Mon. Nov 30th, 2020

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Bruno Fernandes is the leader Manchester United have been missing

4 min read

It was converted into a gif instantaneously, the reaction of Bruno Fernandes sat inside an empty Parc des Princes when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed his captain for the night.

If Fernandes knew already then he did a good job of hiding it, raising both eyebrows and trying fairly hard to conceal a wide smile. He will lead Manchester United out against Paris Saint-Germain, at the scene of their best night under Solskjaer back in 2019.

‘I was not expecting this – I found out this the same time as you!’ the Portuguese said in a press conference. ‘It is an honour, an important achievement for me.’

Bruno Fernandes is set to captain Manchester United against PSG on Tuesday evening 

In nine months at the club, he has already become the leader they were desperately craving

In nine months at the club, he has already become the leader they were desperately craving 

Depending on his team selection, there were other options for Solskjaer in Harry Maguire’s absence. David De Gea, Nemanja Matic, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have all worn the armband in the past.

De Gea would previously have been the natural fit, but has not captained the side since publicly airing forthright views on the club’s performances following defeat by Newcastle this time last year.

That is an interesting stance for Solskjaer to take, given that one of Fernandes’ main traits is his no-nonsense demanding attitude for the best from those around him. United’s players first saw that after a game at Everton last season, when their new signing was less than happy with team-mates seemingly content with a draw inside the dressing room afterwards.

David de Gea has been at United for nine years but has been shunned as the captain

David de Gea has been at United for nine years but has been shunned as the captain

Paul Pogba (centre) is another senior figure being overlooked in favour of Fernandes at PSG

Paul Pogba (centre) is another senior figure being overlooked in favour of Fernandes at PSG

There was also a clip from Monday’s training session at Carrington, just before United flew to France, that captured him perfectly. Alex Telles, yet to make his debut at left back, was at the sharp end.

Telles had played Fernandes into a spot of trouble during a rondo, a slow pass that allowed both Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani to converge on the midfielder and nick possession. For losing out, Fernandes then had to leave his post to go chasing the ball when the game resumed, but not until after he had berated Telles.

United supporters saw that as further proof that he was captaincy material – a man upset at surrendering during a rondo is a man who can galvanise on the pitch – and hours later got their wish.

‘I think I grew up like this,’ Fernandes said. ‘It’s the way I have to be in life and in football too. It’s my character. Sometimes it’s too much and sometimes other players are less. I think I can help the team with the way I am.

Solskjaer surprised the Portuguese midfielder with his announcement in the press conference

Solskjaer surprised the Portuguese midfielder with his announcement in the press conference 

In a recent training rondo, Fernandes berated new team-mate Alex Telles for a poor pass

In a recent training rondo, Fernandes berated new team-mate Alex Telles for a poor pass

‘All the players are driven and you need all of the different characters in the team to complete a very good team.

‘I think it’s important, the way I am, to complete the others, and it’s important the qualities the others have, to complete me.

‘The captain is everyone – everyone needs to help, be a leader in their way. The leadership is different in every player. It is not about me, but about the team.’

Fernandes has enjoyed a stellar first nine months at Old Trafford, contributing 11 goals and nine assists in his first 18 Premier League appearances. He offers Solskjaer something different in the final third, someone not averse to taking risks. United have lacked that for years.

But he has not had it all his own way. There have been games where the 26-year-old has played poorly, those intricate passes not coming off and possession surrendered too often.

Club captain Harry Maguire has been ruled out of Tuesday's game so Fernandes is captain

Club captain Harry Maguire has been ruled out of Tuesday’s game so Fernandes is captain

United were aware of this and it is what they signed up for when spending an initial £47million on him from Sporting Lisbon. They knew, though, that he would not hide on those off days, unlike so many others before. The backheel inside his own half to open up midfield as United countered Newcastle with the game still 1-1 last weekend is a decent example, finishing the swift break himself four minutes after missing a crucial penalty.

He can say whatever he wants inside the sanctity of the dressing room but it is leading by example on the pitch, especially when his own game isn’t at its peak, that will have impressed Solskjaer. He needs somebody who takes responsibility, who wears a sense of accountability when pulling on the United shirt.

It sounds pretty basic but that quality is often in short supply. His actual influence will become clear at the end of his first full season but for now, at least United have somebody they can look towards for some form of inspiration.

Despite United’s poor start to 2020-21 Fernandes has shone, with three goals and three assists

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