Bruno Fernandes has been speaking to Portuguese media this week, discussing a wide range of subjects as the midfielder reflects on his recent move from Sporting to Manchester United in the English Premier League.
In an interview with Canal 11, Fernandes talked about his early impressions of English football and the attention given to his transfer fee, while also remembering his best moments in his homeland at Alvalade.
Fernandes has proved a major success in a short space of time at Old Trafford, with universal acclaim for his performances during his nine appearances so far. The 25-year-old has three goals and four assists so far, but Fernandes admits the pace and competitiveness of English football has been a challenge to overcome
“English football is very different from all the others,” he said. “In Portugal, small teams usually shut up. Here teams do not shut up when they come to play at Old Trafford. They want to press, score goals, take risks, even knowing that United can recover the ball and score on the counterattack. The intensity is really high. If in Portugal I thought I was thinking fast, here I have to think twice as fast.”
The Red Devils parted with a fee which could rise to €80m to secure Fernandes’ signature, but the former Novara, Udinese and Sampdoria man is not overly concerned with his cost. “The market at the moment is crazy. I recently discussed the transfer market with some teammates. Let’s remember the super team that Manchester had, the great Real Madrid team. Some of the players who were bought for this amount were Ballon d'Or a few years ago.
“It is difficult to compare football now with the old days. The numbers are always just numbers. Regardless of what they paid for me, whether it’s millions or hundreds, I have to do my best and give the maximum I can. It’s not because they paid millions that I have to do more. The fact you want to give more should come from within you, not because of what’s been paid.”
“I dreamed of this”
Fernandes is the sixth Portuguese to play for United, with Ronaldo (292 apps) and Nani (230 apps) the most prevalent having helped the club win the Champions League in 2008. For Fernandes, his attachment to United goes back to that period, when he was in the academy of Boavista during his early teenage years.
“Manchester was the dream club for me,” he says. “My brother was a huge fan of Barcelona and I was a fan of Manchester. Once we went to spend Christmas in Switzerland, where my father worked. We went to a sports store, my brother bought a Barcelona top and got one of Manchester. At the time I was playing for the youth team of Boavista. I dreamed of this, but dreaming of it and being here is completely different.
“Signing for Manchester was the same feeling as when I signed for Sporting in Portugal: the dream of playing for a major club in Portugal, of being in the Premier League, of representing the best English club in recent years. Coming to a club that hasn't won in a while but is hungry to win, is what a player needs.
“Having names like Cristiano and Nani, who won great trophies here, makes me want to try to have those achievements as well. Nani, with whom I had the opportunity to work with at Sporting, always spoke very well of Manchester to me. And the fact that Cristiano gave good references to people who were asking about me before my signing, makes me proud of what I have been doing.”
Ronaldo’s influence doesn’t end with his positive words to his old club regarding Fernandes. The Portugal captain is inevitably an inspiring figure for Fernandes, who recalls meeting the Seleção’s star man in 2017 on international duty. “When you go to the national team and bump into the best player in the world it leaves a mark on you.
“The first time I arrived I had the opportunity to talk to him. He even came to me and said ‘So, are you doing well at Sporting? You have scored a few goals. It was Ronaldo who came alongside me and said I was doing well.
“The words he said were meaningless emotionally, but just the fact that a player like him is aware that I'm doing, you do think ‘how is this possible?’ Of course he was at Sporting, the club that made him and for which he has an affection. Cristiano gave me very good references before United signed me, it makes me proud that a player like him recognises my value.”
Although now enjoying his British adventure, Fernandes keeps a close eye on developments at Sporting and is keen to emphasise the good moments he had in Lisbon. “I keep a very special affection for Sporting, I follow things whenever I can and talk a lot with my ex-teammates. I even try to talk to them the day before games. Whenever the times coincide I speak with them via video links.
“The greatest happiness I had was winning the Portuguese Cup, due to the context of not being able to win the previous year (Sporting were beaten by Aves in the final) and the sadness of not having won. For me it was a great achievement which I keep with great affection because we, the players, had earned it.
“It was the year in which we all knew that psychologically in terms of the environment it was going to be all the more difficult, but we had a year in which perhaps a lack of unity was expected and it was the year in which we had more unity.
“I think Sporting had the quality to do more, regardless of the context. It is obvious that the context is not easy and everyone knows what happened and it is difficult for some players to manage this context, for others it is easier.”
And Sporting of 2020, under new boss Rúben Amorim? “Of course I’m surprised by it. Nobody was expecting it. Mister Rúben himself said that. In Portugal it is not common to pay for a coach, it was the first time. I'm glad it was paid for a Portuguese coach. If in Portugal it is considered a risk to spend eight million on a player, as was my case, obviously everyone thinks that paying 10 million for a coach can be a big gamble. The coach's position is a little bit cruel. If things go well, the players have more merit than the coach and he ends up leaving.”
By Sean Gillen