saviour quite yet, after all he’s only been here for a few weeks, but he looks to be the best signing we have made for many a year – although admittedly that’s not exactly a high bar.
Although he looks a class act already, two games is far too small a sample size to pass judgement one way or another. But on this early evidence the dynamic Fernandes looks to be pointing the way towards a brighter future.
The epitome of what it takes to be a true Manchester United player? Look no further than Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes.