When Bruno Fernandes lifted his finger to his lips to ‘shush’ Pep Guardiola at Old Trafford, he became an instant hero for Manchester United supporters.
The Portuguese midfielder has made an immediate impact both on and off the pitch for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who are unbeaten since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon for £47m in the January transfer window.
Despite playing just nine games and seeing big-name players such as Radamel Falcao, Angel di Maria, and Alexis Sanchez fail to make an impression before him, Fernandes has already been touted as the club’s best signing since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
The unexpected break in the season due to the coronavirus crisis has halted what was an impressive form for Fernandes, alongside an upturn in results for United heading into the business end of the campaign.
Indeed Fernandes has already endeared himself enough to the Old Trafford faithful that he already had a terraces song in his name.
“Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, he’s from Sporting like Cristiano. He goes left, he goes right, makes defenses look *rubbish*, he’s our Portuguese magnifico.”
And while Fernandes has made an impact with supporters, it’s on the pitch where he’s making the biggest waves.
In January, United had suffered demoralizing back-to-back defeats against Liverpool and Burnley to once again raise questions about Solskjaer’s suitability in one of the biggest jobs in world football.
But the Norwegian and his Red Devils were a team transformed since a deal for Fernandes was completed on 27 January to bring an end to a prolonged transfer saga that had started last summer.
In Portugal, Fernandes was the stand-out player for the last two seasons, winning the player of the year on each occasion, as well as the Portuguese Cup and the Portuguese League Cup twice with Sporting.
He scored 39 goals and provided 28 assists – no player had more goal involvements – and his 239 chances created was 25 clear of the next best, Alex Telles of Porto.
Since the start of February, until the season was stopped, United had won six games and drawn three, scored 22 goals and conceded just twice while keeping seven clean sheets.
In that time, they cut the deficit to fourth-placed Chelsea to three points, progressed to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the last-16 of the Europa League.
Fernandes himself was directly involved in five league goal-scoring twice and providing three assists – with no player in the English top-flight contributing more during that period and capping off his first month by winning the Premier League’s player of the month award.
“He has settled in great. History tells you that bringing in new signings from different leagues in January it is hard to know how they are going to settle,” said United coach Michael Carrick.
“Is it going to be straight away or are they going to need some time? Certainly, Bruno has fitted in great on the pitch and is as important around the pitch in the dressing room.
“He has got a real presence about him and the lads have taken to him well.
“More importantly he has lifted the standard and the spirit within the squad as well.”
Standout moments include his perfectly-weighted chipped pass to allow Anthony Martial to volley home the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Manchester City in the last league game, while he converted nerveless penalties against Watford and Club Bruges.
And his silencing of City boss Guardiola during the derby was one United fans particularly enjoyed, being made into a meme on social media with Fernandes explaining that “at the moment, he did not deserve my respect”.
The 25-year-old’s all-round ability has the Old Trafford faithful reminiscing of the demand and desire of Roy Keane, the vision and passing ability of Paul Scholes, and the touch and class of Eric Cantona – his team-mates have been suitably impressed, being on the receiving end of the standards he expects.
After the 1-1 draw against Everton, in which he scored a long-range drive, a report said that while most of his team-mates felt a point at Goodison Park was not a bad result, Fernandes told them they should be “mad” at failing to win.
Skipper Harry Maguire described Fernandes as someone “with a big personality and aura around him”, former striker Dimitar Berbatov said “United look a different team with him”, while compatriot Diogo Dalot, who drives Fernandes into training every day, boldly claimed he will go on to be a club “legend”.
Alongside academy graduates including striker Mason Greenwood and full-back Brandon Williams, who have both broken through this season, Fernandes may well form a central part of the team for years to come.
“To play for United, you have to deal with it, you have got to be mentally able to cope,” said Carrick.
“There is certainly that expectation – that is standard and comes with it. That is just how it is.”
The early signs are that Fernandes is carrying the weight of expectation without too much strain.