There hasn’t been a lot of excitement at Manchester United in recent years.
The triumphs achieved during the tenure of renowned coach Alex Ferguson seem like a distant recollection for a worldwide group of supporters who have witnessed their once esteemed team stumble from one poor choice to the next.
Under the leadership of Louis van Gaal, Manchester United achieved an FA Cup victory in 2016 and under Jose Mourinho, they were able to secure Europa League glory in 2017. However, these two achievements stand out in an otherwise unremarkable period since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. This is a significant contrast to Ferguson’s impressive record of 38 trophies won during his 26 years as manager of the club.
In January, the future didn’t seem much more promising. At that time, the club was in fifth place on the league table and under the management of former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The soccer game was subpar, the environment was negative, and the standout player Paul Pogba, previously seen as the team’s savior, appeared ready to depart as soon as possible.
However, after seven months, there are now indications of a revival under Solskjaer, particularly since the addition of Bruno Fernandes.
In January, the player from Portugal joined Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon. He was immediately placed on a team that lacked creativity, quality, and leadership.
Thankfully, it appears that Fernandes possesses an abundance of all three of these qualities for his new employees.
After making his debut earlier this year, United went undefeated in the league, improving their position and ultimately finishing in third place. This secured their spot in next season’s UEFA Champion League, a notable achievement as they hadn’t qualified since the 2018-19 season. This is even more impressive considering their initial struggles, with the club experiencing their worst start to a league season in 33 years.
Furthermore, Fernandes revitalized the enthusiasm of Manchester’s fans, who had endured lackluster and often dreadful performances for years.
He has scored eight goals and provided seven assists in the league, showcasing the caliber of player that United now possesses.
Danilo Pereira, a player for Porto, informed CNN Sport that Fernandes shared with him his experiences playing in the league and emphasized the intensity of the competition.
“It’s no shock to witness the significant influence he has had in Manchester. I believe that with him, Pogba, and other players, United has the potential to return to their successful era.”
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‘A really, really good signing’
If there was a typical player for Manchester United, Fernandes would definitely fit the mold.
The attacking midfielder has quickly become a fan favorite, known for their fearless attitude and ability to handle the intense demands of playing for a top club. They are thrilling to watch and excel under pressure.
Since his arrival at the club, he has shown strong leadership skills by taking and successfully converting six penalties. This includes the crucial penalty against Leicester City, which played a key role in securing United’s spot in the Champions League for the upcoming season.
Both former players and professional commentators have praised his performances since he relocated to England, where he has received the Man of the Match award in nearly every game he has participated in.
Cesc Fabregas, a former Premier League star and current Monaco player, commented to CNN Sport that the player in question has evident talent and confidence. He also noted that the player’s desire for the ball is a trait expected from a skilled athlete.
“What I appreciate about him is his cleverness in navigating the field. He has a good sense of when to position himself between the opposing lines, and when to make runs into open spaces for a potential pass. His timing in reaching the second line is excellent.”
He assists the midfield during their buildup and when they face difficulties, especially when opposing teams are applying pressure.
“He is versatile in his playing style, able to execute both long and short passes. He possesses the confidence to take on free-kicks and penalties without hesitation. He does not shy away from challenges and consistently shows his abilities. I believe Manchester United made an excellent decision in signing him.”
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Adjusting to the Premier League is not an easy task. It typically requires players to acclimate to the league’s physicality and fast pace, but this has not been a problem for Fernandes.
His performances in Portugal foreshadowed what was to come, but his immediate impact surprised many.
According to Richard Jolly, a British journalist, the player from Sporting Lisbon had a strong track record of scoring and creating goals. However, the question remains whether this success would continue in a higher league and on a new team. Jolly also stated that without Fernandes, United’s chances of finishing in the top four seemed unlikely.
“He has been a game-changer and a surprising talent in terms of how rapidly he achieved success. It was evident from the very beginning.”
If you observe the number of goals and assists, they are both impressive. If this level of performance is sustained throughout the entire season, that player is truly incredible.
Although his personal talent is clear, the addition of Fernandes has led to an improvement in the performance of those around him.
During the team’s last nine league games, the trio of Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood, and Marcus Rashford have been dominating in their attacks, resulting in a total of 22 goals scored. Additionally, players such as Pogba and Nemanja Matic have shown more confidence and stability in the midfield since football resumed after the lockdown.
Pogba, specifically, has transformed into a player who no longer seems burdened by the pressure of being the top star on the team’s starting lineup.
The French player’s connection with the team seemed to hit a low point earlier this season, as there were ongoing speculations about the midfielder leaving the club.
Supporters became increasingly discontent with Pogba due to his frequent appearances on the sidelines throughout the season, as a result of two ankle injuries. Even when he did make an appearance on the pitch, he failed to impress.
However, since his return from his most recent injury following the lockdown, there have been indications that a collaboration with Fernandes could thrive and the World Cup champion appears to be more at ease now.
Jolly stated that Pogba prefers to have other prominent players and personalities around him, rather than being the sole focus and bearing all the pressure.
“I believe he may not desire to be in a midfield where he is surrounded by average players. There are already indications of a good rapport between Pogba and Fernandes, which is beneficial, but he also values playing with other talented players.”
The new Cantona?
Throughout 2019, there were rumors linking Fernandes to a transfer to Old Trafford. Many were disappointed when the deal did not go through before the start of the new season.
After the transfer was completed in January for an initial amount of $61 million (£47m), fans were eager to see what the hype was all about. It can be confirmed that they have not been let down.
Mark Goldbridge, a fan of Manchester United and host of The United Stand fan channel, is eagerly anticipating the team’s progress.
“I compare it to the impact Eric Cantona had when he joined Manchester United from Leeds in 1992 and helped us win our first Premier League title. It served as a catalyst for future success.”
“I am not implying that Bruno Fernandes will bring Manchester United to the same level of success as Cantona did. However, he is not just a solitary player who can instantly elevate our team.”
“He’s a player who has elevated the performance of his teammates.”
It is important to remember that Fernandes has only been a member of the club for a few months, yet he has quickly become a beloved player among fans. One specific moment in a match against local rivals Manchester City stands out as a defining moment of his short tenure at the club.
Fernandes engaged in a side dispute with Pep Guardiola, leading to the Portuguese player placing his finger to his lips and hushing the City manager.
Goldbridge praised Bruno’s quick adaptation to Manchester United’s identity.
In the end, there is a fine distinction between understanding the essence of Manchester United and simply being a person who enjoys the sport, strives to play it with integrity, and is driven to achieve victory.
“I have a recollection of his minor disagreement with Pep during our match against Man City, and the fans were thrilled by it because I believe Fernandes has a strong desire to win.”
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Another false dawn?
Although United’s performance declined in the last two games of the season, supporters remain hopeful and optimistic based on previous positive signs. They are hoping that this will not turn out to be another disappointment for the club.
The team’s third-place ranking may not align with their ultimate goal, but it is a step forward. Now, the focus shifts to achieving success in the Europa League, which is scheduled to resume on August 5th.
On Wednesday, United has an uncomplicated challenge in their second-leg match against LASK. They are currently leading 5-0 from the first leg and are practically guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals.
While achieving victory in the secondary European football club tournament is a notable feat, the ultimate goal is still to win the Premier League.
Despite the recent improvements observed at the club, there is still a significant gap between them and top teams like Liverpool and Manchester City. In fact, this season they finished 33 points behind Liverpool, who ultimately became the champions.
A successful summer in the transfer market could be exactly what United requires, and one of the players rumored to be making a move to Old Trafford is Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.
There were indications of achievement under both Van Gaal and Mourinho’s leadership at the team, but there is a distinct feeling about United under Solskjaer.
Perhaps a revival of its former glory is not too distant.
According to Jolly, their recent success appears to be more long-lasting and one reason for this is that they are not only defeating their opponents, but also doing so with ease, confidence, and enjoyment.
“In my opinion, it is possible that next year, United may not necessarily win the league, but they may secure a spot in the top four with greater ease.”