Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee

Thirty-five mins into the 2nd project of the Premier League season and the scoreboard reads Brentford 4-0 Manchester United.

An constructive pre-season excursion beneath new supervisor Erik ten Hag has given strategy to a season-opening defeat via Brighton at Old Trafford and then comes United’s maximum dismal part of soccer in fresh reminiscence in west London.

On the box, beneath the sizzling highlight of existence in the United midfield, how did it really feel in the ones moments?

“You could feel it between us, between the fans, in the atmosphere, that it was like getting back to the past,” says Bruno Fernandes. “Everyone felt that the self belief was once low once more. Everyone was once slightly — no longer afraid — however no longer feeling the highest to take the ball. I felt now and again love it was once the ghosts from the previous.

“Then Brentford was even worse. We conceded a goal from nothing and all of a sudden you could see the energy of the team was low, the confidence was low.”

When Fernandes references the “ghosts from the past”, each and every United participant, team of workers member and supporter will know what he way. This is set the torment and turbulence of ultimate season; the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the float beneath Ralf Rangnick, the six consecutive Premier League away defeats at the finish of the marketing campaign, the six occasions United conceded 4 targets or extra in opposition to Premier League warring parties.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Special record: Inside Ralf Rangnick’s spell as meantime supervisor of Manchester United

He continues: “Confidence in football is not everything but almost everything. When you have the confidence of your team-mates, your coach, the fans, it is really important because sometimes on the pitch, when you miss a pass and everyone is…”

His face drops, and he makes that unmistakable type of groaning sound soccer supporters produce when a go is going off course.

“You can really feel it in that second. But while you leave out a go and react temporarily, you spot the lovers recognize it, so for us, it’s about having the self belief that we’re succesful of doing one thing.

“When I speak about the ghosts of the previous, I imply that we felt in the previous that each and every time we leave out a go or one thing, we had been letting any person down, so that you get started lacking extra. Instead, you will have to assume, ‘I have to try’.

“I know that because I have had more than 400 games in my career. I have had bad games, really good games, normal games. It is about understanding what you have done well in the good ones to keep having them and to shake off doubts about your performance.”

Slowly however undoubtedly, doubts are easing at Old Trafford. United have received 4 consecutive Premier League video games and, whilst no one is getting over excited, Fernandes credit Ten Hag with instilling recent trust.

“First of all, he has an idea,” Fernandes says. “He has a method. You need to apply his regulations. He is strict on that. And I really like that. He has introduced self-discipline, which is one thing I feel we neglected in the previous. Everyone will have to be on the identical web page.

“That is what Pep (Guardiola) and (Jurgen) Klopp were doing for years, as a result of they have got steadiness in the membership and in the approach they select the switch marketplace and construct the workforce, which is in reality vital for them to get the rewards.

“I noticed the supervisor say in a press convention that we don’t wish to deliver avid gamers only for the sake of it, we wish to deliver the proper avid gamers for what we wish to do. It is one thing the membership wishes.

“We still have a margin to improve and he needs time to get the most out of us with his idea of playing. I believe we will get to the point with him where we are established as a team and everyone is on the same page.”

Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee


Fernandes and Ten Hag with The Match Bangkok Century Cup after beating Liverpool in pre-season (Photos: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

To meet Fernandes is to remind your self that United footballers are so a lot more than the social-media speaking issues to which they’re steadily decreased.

Fernandes, in step with his former United team-mate Juan Mata, is “football sick” and, right through nearly 90 mins of dialog with The Athletic, his obsession is obvious. It shines via in the approach he talks, in the depth and intensity of his responses, in the way he can bring to mind concrete examples to again up his arguments.

Here, the entirety is on the desk. He has not anything to advertise. There isn’t any sponsor in tow. It is only a dialog, which he hopes will permit supporters to grasp him higher.

Fernandes is now one of United’s maximum senior avid gamers. He has worn the captain’s armband when Harry Maguire has no longer began fits this season. He is a part of a management workforce that still comprises first-choice goalkeeper David de Gea and his backup Tom Heaton, the former England world Fernandes says is quietly one of the maximum vital characters in the dressing room.

In dialog, Fernandes possesses the composure and authority to include each and every query.

What has modified beneath Ten Hag? How did it really feel when Solskjaer was once sacked? What went flawed beneath Rangnick?

Does he whine an excessive amount of at referees? Is it honest to mention he plays higher when Cristiano Ronaldo does no longer play? How shut did he come to signing for Tottenham Hotspur in the window prior to he joined United? And why did he signal a brand new contract in April right through the membership’s maximum depressing season of the Premier League generation?

Such trivia, then again, are in short put aside as a result of the Fernandes family has been celebrating birthdays lately.

He grew to become 28 on September 8 and his son Goncalo, the more youthful of two youngsters, loved his 2nd birthday a pair of days previous. And so the dialog jovially turns to decorations with characters from children’ TV display Paw Patrol and Spider-Man costumes.

At house, Fernandes is a mortal all over again: husband to formative years sweetheart Ana and daddy to Goncalo and Matilde. Ana first moved with him to Udinese in Italy, the place Fernandes taught himself the language via sticking post-it notes on home items. Unless they’re on college nights, the circle of relatives attend United house video games.

When the agenda offers it, Fernandes reads his youngsters bedtime tales and then, he says, will now and again watch the information from Portugal when sitting right down to consume at 8pm. But the information is steadily about disappointment and tragedy, so the channel impulsively adjustments to soccer.

“I will watch any match at any time,” he says.

Fernandes says his mom jokes she knew he could be a footballer as a result of he was once “kicking all the time” right through her being pregnant.

His five-year-old daughter, he says, had a short lived flirtation with soccer elderly 3 however is now extra into making a song and dancing. “But the little one, ever since January, started to kick the ball and now he is doing it all day long. He has a mini goal at home and is always calling me to say, ‘Come and play’. Even Paw Patrol has fallen behind the football now…”

On the strategy to college, the call for is the soundtrack from the Disney animated film Encanto.

Its headline music, We Don’t Talk About Bruno, could also be wearily acquainted to any oldsters of babies.

Fernandes smiles: “I am used to hearing it a lot in the car.”

Now, then again, it’s time to turn the observe on its head.

So, let’s speak about Bruno.


On January 30, 2020, Bruno Fernandes joined Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon in a deal price an preliminary £47million (now $54m) however, together with add-ons, the worth of the switch may ultimately upward thrust to £67.7million. Every week previous, they’d misplaced 2-0 to Burnley at house.

After his debut in a goalless draw in opposition to Wolves at Old Trafford two days later, United had been 6th, under promoted Sheffield United and 14 issues at the back of third-placed Leicester City. Fernandes, then again, had a direct and devastating affect.

Through character and talent, he picked United up from the canvas and Solskjaer’s workforce didn’t lose some other Premier League fixture all that pandemic-extended season. Fernandes scored 8 targets in his 14 Premier League appearances and United overtook golf equipment together with Leicester and Chelsea to complete 1/3 and safe Champions League soccer.

In his first complete season, 2020-21, Fernandes scored 28 targets in all competitions as United completed 2nd in the Premier League and were given to the Europa League ultimate.

Fernandes notes British pundits most often talk about avid gamers from in another country desiring “one or two years” to evolve to the Premier League, and cites the early comparisons between him and Arsenal’s £72million document signing Nicolas Pepe, who arrived from Lille in summer season 2019.

“He (Pepe) had some bad games and everyone was saying, ‘He still has to adapt’,” says Fernandes, “but when Bruno was having a bad game, it was just because he was moaning or not focused on the game. For me, that was good, because it meant that I was ready and that’s why they were demanding so much from me.”

Fernandes credit his robustness along with his formative years in Portugal, the place he performed soccer in opposition to pals of his father and elder brother — males of their thirties and forties — when he was once simplest 12 or 13.

“My father did not always let me play because when you are young, you want to do all the tricks and when you play against older people, they start kicking you,” he says. “My dad was also kicking me and he was pretty strong! In football, there will always be someone older than you or with greater experience. It is about becoming smarter than them and working out your weapons to beat them.”

As a No 10, which is how Fernandes perspectives himself, the problem is to seek out house. “It is about finding the non-occupied areas, or sometimes the dead zones where nobody can see you or mark you. Or, if they do mark you, they will create more space in the middle of the pitch for other people.”

So, those “dead zones”. How do you to find them?

“Normally, I call these the ‘referee zone’,” he says. “Because no one marks the referee. Sometimes, that is what the coaches say to avid gamers who play between the strains, or the wingers who wish to come within, or the striker when he desires to drop. Of direction, now and again the positions are other as a result of it may be a counter-attack, as an example.

“It also depends on the way an official referees the game. Mike Dean, for example, ran very centrally, which was probably for him better to see the game, but for us as a No 10, that cannot be our position, so you have to find out where you can go.”

That turns out an extraordinary tactic, however assessing Fernandes’ ultimate Premier League efficiency, in opposition to Arsenal, there are a pair of moments when he turns out to apply Paul Tierney’s motion to flee markers…

Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee

Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee

…and for United’s first two targets of the 3-1 win, he turns out to obtain ownership in spaces another way occupied simplest via the referee.

Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee

Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee


United’s transfer for Fernandes was once no longer his first flirtation with English soccer.

At Sporting, he scored 63 targets in 137 fits and was once named the Primeira Liga’s participant of the 12 months for each his complete seasons in Lisbon.

In August 2019, Tottenham made an be offering that fell quick of Sporting’s valuation.

Fernandes recollects: “Obviously I wanted to go to the Premier League. The manager, Mauricio Pochettino, was the one who wanted me there. It was a good offer but Sporting tried their best to keep me.”

How did Fernandes react? “The president (Frederico Varandas) spoke with me but he spoke with me on the wrong day. It was the day after they decided to refuse the offer from Tottenham and I was really angry. Luckily for me, the manager (Marcel Keizer) was the right one at the right time.”

Keizer, Fernandes says, understood his frustration and knew he “would like to go, that it is a bigger offer, that it is my dream to play in the Premier League and it didn’t happen”. And Fernandes spoke back via “just deciding to do my best” for Sporting.

Unfortunately, Sporting then sacked Keizer in the first week of September.

Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee


Fernandes was once annoyed at Sporting however resolved to do his highest for the membership prior to getting a transfer away (Photos: Paulo Nascimento / DPI / NurPhoto by means of Getty Images & (proper) Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

In the first week of 2020, Solskjaer and his assistant Mike Phelan flew out to observe Fernandes play at house to Porto. Sporting misplaced, 2-1, however Solskjaer would later inform Fernandes he have been inspired via the character he had proven on the pitch.

Fernandes says: “At the beginning of January, my agent said, ‘You don’t need to worry, because any time I bring you a club, it will be a dream club for you’. He knew that the dream club was Man United. Ole was a big part of that because he actually went to see my games. He saw me moaning a lot in that game against Porto — I moaned a lot against their players, against the referees.”

He laughs: “I moan against everyone who is against me, not those who are with me. Ole saw someone that was passionate and it helped him sign me for the club. On my first day, he said to me, ‘Just be yourself’. He said, ‘I know what you are capable of with the ball but I also want you to be the leader you have been at Sporting’.”


In the excellent occasions, Fernandes’ power of character increased no longer simply his team-mates however the entire Solskjaer mission. Yet when United’s global caved in early ultimate season, critics started to query whether or not his on-pitch gesticulation was once extra of a hindrance than a lend a hand. After United beat Liverpool ultimate month, one newspaper declared he was once “out of control”, mentioning his 8 bookings for dissent since arriving in England.

So does he wish to input a undeniable mode to be his true self on the pitch or are there occasions — as is human — when he isn’t absolutely in regulate?

Fernandes explains: “It’s who I’m. What you spot on the pitch is the Bruno who’s passionate for the recreation, who won’t give anything else away. I will be able to even battle with any individual who’s my good friend clear of the pitch. I play in opposition to Wolves and there are lots of Portuguese avid gamers (in the Molineux squad) but when I’ve to kick them, I will be able to kick them. If I’ve to moan at them, I will be able to.

“I need that. I played many games where I was quiet, and nobody said anything about that. But I did not feel myself. I need it to feel alive. As for the part about moaning at referees. Honestly…”

He seems to be slightly exasperated.

Bruno Fernandes exclusive: Manchester United’s ‘ghosts of the past’ and marking the referee


Mike Dean would steadily run centrally, which didn’t lend a hand Fernandes to find the ‘dead zones’ (Photo: Andrew Kearns – DigicamSport by means of Getty Images)

“I play for Man United, so I do know all the cameras are on our avid gamers, however everybody in the Premier League does that. At Crystal Palace, (Wilfried) Zaha is at all times moaning at the referee. It is as a result of he will get fouled, so it’s standard he moans at the referee. That’s standard! He desires his fouls and for the referee to present yellows (to warring parties).

“Fernandinho, who was at Manchester City, was always moaning at the referee, and only kicking me! Bernardo (Silva), for example, who people see as a quiet person… he is one of the guys who is always talking to the referees. He probably does not do it in the intense way I do but I saw it in the national team, so I know.”

Do you assume the referees experience it?

“Some of them like the way I am. They kind of joke about it sometimes. One of the referees said to me, ‘Bruno, all the time you are winning, you are such a good guy. But when you are losing or drawing, oh my god, you are a pain in my ass’. I want to be like that. I want the referee to feel that I am pressing him and always there talking to him.”

There is, then again, one thing Fernandes desires to problem.

“The factor other people say about how I wave my fingers (negatively) at my team-mates. That hasn’t ever came about. That is totally a lie.

“I can be using my arms to ask for the ball and to tell them something about where to move the ball. But never do I talk to them in a bad way. Yes, I can shout at someone if they do not pass the ball when he has to do it, or if he does not take the decision in the best way, or if he goes two-v-one and does not pass the ball to his team-mate. Then it is normal to be angry at him.”

This is relatively standard in a challenging setting the place groups are looking for to win, regardless that, isn’t it? It is right here that Fernandes’ paternal instincts for his team-mates come to the fore.

“I do not demand more from anyone than myself,” he explains. “I always say to everyone, ‘If at any time you do not want me to talk to you, or shout at you, or help you, then you can tell me and I will be quiet with you in the game’. But afterwards, do not tell me that I did not call you for ‘Man on’ or encourage you to pass the ball.”

He cites a dialog with Tyrell Malacia after the 1-0 win at Leicester City on September 1. The left-back was once “trying to keep the ball in a good way” however Fernandes was once “completely free on the other side of the pitch”.

“I said, ‘Ty, just put your head up and look to the other side’,” explains Fernandes. “He was once relatively indignant with me as a result of I used to be speaking to him. But he didn’t perceive what I used to be announcing. At the finish of the recreation, I went as much as him and put my palms on his head flippantly and stated, ‘When I talk to you, I am not shouting at you in a bad way, I am just asking you to switch the play’. He stated, ‘Yeah, sorry, I was just tired’.

“In some video games, it’s going to be him shouting at me and I’m OK with that. I take into account with ‘H’ (Maguire) in the Europa League in opposition to Copenhagen (in the 2019-20 quarter-finals). We had been protecting and I attempted to regulate the ball and tackle a defender. I misplaced the ball and he shouted at me, ‘Bruno, hold the ball!’. I used to be drained and stated, ‘Don’t shout!’. In the first part of additional time, I went as much as him and stated sorry for speaking again.

“Sometimes, during games, it is tension, it is passion, you miss the ball, or he (a team-mate) doesn’t run. It gets a little bit fervent. But nobody is doing it in a bad way. I never do it in a bad way — only if I see someone does not pass the ball when it is a two-v-one with the keeper. For example, Jadon Sancho scored a goal last season against Chelsea where he was two against the keeper with Marcus Rashford. Jadon did skill and put it past the Chelsea keeper (Edouard) Mendy.”

Would you’ve got handed in that state of affairs, Bruno? As at all times, he has a solution.

“Yes! I did it for Mason (Greenwood) away in opposition to Brentford ultimate season. Sometimes, the keeper is popping out, you don’t get the time to appear to the aspect and need to shoot temporarily. But while you run with the ball for goodbye from the midway line and have your team-mate for your aspect, don’t inform me you didn’t see him.

“With Jadon, that one was the case. I said, ‘Jadon, you scored, I am happy for that. But next time, pass to Marcus.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you are right’.”


On November 20 ultimate 12 months, United had been crushed 4-1 at Watford.

Coming not up to a month once they had misplaced 5-0 at house in opposition to Liverpool, the departure of Solskjaer felt inevitable.

At full-time, Fernandes was once section of a bunch of United avid gamers who headed over to applaud the away lovers at Vicarage Road.

Solskjaer quickly adopted and Fernandes noticed some United supporters seem to turn dissent against the Norwegian. His reaction was once speedy, showing to gesture that the lovers will have to direct their ire at the avid gamers quite than the supervisor.

The following day, Solskjaer’s go out was once showed.

As dialog turns to the former United supervisor, Fernandes’ voice and manner melt. Solskjaer, in any case, was once the guy who recruited Fernandes and in an instant put him relaxed with the ones two phrases, “be yourself”. Fernandes describes him as “an amazing person, the kind of guy who cares about everyone, who tries to make everyone happy”.

He says his movement to divert grievance clear of Solskjaer was once instinctive, explaining: “If you lose a recreation, I don’t love it when any person, or some managers, pass to the media and say, ‘They didn’t do what I would like’. In that case, one thing goes flawed as a result of we’re at all times in the identical pack.

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