Bruno Fernandes' journey to super-stardom begins this summer

A midfielder par excellence.

Premier League sharks are circling for Bruno Fernandes after an extraordinary season that will have escaped the attention of very few ardent supporters of Portuguese football.

As yet another prodigiously gifted talent nears the leap from the Portuguese Liga into the realm of football’s elite, PortuGOAL.net’s Nathan Motz evaluates the factors which may influence Bruno’s success and what that might mean for the Seleção.

It was the 81st minute of a match Portugal were eager to put behind them. No sooner had he hit the ball when a look of disgust creeped across his face, and not only that, but despair. Having received a rude introduction to World Cup football in the previous match against Spain, Fernandes had only just tried, and failed, to do against Morocco what he normally did quite well for Sporting: test the keeper from range. Nothing worked for Bruno Fernandes last summer. Without his contribution, and that of several others who had shown such promise during the 2017/18 club season, Portugal bowed out quietly in the Round of 16.

It is always a mystery when elite players struggle to perform for their country. Questions about the player’s commitment and mental state begin to surface. Many forget even Cristiano Ronaldo, particularly after the 2008 European Championship, was thought to be one such player, a mercenary for his club, but disloyal and disinterested when it came to international football.

At 24, Bruno Fernandes is in a more advantageous position relative to other Portuguese exports. Unlike Bruma or Renato Sanches, his talent was sharpened over a period of several years in Italy and continued by a club well-known for its role in shaping top-performers. He could have forced a move to a lesser club outside Portugal after last season when he scored a not-insignificant 16 goals especially given the chaotic environment at Sporting. But he stayed and had the most extraordinary yet somehow underrated of seasons. Forget Frank Lampard, he outscored Cristiano Ronaldo, the first Portuguese player to do that since Ronaldo was a teenager.

But the question remains: what type of player is Bruno Fernandes? Aside from epitomizing the “light shining in the darkness” role for Sporting over the last two years, it is clear that Bruno, like any player, possesses certain abilities which will not work in every application. This is a bit concerning because the type of clubs now after Bruno Fernandes are not well-respected for appreciating the unique skillset of the players they acquire.

Manchester City, by all accounts the frontrunner, are probably only looking at metrics, not necessarily the player’s utility within their tactical scheme. They are in the business of out-possessing other clubs in terms of raw talent. This is not necessarily a criticism of them either. They have money and lots of it. Buying up players like Fernandes denies their competitors the opportunity to strengthen their own squads. But is that to Fernandes’ benefit?

I wrote before the World Cup last year that Bruno Fernandes, despite his enviable attacking qualities, is not a possession-first player. His DNA fundamentally resides within a different space on the football competency spectrum. He is undeniably artistic, and remarkably proficient at undoing troublesome defensive vanguards, but only in a certain role. I would argue he may not find Pep Guardiola’s ponderous ball-control tactics compatible with the robust and aggressive style in which he excels.

Bruno Fernandes is quintessentially Portuguese despite spending the early years of his career in Italy’s Serie A. He is direct and aggressive, looking for the immediate option rather than patiently waiting out a defense. He is keen to make a run into the penalty area instead of merely dictating play from the edge of the attacking third. A swashbuckling downhill surge of enthusiasm. The magnetic compulsion to “get forward” regularly draws him out of position and can expose a midfield to counterattack. Speaking of which, Bruno flourishes on the counter and is as willing to drift wide and deliver the killer cross as he is to be on the end of one.

But my immediate question is how he is ever going to slow his play down and participate in weaving the intricate passing tapestry demanded by Pep Guardiola? Something will have to give. Knowing Pep, I cannot imagine any other outcome but for Bruno to completely reinvent his expression of the game in order to survive in City’s outpass & outwork archetype.

This season, Bruno delivered almost twice as many long-balls as Kevin de Bruyne, probably the most direct of City's current midfielders. Bruno also has a fairly mediocre pass completion percentage for a midfielder, a point exaggerated when comparisons are drawn with City’s current midfield stock (see graphic). He’s more reckless than City’s midfielders too, losing the ball more often and obviously shooting more. In Portugal, Bruno’s electrifying goals regularly buoyed Sporting, but Premier League defenses might not be so accommodating. Against Arsenal in the Europa League this season, Bruno was fairly pedestrian, completing 73% of his passes, including four key passes, and tallying a 6.4 rating across two matches against the London-based club who will square off against Chelsea in the final.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Here is another thought: do City even need his goalscoring exploits? They have Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, and a host of others. City are not a club which rests its fate upon superhuman individual efforts like Bruno has to give for Sporting. Can he subdue his preference to go-for-goal and instead serve up Aguero and Sterling with tap-ins? If you need a midfield conductor or ball-control specialist, why buy a player who excels as a goalscorer and force him to completely alter his style? A bent nail requires a hammer, a feather duster for a window pane, never the reverse.

Manchester United are also rumored to be in the hunt for Bruno Fernandes, and I will be frank: this club is in dire circumstances. Though they definitely have space for him, and could better appreciate an incisive player like Bruno, this club has mismanaged talent after talent over the last few seasons. What evidence suggests the situation will be different for Bruno? Manchester United is a storied club, but needs to sort itself out. You could argue Bruno is exactly the type of player who could help them begin the process, but it is in the boardroom where the malady resides. Until it is corrected, players like Bruno Fernandes might need to give United a second thought.

Which brings us full-circle back to the most important quandary: can Bruno Fernandes ever realize his considerable potential for the Seleção? The World Cup was unfortunate for him, but also went poorly for Guedes, Raphael Guerreiro, Bernardo Silva, and well, almost everyone else too. Before we even consider whether Santos is capable of devising a system that facilitates Portugal’s young talents, it is obvious the players themselves have more work to do.

A huge part of that work involves finding the right club, and by extension the right role which they can transpose onto their play for the Seleção. Guerreiro got away from that and his impact for Portugal has suffered. João Mário needs a new club altogether. So do Renato Sanches, Bruma, and possibly André Silva.

For Bruno Fernandes, his upcoming transfer is about more than whether he chooses the red or blue half of Manchester. It is about how he wants to evolve as a player and what that might mean holistically in his professional career.

These are not routine business queries, they are questions about his fundamental nature as a footballer and how he can reach the pinnacle of his ability. With the world at his feet, and plenty of time left in his career to take Portugal’s midfield to new heights, eyes will remain on Bruno Fernandes as either a hero for tomorrow or simply Portugal’s latest tale of what might have been.

by Nathan Motz

Comments (7)

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Excellent analysis, Nathan. I agree that while Bruno Fernandes certainly has the quality to play for just about any top side in Europe, I don't think Manchester City would be the best fit stylistically. As we all know, he is a very-direct,...

Excellent analysis, Nathan. I agree that while Bruno Fernandes certainly has the quality to play for just about any top side in Europe, I don't think Manchester City would be the best fit stylistically. As we all know, he is a very-direct, attack-minded midfielder with a fantastic shot and an eye for a pass, and I'm just not so sure that he will be able to modify his game to fit into the more intricate, possession-oriented scheme of Pep Guardiola.

I'm entirely sure where Bruno Fernandes would fit into the Selecao at the moment. A Ronaldo-less 4-3-3 looked pretty good at first during the Nations League but we've looked disjointed and out of ideas in our last 3 or 4 games. Just like everyone else on the planet, I'd love to see Bernardo operate more centrally in behind Ronaldo and either Joao Felix or Diogo Jota. Moving Bernardo into the midfield, however, would it make it more difficult to Santos to incorporate Fernandes into the 11.

I'd love to see Santos experiment with a 3-5-2 shape, but I highly doubt we'll see him veer away from a back 4. Therefore, I think there's a better chance we'll see him revert to a 4-4-2.

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Man!, I wish i could write like that, that was the best article on a player I have read in a long time. I only watched Bruno's highlight in this season on Youtube, but I have never watched him on a live screen. I watched him because i had read...

Man!, I wish i could write like that, that was the best article on a player I have read in a long time. I only watched Bruno's highlight in this season on Youtube, but I have never watched him on a live screen. I watched him because i had read papers talking about him as a Manchester city target, and since I am an avid Manchester city fan, not the real Manchester city fan in Manchester but an admirer of Manchester city, i wanted to see how he plays and what kind of a player he is. And to be honest with you, from what i have seen on Youtube, I was so impressed by his quality, the shooting ability, the creative ability and his aggressiveness which Guardiola values so much. But I knew that would not be enough, I read your paper, I was so amazed by your take on him. His mentality, style of play, suitability are all what i was looking for, not his goal scoring record which is obvious, thanks god! your paper covers in all of these in detail.
I wanted him as David Silva replacement, but you explained in this paper that he is not that kind of player, you also showed his passing ability, which i hadn't given much thought, is very poor considering he is a midfielder.
But you didn't mention which team suits his style of play, and based on your description the team that suits his style of play is Liverpool.

Thanks.
From Kenya.

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Thanks SAID, it's interesting in that I believe Bruno would tactically fit better at Manchester United, but that club is a mess right now. You're right though, Liverpool might benefit from a player like Fernandes the most since Klopp is into that...

Thanks SAID, it's interesting in that I believe Bruno would tactically fit better at Manchester United, but that club is a mess right now. You're right though, Liverpool might benefit from a player like Fernandes the most since Klopp is into that downhill-running style of play. Chelsea might also need some creativity and goals next season if Hazard leaves. Ultimately I think Bruno needs to be where he can flourish doing what he does best: run, shoot, and score goals, not just pass the ball to up to the strikers.

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Brilliant article. Finally Portugoal writes about the one player who deserves it.

I agree Manchester City may not be the best fit. I would like to see Bruno Fernandes at a team like Real Madrid, Manchester United , Inter Milan, or Tottenham...

Brilliant article. Finally Portugoal writes about the one player who deserves it.

I agree Manchester City may not be the best fit. I would like to see Bruno Fernandes at a team like Real Madrid, Manchester United , Inter Milan, or Tottenham Hotspur.

Wherever he goes I’m sure he will succeed. If Fernando Santos was paying attention, he would start Bruno Fernandes for Portugal every game. Ronaldo can mimic bas dost’s role with Sporting, since he is basically a rich mans bas dost in the way that he plays currently. Rafa on the wing can mimic raphinhas speed and ball control.

My nations league 11

——Rafa silva——Cr7—-Nani
——————-B.Fernandes——-
—————Neves——William—-
Rui————-Dias—-Fonte——-Cedric—
———————Patricio—-__

Yes I left Bernardo Silva out on purpose.
He does not have the mentality or Garra to play for the seleccao.

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Great writing as always Nathan. Bruno is finally getting the kudos he deserves.

I know Sporting will suffer once he leaves, but ultimately, they will have to bet on some of their youth to fill the void.

I actually think Bruno should avoid...

Great writing as always Nathan. Bruno is finally getting the kudos he deserves.

I know Sporting will suffer once he leaves, but ultimately, they will have to bet on some of their youth to fill the void.

I actually think Bruno should avoid England altogether, if indeed it is time for him to leave. The league he would best be suited for is probably Italian Serie A, but the team he suits best is probably Atletico Madrid. Confusing right?

Well, he already made a name for himself in the Serie A, and on a team like Inter or AC Milan, he is good enough to become the star. Serie A is one of the few leagues where attacking midfielders actually flourish, where guys like Ilicic and Suso have been able to reach near double digits in both goals and assists. Look at some of the best Serie A players of the last 2-3 seasons: Suso, Ilicic, Dybala, Alejandro Gomez, Hamsik. Italy is a place the attacking midfielder can really flourish.

Sure, many will say "Italy is where Portuguese players go to kill their careers", but that simly isn't true. Ronaldo, Cancelo, hell, even Bruno Alves have shown that Portuguese players can do very well in Italy. Plus Bruno Fernandes has already played there for 2 different clubs. I think he would become a top 3 player in the league.

As for Atletico Madrid, I think this team suits Bruno exceptionally well. Counter-attacking football, predicated on open space for attackers, typically a narrow set-up. Bruno would have a ton of goal-scoring chances as well as creative opportunities, especially if Griezmann is to leave this summer, which has been rumoured.

One last thing: "Manchester City, by all accounts the frontrunner, are probably only looking at metrics, not necessarily the player’s utility within their tactical scheme. They are in the business of out-possessing other clubs in terms of raw talent. This is not necessarily a criticism of them either. ".

You are too professional to, but I will certainly criticize not only Man City, a plastic club that is given free reign to throw money away and help ruin the footballing landscape, but also at Pep Guardiola, the biggest fraud in football management. A man who needs a billion pound squad just to win the Premier league and hasn't sniffed the Champions League finals or semi-finals since he left Barcelona.

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I agree with -Z- and Chris.

I also watch Italian footy and it would suit Bruno but he has been there already and I had asked in another thread why Sampdoria and Udinese let him go in the first place. He was playing very well, fans loved him, so...

I agree with -Z- and Chris.

I also watch Italian footy and it would suit Bruno but he has been there already and I had asked in another thread why Sampdoria and Udinese let him go in the first place. He was playing very well, fans loved him, so did the club so what happened? Salary? Position? Coaches? What?

Chris, excellent choice in Atletico. A counter attacking club that doesn’t control the ball but offers killer punishment on counters and on mistakes which Bruno excels at. He would fit with Atletico or even a Sevilla/Valencia for that matter.

I just don’t see the EPL as a viable choice for him. Sporting challenge for the league title every year, they get champions league most times and Europa if not. Going to a club that doesn’t offer the same for Bruno is a step back imo.

Something for Nathan that the article doesn’t mention but what is Bruno’s vision for himself? He could pick where he wants to go if he forced something. I really hope he has a hand in where he lands, I would hate to see Bruno rotting on the bench at Man City.

Despite seemingly being around forever, he is only 24! His ceiling is so high still. Very much rooting for the guy, been a fan of his for a very long time. I love his “ganha” as well. He is a throwback to the old style Portuguese mid, almost a perfect mashup of Maniche and Tiago.

Interesting how all this plays out.

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Val, Sporting offered Sampdoria somewhere around 8-9 million Euros (depending on the source) and that was good enough for them. Seems unbelievable now.

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