Ronaldo, Nani, now Bruno Fernandes: Man Utd’s potential new Portuguese sensation

The Sporting midfielder could be set for a move to Old Trafford after two standout seasons in his homeland

First Cristiano Ronaldo, then Nani; Manchester United have enjoyed real success in poaching Sporting CP’s attacking talent.

The news that they are interested in another one of the club’s Portuguese talents will have only sparked excitement then, with Bruno Fernandes potentially moving to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side this summer.

Both Ronaldo and Nani were relatively unproven wingers when they were selected by Sir Alex Ferguson to be part of his incredible legacy in the north west of England, going on to be more than proven by the time they left Old Trafford.

The former would win everything on offer to him at the club before leaving for Real Madrid, where he would cement his status as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Nani, meanwhile, became a Man Utd hero in his own right, making 230 appearances and winning 12 trophies in eight years.

But despite the buzz around Fernandes – with Jurgen Klopp even admitting that he’s not looking forward to the prospect of facing the 24-year-old in the Premier League if he completes the move – he is not another Ronaldo, or another Nani, and should not be treated as such.

“I find it hard to define myself,” Fernandes said.

“I play midfielder, playmaker, even second striker: where I am needed and where I can be most useful.”

His biggest strength is that versatility, which comes from having a variety of aspects to his game: his vision and ability to play a killer through ball, great finishing, strong dribbling, athleticism and set piece taking all making up one very valuable footballer.

All that has helped Fernandes catch the eye of many over the last 12 months, as have his huge contributions in Portugal.

The midfielder scored 20 goals and provided 13 assists in 33 league games for Sporting last season, part of a total 32 goals and 18 assists in all competitions – adding to his 15 goals and 20 assists the season before.

“I was surprised by the season of Bruno Fernandes,” Jose Mourinho said.

“It was easy to predict quality, he is a very good player, but scored a very high number of goals for a midfield player.

“It shows that you need to have instinct and qualities to score and he has it all. He strikes the ball well, heads well, cool when he is one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He finds space in the penalty area. It’s all there.”

Despite Mourinho’s surprise, Fernandes’ performances and statistics in his second season in Lisbon showed that he is in fact the real deal, despite struggling to make a name for himself in Italy. 

Inconsistency plagued his game before a return to his native Portugal. After impressing as an 18-year-old in Serie B with Novara, Fernandes was snapped up by Udinese in an era when they were producing and nurturing young talent at an incredible rate. 

But while the likes of Roberto Pereyra, Luis Muriel, Alex Meret and Duvan Zapata all made their mark on Italian football during Fernandes’ four-year spell in Udine, the Portuguese himself struggled, with just 11 goals and 13 assists to show from 95 games when he moved on in 2016.

It was a similar story at Sampdoria, where he racked up five goals and two assists in his one season stay before joining Sporting.

So what has made the difference?

“I have grown so much,” he said during his first season back in Portugal.

“At Sporting I have found the trust and I am at home. I had the chance to come and I immediately picked it up.

“There are those who say that defeats teach a lot, but also learning to win is not bad.”

Signing players who know how to win will undoubtedly boost Man Utd as they attempt to return to the glory days of Fergie’s era. 

The interest in Paulo Dybala is evidence of that, and Fernandes also knows what it takes to lift trophies.

The 24-year-old has picked up two Taca de Liga titles in two years and also triumphed with Sporting in this year’s Taca de Portugal, but he didn’t stop there.

Named Primeira Liga Player of the Year for the second successive season, he impressed enough to go to the UEFA Nations League Finals with Portugal – where he would form part of the winning team, as well as featuring in the Team of the Tournament.

“A player of his quality cannot be replaced,” Sporting boss Marcel Keizer said when asked about Fernandes’ potential departure this summer.

“Sporting wants to keep the best but we are not in a position to keep all of our players and something will happen but I do hope they can stay.”

Manchester City had been sniffing around the midfielder, but now it is rivals United who are in pole position to sign him – and what a signing he could be.

“If he [signs for Man Utd] then we will face him. He’s obviously a really good player,” Klopp said after facing Fernandes and Sporting in a 2-2 friendly draw earlier this month.

“They have already a few really good players, so that will probably make them stronger. It’s not nice.”

He may not emulate Ronaldo, but, as Klopp’s words show, Fernandes would be a statement signing.

Man Utd have not had many of them in recent years.

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