As Manchester United prepare for the start of a new era under Erik ten Hag, the form of Bruno Fernandes will likely be a much-scrutinised issue ahead of the upcoming beginning of the Premier League season.
With just two weeks before United meet Brighton and Hove Albion at Old Trafford in their opening fixture, Fernandes spoke to SKY Sports from Australia, where the Red Devils have enjoyed a promising pre-season under new coach Ten Hag. Fernandes spoke about his impression of the Dutchman, as well as his own expectations following a below par season last term, as well as touching on the subject of Portugal captain Ronaldo.
Ten Hag has impressed many fans and media with his straight-talking and heavy demands of a United squad which experienced their worst-ever Premier League campaign last season. Asked for his early thoughts on his new manager, Fernandes made an interesting comparison with one of his former bosses at Sporting in Marcel Keizer.
“He’s straight forward,” Fernandes said of Ten Hag. “He wants his rules, he demands a lot from us, and he wants everyone to be on the same page doing the same things. So that’s good; everyone knows they have to work hard, pushing in the same [direction] and if not, they will be out of the team. It’s a good thing because if you want to be successful as a team, we all have to be [together].
“He does [want discipline] but he also gives the players the freedom to make their choices. As I said he has his own rules we have to follow, but also he wants to give some responsibility to the older players or the ones he thinks can show themselves. So, at the same time he is strict and tough, but he’s a nice guy and an easy guy to chat to.
“I spoke with the manager, and he asked me my feelings about the game plan. I said to him I had a coach at Sporting who came from Ajax too. The way of doing things was quite similar. And I had my best season with him. So, the main thing for me is following the rules he wants, doing what he demands and then my game will come naturally. The main thing for me is the team is successful because this is a team sport. He has a straight line with the team, and I want to follow that straight line because I think we can be successful that way.
“The same way it was at Sporting is what it is here. Straight line – whoever doesn’t do this is out of the team. So, I think if everyone understands that we have to follow the rules, follow what the coach demands then everyone will be on the same page. If the team is successful, then every one of us will be so individually. I think everyone will be happy at the end of the season if we all do what he wants us to do.
“It’s clear. He explains really well what he wants. The ones who don’t do what he demands know they will be punished, so when we talk about discipline that’s what it is. He’s very clear and there’s no way you can escape from that. Even if you don’t understand English, you can understand how he wants to play. Nobody can get out of anything with him. I think the senior players are important to make sure everyone is on the same make and make sure nobody can get away with anything.”
“I criticise myself too much”
Fernandes’ own form took somewhat of a dip last season after a sensational first 18 months at the club, following a mid-season move from Sporting in January 2020. When addressing the cause of his relative loss of form, the Portugal man understandably references his outstanding previous season which saw him score 28 goals from midfield in 2020-21.
“Last season as a team was not successful, so individually it’s difficult for you to be successful,” he told SKY. “You can try to improve the team and I was trying to do that, but obviously it was a difficult season for everyone and it was tough for everyone to be successful individually because the results were not there. As soon as the team is on point and getting the results we want, that will make me happy and make my game much better.
“I know everyone is expecting so much from me because my first half a season was amazing and last season I only scored ten goals and thirteen assists. I know I can do much better than that. My main thing every season is doing better than the previous one. So, this season I have an easier one than before because 28 goals the previous season and now 10 [last season] so I have to go for 11 to beat it, rather than 28.
“But I’m happy with what I’ve been doing for the club and I think the club is happy with the way it’s gone with me. I think the new contract shows they trust me and respect me, so it’s time for me to repay that.
“I’m an emotional player and an emotional person. So I take it out too much on myself and I criticise myself too much. Sometimes I say to myself that I need to calm down a little bit and not put too much on me, but it’s the way I am. I don’t like to lose and when I do lose I don’t try to blame anyone else. I look at what I can do to help the team be better because although I can try to make others better, the main thing you can control is yourself. So it’s on me now to do a better season and help the team get better results.”
Ronaldo not the problem
Finally, Fernandes was inevitably asked about his countryman Cristiano Ronaldo, and specifically whether the Seleção skipper’s arrival just a few weeks into last season had affected his own form. Fernandes brushed off the suggestion, as Ronaldo’s future remains the subject of much speculation in the British media.
“No, I don’t think so. As I say I’m always there to serve my strikers and we had an amazing start to the season, where Cristiano came in on his first game and he scored two and I scored one. After that I scored many goals playing with Cristiano; I think all of my goals were scored playing with Cristiano, so I think that was not the problem at all.
“I’ve been playing with him in the national team, and we qualified for the World Cup with an assist from him to me. That will never be a problem because good players can fit together at any time at any point. As I said, I’m here to make my strikers happy and make them enjoy the game, because that is the job of the midfielders. When they score goals, I’m happy because the team will get better results.”
By Sean Gillen