Bruno Fernandes has not experienced many low points since moving to Manchester United three years ago. This week, however, the Portuguese midfielder has been the target of widespread criticism in the wake of his team’s shocking 7-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
Fernandes was perceived to have demonstrated an unprofessional attitude during the loss, after which he has endured fierce condemnation from United legends in the media, while the broader British press have promoted discussion over whether his role as vice-captain should be reassessed.
The former Sporting man is undoubtedly a divisive figure in the English game. Many, including some United fans, question the theatrical and argumentative side of his game, while for rival supporters Fernandes is often held up as a disliked figure. However, perceptions around his conduct took a particularly negative turn on Sunday.
As United collapsed during the second half, conceding six goals on their way to a heaviest defeat in over 90 years, Fernandes came under the spotlight. Like several of his teammates, the Portuguese appeared to lose heart as the goals rained in, with his gesticulation and exaggeration of contact during challenges drawing attention after the game.
“Fernandes’ body language today was nothing short of disgraceful, so much talent but you wouldn’t be happy with him in the dressing room,” said ex-United skipper Roy Keane. Fellow former Reds captain Gary Neville added: “I’ve had enough of him throwing his arms around at his teammates, not running back; he whinges at everybody, going down holding his face – he’s got to put in a captain’s performance and that wasn’t a captain’s performance by a Manchester United player.”
Long-serving retired full-back Patrice Evra also encouraged Fernandes to change his demeanour. Yet perhaps the worst backlash has been from the mainstream media, which has included calls from prominent pundits and journalists for Fernandes to be stripped of the vice-captaincy which currently sees him lead the team in most games.
Ten Hag, Rashford backing
Fernandes will no doubt be able to rely on the support of Manchester United supporters, given his outstanding contribution at Old Trafford since a high-profile move from Sporting in 2020. On Wednesday, manager Erik ten Hag was asked if the midfielder would remain in his role and the Dutchman unsurprisingly offered a thorough defence of his player.
“Yes definitely,” said Ten Hag. “He’s playing a brilliant season, he’s had a really important role in why we’re in the position where we are, and he’s giving energy to the team - not only running a lot at the highest intensity but the right way and right direction.
“He’s coaching players, he’s an inspiration, but no-one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, we have to learn, he has to learn and he will, because he’s intelligent. I’m happy to have Bruno Fernandes in the team and that he’s captain when Harry isn’t on the pitch.”
United star forward Marcus Rashford also backed his teammate. “I love playing with Bruno, for a forward like me he’s a perfect player to play with,” the striker said in the press conference ahead of Thursday’s clash with Real Betis. “He’s been a good leader for us even when he’s not been captain, which is always a good sign, he’s helped other players become better leaders and the reality is we can’t be an organised with just one leader being captain.
“He’s done a lot in terms of bringing his leadership skills in, that was from the moment he arrived. Like the manager said, nobody is perfect, sometimes you want to win so bad you end up doing things a little our of character.
“But as a team we have to support him because he’s a fantastic player.”
By Sean Gillen