You don’t have to be Benoit Blanc to notice the sense of liberation surrounding Bruno Fernandes right now.
Between signing for Manchester United in January 2020 and the summer of 2021, Fernandes was the thrilling lynchpin in the club’s midfield. His restless energy and creativity set the standard for everybody at Old Trafford to follow.
We all know what happened next; a certain international team-mate of Fernandes rejoined United and demanded the same role despite his failing legs and a hair-trigger temper.
Fernandes, like many of United’s attacking talents, suffered in Ronaldo’s presence. Shrinking from the limelight, while abdicating penalty and free-kick duties, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the midfielder carry a towel onto the pitch in case Ronaldo’s shoes needed shining mid-game.
In the six months since Ronaldo’s departure, Fernandes has flourished once again. As United secured their Champions League return with a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea, the 28-year-old was central to everything good about their play.
As light turned to dark on a warm Manchester evening, Fernandes nutmegged Wesley Fofana with the ease of a professional magician fooling Liz Truss into handing over all her money in the name of economic growth.
Stalking into the penalty area, Fernandes was on the receiving end of Fofana’s frustration as the humiliated Chelsea defender left his leg dangling. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the United man fell over it and converted the resulting penalty. Easy as that.
Bruno killed Fofana pic.twitter.com/sNo14JxMes
— Terry Flewers (@terryflewers) May 25, 2023
As United’s players started to make their way back towards the halfway line to restart the game, a small altercation threatened to break out after Fernandes covered his ears.
Some of Chelsea’s thoroughly embarrassed players took exception to his actions, eschewing the opportunity for self-reflection, but the stand-in United captain dismissed their grievances in his post-match interview.
Asked what triggered the small scuffle, Fernandes told Sky Sports: “Nothing. I just celebrated the goal.
“I was a little bit frustrated to not get my goal; I had a big chance that I had missed and I was a little bit frustrated. That’s it.”
Addressing the achievement of clinching a top-four finish, Fernandes added: “Yes, it is decent, but it is not perfect because we want more. But what we have done this season is great; we have won a trophy and got the top four.
“That was our goal at the beginning for the Premier League and now it is about finishing the league well and going into the FA Cup to try and win.”
The result not only meant United qualified for the Champions League, but that they consigned arch-rivals Liverpool to their first season outside of Europe’s elite competition since 2016-17.
“We know it means a lot [to the fans],” Fernandes added. “For us it’s about getting our goals. We know we’d be happy also for Liverpool to not be there but for us it’s about getting the best for ourselves.
“They’ve (fans) been amazing for us. We’ve won many games at home. They’ve been creating a great atmosphere for us. They know how important they are for us. We just appreciate all the effort.”
As United gear up for a summer of reinforcement and optimism, Fernandes’ return to his former self will gladden everybody associated with the club.
By Michael Lee