ARTICLES Opinion

Bruno Fernandes’ back-to-back Player of the Year awards personifies his importance to Manchester United.

Before Bruno Fernandes had kicked a ball for Manchester United, they were in seventh place during the 2019/20 season and had been lacking inspiration in the attacking third throughout the campaign. The former-Sporting Lisbon captain took the Premier League by the scruff of the neck, scoring eight goals and creating seven assists which sent the Reds into third place by the end of July, he also had eight goals and four assists in his Europa League campaign for United and Sporting.

This all led to the Portuguese Magnifico receiving the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award for 2019/20, even though he played just 22 times for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side.

It was always going to be difficult to sustain the quality that he offered United in those opening months of his contract, however, after he was rewarded the accolade for the second year running, it has really shown that his importance to this United side is enormous.

The importance

A leader. At 24 years of age, Fernandes was captaining Sporting Lisbon and that was always going to be appreciated in a United team that lacked leadership when he first joined last January. He does not stop running and is constantly demanding more from himself and his teammates.

The midfielder has already stepped out as captain four times for the Red Devils in his short time at the club, which suggests that his influence on the pitch and the training ground has been fully appreciated by the manager and his staff.

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Solskjær has previously highlighted the impact that Fernandes has outside of his goal contributions. Speaking to the club website in January, the manager said: He’s got a great hunger and desire to win, so that’s part of his game that people maybe don’t look at, but we appreciate all he’s putting in.

“Of course, all the goals and assists are one part of it, all the other bits are the things that really can make the difference for us.”

Inspired by his fellow countryman and former Red Cristiano Ronaldo, it is no wonder that United’s No.18 has a phenomenal mentality and is desperate to help lead the team towards silverware.

After winning his fourth Premier League Player of the Month award in December 2020, Fernandes spoke on his desire to turn the individual awards into silverware for the club. It’s clear that his mentality is driven towards team success.

He proclaimed: “As I’ve always said, for me the most important thing is winning trophies – team trophies – because we’re a football team and it’s not just Bruno.

“I want to win trophies with the team. Of course I’m very happy to win this award – These kind of awards make you happy and confident and to work even more, and to get more and more from yourself, but, as everyone knows, I will be completely happy when I win a trophy with the club.”

The Portuguese now has that chance, with a Europa League final around the corner for the Reds. With Harry Maguire currently injured, it is likely that Fernandes will take the armband in Gdańsk, unless his captain makes an impressive recovery.

The stats

Of course, Bruno Fernandes has not always been perfect across his time with United, and has produced some disappointing performances along the way, but one thing that has stayed consistent has been his incredible production.

With 28 goals and 18 assists for the Red Devils, Fernandes is not only the top goalscorer at the club, but he is also the first United player to have more than 30 goal contributions in a Premier League season since Robin van Persie carried the side to their 20th title back in 2012/13.

The Dutchman arguably carried the Reds in production that season, scoring or assisting 40% of United’s 86 goals in the league that year. Bruno Fernandes’ same percentage currently lies at 42% before the final game of the season on Sunday – his production has simply been world class since joining the club.

While the goals and assists have sometimes masked underwhelming overall performances, the 26-year-old has played 57 times this season, and it is near impossible to remain at the top of your game in such a manic campaign, but the fact that he has been able to continue to produce the important moments is why he has been such a success at Old Trafford thus far.

The future

The last midfielder to win back-to-back Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year awards was Roy Keane in 1998/99 and 1999/00.

While they differ in playstyle, you can certainly find similarities between Bruno and the United legend – specifically in their leadership qualities. As a leader and a key-player, Fernandes will be vital in any success that this team experiences in the coming years, as he plays through his prime years.

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In the short-term, Fernandes will have both eyes focused on his first chance of silverware at United, in the final against Villarreal next Wednesday. However, in the long-term, he will be aiming to win the most prestigious trophies for his side.

And if United do win these trophies, Fernandes will not only be an important part of the squad that wins them, but he will also be known as one of the key catalysts which turned the tide for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United side.

If Bruno manages to snatch the award next season, he’d be the first outfield player to do so successively three times (with David de Gea winning the trophy in 2014, 2015 & 2016).

I’m sure he’d be a lot happier if he could help United get their hands on some more trophies though.

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