UEFA Champions League Magazine - Episode 21Mar 24
Bruno Fernandes: Man Utd superstar on Solskjaer bust-up reports, flourishing under pressure and realising two dreams
The talismanic midfielder has Paris Saint-Germain in his crosshairs after being handed the captaincy. Watch all the action exclusively live on BT Sport from 7pm tonight.
Few players have had as transformative an impact as Bruno Fernandes has at Manchester United. The Portuguese midfielder immediately translated his talent and exuberance into success at Old Trafford, with his January arrival galvanising a squad bereft of confidence.
The 26-year-old brought deftness, innovation, passion and goals to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s midfield and the results were remarkable.
United presided over a superb run of form in the second half of the 2019/20 season and, inspired by their latest hero, confounded all expectations by emerging from the wilderness to finish third in the Premier League.
Join the home of live football today
BT Sport is the only place to watch live Premier League, Champions League, Europa League and much more.
He single-handedly revived the fortunes of the most famous club in England and has proven that he is not burdened by the weight of responsibility. So much so, he has been named captain for the Champions League Matchday 1 trip to Paris Saint-Germain in Harry Maguire’s absence.
BT Sport subscribers can watch the blockbuster match-up exclusively live on BT Sport 2 HD on TV and online from 7pm tonight.
Champions League Tuesday
Times & channels for all eight matches
PSG v Man Utd is the headline act in what is set to be a spectacular night of action on the competition's return.
From demanding the number 10 shirt at Sampdoria aged 21, to dominating the Portuguese league with Sporting Lisbon, Fernandes has enjoyed a stunning rise. He has encountered more ladders than snakes in his career.
So how would the self-assured superstar react to the club’s substandard start to the new season?
The Red Devils endured a miserable opening day defeat to Crystal Palace and humiliation at the hands of former boss Jose Mourinho and Tottenham weeks later. It was after their joint-heaviest ever defeat in the Premier League and rumours emerged that Fernandes had become embroiled in a stormy encounter with Solskjaer.
Speaking exclusively to BT Sport’s Natalie Quirk in an interview you can watch ahead of kick off in Paris, Fernandes vehemently denied the bust-up reports.
“I don’t like these situations. I don’t particularly care but I speak about it in the press because it’s not fair on the coach,” he said.
No one blames the coach. It was the same team who played unbeaten for 17 games last season.
- Bruno Fernandes
“No one blames the coach. It was the same team pretty much who played unbeaten for 17 games last season, or something like that.
“People want to blame Harry Maguire, they want to blame the coach, so I speak to just clarify nothing happened.
“We lose 6-1, everyone needs to blame themselves. The problem is not one or two or three, it’s the whole team. We didn’t prepare good enough, we didn’t play good enough and it’s everyone’s fault.
“So we come to the training ground after the national team and we know we need to train hard and work better. We did that against Newcastle and I hope we’ll do that against Paris.”
Fernandes was a shining light for Sporting, even when the team were struggling. He also played a pivotal role in Portugal’s Nations League success in June 2019.
Like the very best, he thrives under pressure and is liberated by responsibility but even he couldn’t hide his shock at being named captain for the Champions League opener in the pre-match press conference.
Group of death
As well as these two giants of European football, last season's surprise package RB Leipzig and Turskish champions Istanbul Basaksehir will be competing for a place in the last 16.
“I was not expecting this,” he exclaimed after Solskjaer somewhat dramatically broke the news.
“I found out this the same time as you! It is an honour and an important achievement for me. But the captain is everyone – everyone needs to help and be a leader in their way.”
It is perhaps no surprise that Solskjaer turned to Fernandes. He has scored 15 goals and provided 11 assists in 27 appearances since he arrived in Manchester and has created 74 chances. United have won 63% of games he has played in, too.
Arguably, though, his main attributes are unquantifiable. His statistics are impressive but his influence is inspiring.
How does he deliver under the weight of expectation at Old Trafford?
“I’m the kind of player who likes pressure. I want to do everything under pressure. Without pressure you’re too relaxed, even if you’re focused,” he said.
“You need to put pressure on yourself and surround yourself with people who put pressure on you. My family put good pressure on me too, looking for mistakes I made so I can improve every game.
“There’s fake friends who just say you’re doing well and doing good. But you need people to ask for more than you are giving, so you can strive to do your best.”
He has already clambered the daunting first hurdles that trip up many when they join the Premier League: adapting to the relentless fixture schedule, the physical nature of the matches and the ferocious scrutiny.
All apparently like water off a duck’s back for the unfazed 26-year-old who described his move to England as the realisation of two dreams.
“It’s a dream come true. Two dreams. Playing in the Premier League and for my dream team, I can’t ask for much more. This was the team I always watched and being here is a dream come true.
“I’m enjoying it a lot. The team-mates, staff, coach, everyone in the training ground... have helped me a lot since game one.
“The people in the kitchen are amazing. They want to talk to me about [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo... they want me to have the same routine as him and settle down quickly and they do it really well.”
PSG & Man Utd's odds
The Champions League's top 10 contenders ranked
Find out where the two clubs rank among Europe's leading lights according to the bookmakers.
The Red Devils were widely criticised for their management of the summer transfer window, but the last-minute arrival of Edinson Cavani has gone some way to assuage the detractors.
The 33-year-old Uruguay international has scored 341 goals in 556 club matches, including a record 200 in 301 appearances for Tuesday's opponents and Fernandes has praised the forward’s application at Carrington.
“I’ve known Cavani for a long time from when we played in Italy. He was amazing, broke a lot of records and did very well,” he added.
“He did very well in Paris, I hope he can do the same for us. He’s one of the best in the world inside of the box.
“He can smell the goal. His mentality in training is great, he’s here to do his best and fight for his place. Seeing him play 100% gives you a call to give 100% too.”
Next up for Manchester United are perennial French champions and last season’s Champions League runners-up Paris Saint-German.
Thomas Tuchel was within touching distance of delivering PSG’s Holy Grail in August and alongside Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and company, will be desperate to go one better this season.
Typically undeterred, Fernandes is sanguine about the three-time winner's chances of competing at Europe’s top table this season.
“[Our expectation is] to win every game. Maximum points we can in the group stage. Then take it game by game. We want to go as far as possible of course.
“We never come to a Champions League just to be there and play some games. We want to go to the end.”
Watch Fernandes and Manchester United take on Paris-Saint Germain exclusively live on BT Sport 2 HD on TV and online from 7pm tonight.