Bruno Fernandes couldn’t believe his luck when a senior player complimented him for his performance in Sporting. It was Cristiano Ronaldo. He was the one who approached him.
Fernandes said that Cristiano was his favourite player growing up.
“We young people regard him as an idol.”
Since a long time, the two have been inseparable. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reached out to Ronaldo through Patrice Evra in order to get his opinion on Fernandes’ signing by Manchester United. The signing was completed after the testimony was unanimous.
They are now team-mates for country and club, which is one of many narrative threads that the Premier League weaves into a mad frenzy over Ronaldo’s return.
This transfer changes the landscape of competition, giving the most successful team the best chance of winning the title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. It also changes the power dynamics at Old Trafford.
The speculation has already begun.
Some of it may seem trivial. Some of it might seem trivial. The debate about Ronaldo taking penalty-taking responsibilities from Fernandes seems more focused on the fantasy football implications, with gossip laced by backstage celebrity gossip.
It is fascinating to see the egos involved. Solskjaer was once asked if Fernandes reminds him of Ronaldo. He has that impact and influence on his team-mates. What happens when Ronaldo is back in the office?
Pop-psychology is just one aspect.
One thing is certain: the tactical consequences can be another.
The success or failure of the relationship between Fernandes & Ronaldo on the field will be a major factor in Manchester United’s success this season.
It is interesting that, despite mutual respect and the fact that they are international teammates playing in positions that should complement each other, it is still there – on pitch – that their relationship has not ignited.
The pair won 12 of the 22 goals scored by Portugal players during qualifying for the European Championship. Ronaldo had 11, Fernandes had one. However, the men didn’t directly team up for one goal. Fernandes provided two assists for other players.
This trend was repeated at Euro 2020. Fernandes is not on the pitch for Ronaldo’s World Cup qualifying goals. But the spark isn’t there yet.
Ronaldo continues to score, obviously. He has secured his place as the greatest international scorer of men’s soccer history with two more goals against Ireland.
Fernandes has been struggling to find a place in the Portugal team. He was unable to find his rhythm after being substituted with his team-mates just before the Ronaldo victory against Ireland.
The story of the national hero, and the international mystery.
Fernandes made a little progress in Baku Tuesday.
His role as the star in Portugal’s 3-0 win against Azerbaijan was one his finest performances for the country. Andre Silva delivered another brilliant goal with a clever assist to Bernardo Silva’s first goal.
It was a nice toe-poked pass through Azerbaijan’s defence, and it was followed by a beautifully lofted ball above it – all before half-time. This was Fernandes at its best.
It was Ronaldo’s absence from suspension that caused it.
There is a concern that Ronaldo’s presence in the team could be taking away Fernandes’ game from Fernandes. Ronaldo’s ability to elevate others has been the focus. United fans should be afraid of Fernandes’ opposite.
A little less prosaic is the truth about his Portugal troubles, and his only competitive goal against Luxembourg.
His national team boss Fernando Santos has used Fernandes often in a deeper role. Sometimes, he uses Fernandes out on the right. He hasn’t been able get the ball in the last third as often as he would like. This puts emphasis on other aspects his game.
Fernandes scored 33 goals for Sporting in his last full season. Fernandes is also encouraged to move up and take chances in possession at United.
The Liverpool full-backs have lost possession over a thousand times since Fernandes’ Premier League debut. Fernandes’ unique style is made possible by his willingness to try the most difficult passes.
Portugal has taken fewer risks than he had before.
For his country, the areas in which he excels are not his. Only 13 of his 369 touches with the ball for Portugal in Euro 2020 and World Cup qualifying were in the central area of 20 yards from the opposition goal.
This contrasts with his role at Manchester United, where he is often a striker’s dream. He scored a hat trick in Manchester United’s 5-1 victory over Leeds United at Old Trafford to show that.
Fernandes and Ronaldo could easily repeat the feat. There is no reason to think otherwise. The Old Trafford crowd would be more excited if the master and apprentice, the sons of Sporting, were embraced by Manchester, scoring together.
Fernando Santos would be disappointed if they could work well together at club level. It could be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s most important achievement as Manchester United manager.