Sun. Jan 17th, 2021

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Bruno Fernandes has solved one of Manchester United’s biggest problems

5 min read

The days when Roy Keane chased Gary Neville around the Highfield Road dressing room and shoved Phil Neville at the Stadium of Light are over. The latter incident merited a cursory address on The Premiership in 2002 (Match of the Day was on a three-year hiatus) yet still made the cut of United’s 2002-03 season review. If a captain was so brazen in their leadership now they would top the worldwide trends on Twitter and spark an FA inquiry.

Keane quickly made an impression on Rio Ferdinand, who was making his United league debut in a fraught draw with Sunderland that ended with Keane’s expulsion for elbowing Jason McAteer. McAteer, a Birkenhead-born Liverpool reject and Republic of Ireland international, had been playing up to the gallery by deriding Keane’s recently published autobiography.

Ferdinand’s personality is just about the polar opposite to Keane, who admitted earlier this year he did not care for the United defender’s ‘banter’ during their three-and-a-bit years as teammates. Ferdinand was dug out by Keane in the infamously unaired MUTV analysis with the apocryphal quote, ‘Just because you are paid £120,000-a-week and play well for 20 minutes against Tottenham you think you are a superstar’. It sounds like Keane.



Keane takes it all out on Phil Neville at Sunderland in 2002
Keane takes it all out on Phil Neville at Sunderland in 2002

Yet Keane and Ferdinand are genuine United greats and Ferdinand developed the maturity to captain the club in their last Champions League final triumph. Keane had already opined, ‘I don’t see any leaders’ at United and Ferdinand was singing from the same hymn sheet in midweek.

“It’s not just about Ole on the sidelines, or [Mike] Phelan, or Michael Carrick, sometimes you need a player,” Ferdinand told BT Sport. “Before half-time (against West Brom), Bruno [Fernandes] – who you don’t mind giving the ball away because of the creative spark – he gave the ball away very cheaply, probably four times before half-time.

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Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Champions League with a 4-1 victory over Istanbul Basaksehir at Old Trafford.

Bruno Fernandes’ brace set Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side on course for a third successive win, with Marcus Rashford and Daniel James also on the scoresheet.

MEN Sport will bring you all the reaction and analysis from United’s win and the build up to the Southampton game this weekend. You can have it all delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter. Just put your email address in the sign-up box at the top of this article, or simply follow this link. It’s free and only takes a few seconds.

“I’m sitting there looking around the team thinking, ‘Who’s gonna be on to him?’, I would’ve been screaming. I don’t understand why no one was onto him.

“I don’t think they are [leaders], I’ve got to be honest. They’re not leaders, if you’re being brutal, I don’t think any of them have shown any signs of being leaders.”

The irony is the obvious leader at United is Fernandes, never shy of advising or admonishing a teammate since he touched down in Manchester in January. That was reflected last month when Solskjaer handed him the captain’s armband at Paris Saint-Germain and, when he last had an audience at Old Trafford, Fernandes put Pep Guardiola back in his box with a ‘shh’ gesture.

Ferdinand still had a point. The manner of Demba Ba’s goal in Istanbul should have been so abhorrent to every fibre of every United player’s being it warranted a physical confrontation akin to Bruce Grobbelaar and Steve McManaman at Goodison Park. A glance at the teamsheet suggested none had it in them to go toe-to-toe with a teammate.

Listening to Harry Maguire in behind-closed-doors games is similar to switching Test Match Special on when Sir Geoffrey Boycott used to commentate. Maguire was the fastest player to be appointed captain after signing for United since the recently departed Maurice Setters in 1960 and his willingness to remonstrate with referees is a quality they have lacked in recent years.

David de Gea has become noticeably louder since Dean Henderson returned to compete with him and had aspirations to replace Antonio Valencia as captain last year. Goalkeeping captains are deemed more acceptable on the continent but have never caught on in England, even if the passing of the peerless Diego Maradona was a reminder Peter Shilton skippered the Three Lions at the 1986 World Cup. If only Shilton’s status had also elevated him above Maradona to punch Steve Hodge’s clearance away.

The captaincy has been an issue at United since it was passed to Wayne Rooney a year after he fluttered his eyelashes at Chelsea. Rooney’s captaincy credentials rose but his form headed in the opposite direction during his three-year stint and Jose Mourinho, a manager whose on-pitch lieutenants were John Terry and Javier Zanetti, diluted the significance of the armband.



Maguire is Solskjaer's third permanent captain
Maguire is Solskjaer’s third permanent captain

Michael Carrick was club captain only four times due to an irregular heart rhythm and his replacement, Antonio Valencia, was one of the worst since the captain of the Titanic. Ashley Young was an underwhelming replacement but had merits until he cleared his Carrington locker in January.

De Gea only ever ‘Hulked out’ at Anfield in January when he appealed against Roberto Firmino’s goal so vehemently he was booked. That was one of the few occasions where the intensity of the protestations compromised the objectivity of the Video Assistant Referee, which chalked off Firmino’s strike on account of a dubious foul by Virgil van Dijk on De Gea.

Fernandes cut loose at Victor Lindelof in the Europa League semi-final defeat to Sevilla and was so vocal during the heated half-time recess against Tottenham he was substituted. Diogo Dalot, Fred, Daniel James, Scott McTominay and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have all made Fernandes’s hit-list and the only teammate who has challenged him unprompted was Paul Pogba, relieved of the ‘second captain’ post by Mourinho.

There have been occasions where Pogba has deserved a chasing.

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