Bruno Fernandes: Remarkable rise of Man Utd star – by those who know him best.
Given the remarkable impact the 26-year-old has had made since joining Manchester United in January 2020, it’s odd to think that as an 18-year-old he was sold by Boavista, a team languishing in Portugal’s third division, to Italian Serie B side Novara before he had played a senior game.
It was an inauspicious start for a player who has scored more goals than anyone else within the Premier League since his arrival at Old Trafford, and who has had an astonishing 11 more goal involvements (54) therein period than his closest rival, Harry Kane.
As Fernandes headed to Novara within the north west of Italy, he did so with 50 euros tucked into his suitcase by his mother just in case of emergencies. It reflected the very fact he would be earning wage together with his new team.
But, even then, those that knew Fernandes didn’t doubt bigger and better things were to return .
Born in Maia, on the outskirts of Porto, Fernandes’s talent was spotted early by Boavista and he joined them at the age of 10. one among his early opponents was Goncalo Paciencia, now a Portugal striker who started playing against his friend on dirt pitches within the city for rivals Porto.
“Bruno wasn’t an equivalent Bruno as today,” Schalke striker Paciencia tells BBC Sport. “But he always had something special. He played in central defence, as a winger, midfielder and he played so well in every position you felt he might be something special.
“We all expected Bruno would reach this level because as his friend i do know his mentality. Bruno always thought ‘I am the simplest , I can do it’. The difference between Bruno and therefore the other players is his mindset.”
His youth coach at Boavista, the club’s former captain Martelinho, remembers an adolescent willing to find out , but already showing the leadership skills he has displayed at Old Trafford.
“When I gave him advice and help, in training or during a game, he always gave his opinion reciprocally with respect,” says Martelinho, who fondly recalls a long-range 90th-minute free-kick Fernandes scored for the U19s against Feirense, reward for staying behind a day after training to practise.
“At that point he was a pacesetter already. He was very demanding with himself and his team-mates. He was a humble kid, he enjoyed taking note of his elders and he lived for the family.”
With Boavista short on money and prospects, the move to Novara was a bold one. It meant missing out on time with the junior national team but, required to adapt to a replacement club and country, he soon showed what he could do and was given chances within the varsity , earning a move to top-flight Udinese a year later.
When he did return to Portugal to play for his country, the change was obvious. Fernandes had gone from boy to man.
“I knew Bruno from before and that i knew he would get older to be a far better footballer but when he came back i assumed ‘oh my god, this guy is unbelievable,'” says Paciencia. “He came back stronger – something changed when he was 18 or 19. it had been at this point we felt Bruno was different.”
Fernandes would continue to captain a Portugal Under-21s squad including the likes of Joao Cancelo and Ruben Neves at the ecu Championship in 2017.
“There are differing types of leaders, some who talk, some who set an example to follow and a few with encouragement – Bruno may be a mixture of all three,” Paciencia says.
“He may be a natural leader due to his quality and he can push a team forward. it’s not normal for a midfielder, variety eight or number 10, to try to to that the way Bruno does. he’s not a John Terry or Paolo Maldini-type leader.
“Bruno may be a funny guy, someone who is usually joking with everyone. he’s a captain due to his quality. People see him in training and on the pitch, he always talks and he has this quality. i feel this is often one among the secrets of the past year.”
Living for football in Portugal and a terminated contract
For all his development, Fernandes was faraway from being a star. He would go away Udinese for a year on loan at Sampdoria before, five years after departing for Italy, returning to his homeland.
Finally, in 2017, he made his first professional league appearance in Portugal, for Sporting.
“In Portugal, Bruno was never given much credit or column inches when he was at Sampdoria and Udinese, on the other hand he came to Sporting and that they thought ‘oh my,” Paciencia says. “I remember his first game for Sporting against Vitoria Guimaraes and everybody was like ‘wow, who is that this guy?'”
In 2018, however, Fernandes and variety of team-mates terminated their contracts with the club after fans attacked players following their failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Peseiro, a former Real Madrid assistant, was brought in to stitch back together a broken team, with Fernandes showing his character by returning to the club and accepting an equivalent wages as before, while others asked for increases.
“Normally when training finished, he’d have lunch within the club then he would attend watch the U19s or U23s play,” says Peseiro. “He liked to ascertain the matches quite the others. He wanted to ascertain the new, young players and speak to them to find out who they’re and what they’re doing on the pitch. He liked an excessive amount of to ascertain football. He lives for football.”
Despite by now being a full international and attracting interest from clubs across Europe, Fernandes’ work ethic never changed. At Sporting he scored 39 goals in 83 league games from midfield but would spend longer on the training ground than the other player.
“He wants to coach an excessive amount of , he wants to coach quite is feasible ,” says Peseiro. “The coach must say ‘Bruno, stop!’ because he wants to coach every minute of the day. At the top of a training session he will want to remain out and shoot. If there’s a ball there, he will want to try to to something whether it’s before training, during training or after training. He enjoys it such a lot .”
‘A fantastic deal for Manchester United’
When Fernandes joined Manchester United for an initial £47m just over 13 months ago, few could have predicted the impact he would make.
In his first 40 Premier League appearances he amassed 40 goal involvements (23 goals, 17 assists), quite the other Manchester United player in Premier League history therein same timeframe.
His 23 goals are worth 15 points to United – a tally bettered only by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (18).
And only five players have scored more goals for a team in one among Europe’s top five leagues therein period than Fernandes.
Most goals scored altogether competitions by player in Europe’s top-five leagues since Feb 2020
Player (club) Goals Games
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich) 57 52
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) 43 49
Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan) 40 54
Erling Braut Haaland (Borussia Dortmund) 38 42
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 36 53
Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd) 34 61
Not bad for a player who isn’t an out-and-out striker.
“In my opinion, it had been an incredible deal for Manchester United,” says Peseiro. “He isn’t an upscale player. It’s cheap if you compare the cash United purchased him to the performances, the goals, the assists he has provided and the way he has improved the team.”
Paciencia adds: “Even Ronaldo wasn’t an equivalent – when he received United he needed longer . i feel everyone has got to be proud – i’m not talking as a lover but as a Portuguese and a lover of football.
“It is unbelievable to return from Sporting, considering the difference between Portugal and therefore the Premier League and to try to to what he has done. it’s crazy.”
None of the fanfare is probably going to travel to his head, though.
“He may be a husband ,” Paciencia says. “He likes to travel for an honest dinner tons . He doesn’t wish to be an enormous star, to travel to fashion shows or something. He likes things simple and it makes him very special because he has always been an equivalent person.”
Regardless of the success, Paciencia knows his old flame will never change. “He remains an equivalent person… just with more money!”