Bruno Fernandes is performing admirably for Portugal at the World Cup, and his recent play for Manchester United has been encouraging, with the captaincy bringing out the best in him.
Manchester United have had a wonderful World Cup so far, with some of Erik ten Hag’s players producing their greatest form on the biggest platform, none more so than the brilliant Bruno Fernandes.
Even the narrative gods are on Fernandes’ side. Every connection he has with former Manchester United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo is being analyzed, especially after Ronaldo did not identify his international colleague as a player he admires in his explosive TV interview.
So when the attacking midfielder’s excellent cross was almost glanced in by Ronaldo against Uruguay on Monday, it fit the storyline perfectly. Ronaldo raced off to try and claim his 119th international goal, but the stadium announcer gave the goal to Fernandes, as did FIFA. Ronaldo‘s sheepish grin when seeing Fernandes’ face light up on the big screen said it all.
Ronaldo appeared pleased at full-time, as he would after a major win for his team, but he had to be disappointed that Portugal got a penalty soon after he was withdrawn. Fernandes scored again and had two late chances to complete a hat-trick in the World Cup. His disappointment at not being able to take them demonstrated what it might mean to a player.
The 28-year-old has two goals and two assists in two games in Qatar and is in contention for the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s top player. However, his performances for his country come following a period in which he found his greatest form for Manchester United as well.
Interestingly, twice this season Ten Hag has spoken about how Fernandes thrives when he captains United, a role that is his only when Harry Maguire isn’t on the pitch, which has been a fairly regular occurrence.
At the end of August, after he’d scored in the win at Southampton, Ten Hag said the captaincy gave Fernandes an “impulse” and just over a week ago he elaborated on his leadership.
“That’s also one of the things [he’s impressed me with], I think he’s really an example,” he said.
“The way he transfers the way of play from us, how he motivates around him, how he is the example, so the energy he gives to the team, that’s really good and so I’m happy with his performance.”
Fernandes has worn the armband with his club 15 times this season and his record is exceptional, with United winning 12 of them and the only defeat coming in the 6-3 loss at the Etihad. It’s a superb record.
If the Portuguese playmaker is proving a skilled and inspiring leader, whose own performances improve with the responsibility of the captaincy, then there must be a time when he inherits the role permanently from Maguire.
This is probably an unfair time to be questioning Maguire’s role, with the center-back once again producing his best for England on the biggest stage, but before the season paused for the World Cup he was beginning to look like fourth-choice for that position under Ten Hag.
Having a club captain who is so far down the pecking order is not an ideal scenario and with Fernandes leading on the pitch and Maguire off it, it could become complicated.
Ten Hag backed Maguire for that role during the club’s pre-season tour of Australia, although he did stress he wanted more than just one leader as well.
“I’ve always considered captaincy to be a problem that I control. Team building is crucial to me, and I constantly refer to a group of leaders. The captain is quite essential to me, and I am pleased with him “He stated.
Ten Hag clearly recognizes the importance of the captain’s role, which is why a change may be necessary at some point. If Maguire remains on the outskirts of his best team, the current setup appears untenable.
Fernandes has already proven this season that he is qualified to be captain, and his performances for Portugal show that he can rise to the situation.