After a long chase, Manchester United have finally agreed to a deal to sign Bruno Fernandes. What does the Portuguese midfielder bring to Old Trafford?
Manchester United’s chase of Bruno Fernandes got to the point where fans unfamiliar with Portuguese soccer must have doubted whether he was actually real.
Was he just a figment of Ed Woodward’s imagination, a mythical answer to Manchester United’s midfield problems? Was Woodward so desperate to find a goalscoring, creative midfielder that he’d imagined one into tangible existence?
Even with the benefit of YouTube compilation clips to confirm Fernandes’ reality, the Sporting midfielder had, having been a staple of the transfer market gossip column for so long without a transfer taking place, started to be lumped in with the likes of Ezequiel Garay and Nicolas Gaitan, fellow players who spent years being linked with United never to arrive.
Fernandes will arrive, though, with a deal struck on Wednesday to take the 25-year-old to Old Trafford for an initial fee of €55 million (which could rise to €80 million with add-ons).
The Portuguese international might even be in the Manchester United squad to face Wolves in the Premier League this weekend. With Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba still sidelined through injury, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will surely want to integrate his new midfield addition as quickly as possible.
United’s most glaring deficiency this season has been in the attacking midfield area. Their best results have come against their closest rivals, beating Chelsea, Leicester City, Manchester City and Tottenham. Solskjaer’s side are still the only team to have taken points off Liverpool this season. These are games in which United have been allowed to counter attack, though. It’s been an entirely different story in matches where the onus has been on them to control and dictate the contest.
That is where Fernandes will be expected to make a difference. This is a player who has registered eight goals and seven assists in the Portuguese top flight this season, scoring five and assisting three times in five Europa League appearances too. Against low defensive blocks, the kind United face frequently, Fernandes should give his new team something they have been badly lacking.
Looking beyond the immediate impact of Fernandes’ signing, though, there can be so sense of accomplishment around Old Trafford. Not yet anyway. Man Utd are still a long way from where they should be and no one single signing will be enough to to drastically change the landscape at the club.
Fernandes is just one of five or six first team figures Manchester United need to renovate their first team. Assuming Pogba is to leave in the summer, Solskjaer still requires another central midfielder, one to provide structure and break up opposition moves in the center of the pitch, on top of a center forward, a left-back and a right winger. An upgrade at center-back should also be in their thinking.
In the past, Man Utd have been guilty of making transfer market moves on impulse. At least now they seem to have a better idea of their long term targets and in holding out for Fernandes, a player first identified in the summer, they have once again demonstrated a willingness to wait for the right players, just as they did with Harry Maguire in the summer. That represents some sort of progress.
However, questions still remain over the way Manchester United conduct their business. McTominay and Pogba have been out injured for almost the full month of January, one of the most crucial months of the season, and yet despite their desperate need for midfield reinforcements United were only able to get Fernandes’ signing over the line with two days of the transfer window left. They needed the Portuguese weeks ago and have ended up paying a price set by Sporting at the start of the month. That wasted time could cost United in their hunt for a top four place.
There’s so much work to be done at Old Trafford that Fernandes’ signing, while positive, must be just one small part in a complete rebuild. In the immediate term, though, the Portuguese’s arrival could provide a timely boost.
After proving that he is in fact real, Manchester United must now hope Fernandes is the real deal.