Bruno Fernandes – Sporting CP’s midfield metronome hot on the radar of Europe’s giants
Written by Vinayak Manoj & Srinivas Sadhanand
Born in a small town in Portugal near Porto called Maia, Bruno Fernandes’ humble beginnings were at local club, Infesta in the youth league in 2002. However, Fernandes’ move to fellow regional club, Boavista kicked his career into gear. A central midfielder by trade, he had to put in the hard yards during his development stage to make it to the top. Fernandes progressed through the club till the Under 19 category, after which he was signed by Serie B outfit, Novara Calcio in 2012. Describing his signing as “rather unusual”, the Portuguese stated that the scout had come to watch one of his teammates in action but preferred him and decided to take him on board.
At the young age of 18, he decided to take a major step and travel to a foreign country with a top quality league in order to exhibit his talents. Fernandes’ seamless transition saw him catch the attention of the connoisseurs of Calcio with stellar performances throughout the campaign as he led Novara to a fifth-placed finish and had 4 goals and 2 assists to name.
The midfield gem made the step up to Serie A as he was acquired by Italian giants, Udinese for a fee of 2.5 million euros in 2013. Fernandes spent 3 years at Udinese, during which he made 95 appearances and scored 11 goals along with 13 assists. As is the case with any young talent, Fernandes was loaned to Sampdoria with an obligation to buy at the end of the season as he was not always a guaranteed starter at Udinese. Allegedly FC Porto, one of Europe’s primary conveyer belts for the most sought after talents in world football almost bagged the midfielder before his transfer to Sampdoria was finalised.
With 4 goals and 3 assists in 35 appearances, Fernandes continued to show promise but his true calling was returning back to his homeland. Sporting CP, home to Portugal’s finest footballers in the past such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo brought the chequebook out to sign Fernandes for a cool fee of 8.5 million pounds.
Fernandes wasted no time in making his presence known on his Champions League debut for the club against Olympiacos where he slotted a calm finish past the goalkeeper to settle the tie. The midfield talisman grew from strength to strength and finished the season with an excellent tally of 16 goals in all competitions, only behind striker Bas Dost in the club’s goalscoring charts. However, Fernandes’ game is way beyond merely scoring goals.
The Maia-born midfielder operates as a No.10 and is responsible for driving the team forward, setting pace to Sporting’s transitions up the pitch. He is an expert passer and sews the midfield to the attack to split defences. A set-piece specialist, Fernandes scored 5 free kicks in his debut campaign and is a constant threat from dead ball situations.
Despite the fact his fellow teammates failed to often pull their weight alongside the phenomenal Fernandes, his performances never looked like they would drop a level. Inconsistent displays from his fellow teammates saw Sporting finish behind FC Porto and Benfica in 3rd place and miss out on Champions League qualification. This unleashed the wrath of the supporters who attacked their team’s training ground and injured several of the players, including Fernandes.
Despite the following of such horrific scenes, the classy midfielder deservedly won the Portuguese Player Of The Year. Fernandes’ stock had certainly skyrocketed as he put pen to paper and signed a 5-year contract with a buy out clause of an astronomical 100 million pounds.
The 2018-19 season has seen Fernandes look nothing short of unstoppable. After a brilliant debut season, it would be expected to see a sophomore slump from him but Fernandes has only made forward strides and looks like the finished article. Netting 23 goals in all competitions, Fernandes surpassed Antonio Oliveira’s 37-year old record of the most number of goals scored by a midfielder in the history of Sporting CP. However, it is his all-round game that makes him such a unique proposition for clubs across Europe.
With a staggering 2.8 key combined with 2.1 tackles and interceptions per match, Fernandes is a force to be reckoned with in both halves of the pitch. He has also operated in a host of positions this season, from attacking midfield to a No.6 role and also an advanced left-winger position, showcasing his one-of-a-kind versatility.
A man that rises to the occasion, Fernandes showed no signs of cold feet against former employers, Boavista as he struck a goal in the two contests against them and stepped up with a brilliant goal from outside the box against table-toppers Benfica.
At the age of 24, Fernandes has proven that he can be the vital cog that a mirage of top teams undergoing a transitional period are in dire need of to revamp their side
Fernandes was heavily linked with Manchester City and all the speculation pointed towards a 55 million pound move to the Etihad for the Portuguese star. However, recent reports have indicated that the defending Premier League champions were never interested in the first place and this was merely a case of agents trying to fuel rumours of a transfer. However, analysing Fernandes’ attributes, it is easy to see why he would be a perfect fit at not only City but other clubs that he has been touted to join such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain.
Pep Guardiola has Europe’s standout midfield at his disposal, however, what he lacks is a replacement for veteran Fernandinho. At 34, the Brazilian international has proven that age is just a number with lionhearted performances in midfield, however, it is imperative to find a long-term solution for him. While Ilkay Gundogan has stepped in admirably, the German has voiced the possibility of him leaving the club during the summer. Fernandes is not a direct replacement to Fernandinho but he is capable of operating at the base of the midfield as his defensive output and distribution is second to none. Apart from Fernandinho’s age, his injury record of late has not inspired confidence and in comparison, Fernandes has avoided the stretcher. The Sporting man could also be deployed further forward and occupy one of the ‘free 8’ roles of either Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva.
The former has been ravaged by injuries this season and while Bernardo Silva has been the best possible replacement during the Belgian’s absence, Fernandes would offer a fantastic alternative as well to not only play in place of De Bruyne, but also in tandem. David Silva is also a victim of the age factor and while he has been undeniably world-class during his time in English football, his form over the past 2-3 months have shown signs of his age catching up to him. Fernandes’ versatility makes him an instant Guardiola favorite.
Manchester United have undergone a crisis season once again and with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s honeymoon period at the helm coming to a bitter end, the Red Devils will be front and centre of the transfer market to bring reinforcements. Paul Pogba has been accused of hot and cold performances and there is no disputing that, but it must be acknowledged that the Frenchman is carrying the weight of the United midfield on his own shoulders. The PSG-bound Ander Herrera is a tenacious player but lacks the creativity to support the Frenchman in driving the team forward and Nemanja Matic’s seems long gone at the elite level. Fernandes, on the other hand, would bring a much more balanced option as he is an extremely exciting prospect, but simultaneously, he does not shy away from doing the dirty work in the middle of the park.
Despite Liverpool’s tremendous foray into the Champions League final and trailblazing Premier League season, the Reds have lacked a No.10 to unlock defences. While Xherdan Shaqiri and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain are brilliant options to have, the former is clearly not Jurgen Klopp’s go-to-man and the latter’s injury-hit campaign means he will need plenty of time to return to his best. With Nabil Fekir’s transfer failing to come to fruition, the acquisition of Fernandes would make him the club’s most complete midfielder alongside workhorses such as Fabinho and Jordan Henderson.
Paris-Saint Germain’s constant struggles in the Champions League mean Nasser Al-Khelaifi readies his finances and sizes up his options in the transfer market. The French champions have decided to let go of Adrien Rabiot on a free transfer, an indication of the club’s ludicrous management of players as this represents a major loss in both qualitative and financial terms. Similarly, Giovani Lo Celso was sent on a season-long loan to Real Betis with an option to buy and the Argentinian’s stupendous performances made it a no-brainer for the Spanish club to trigger this option in April 2019. Marco Verratti, the jewel in the crown of PSG’s midfield is a generational talent, however, his persistent injuries mean the club cannot always bank on his services. Marquinhos has had to be deployed as the anchor in midfield and while he has stepped up in an unfamiliar position, this is simply not good enough for a club of the aspirations of PSG.
Fernandes presents a brilliant option, who could offer the comprehensiveness that a Verratti offers while staying fit and being capable of operating deeper if demanded.
Bruno Fernandes has not shied away from the fact that he wants to don the colours of a side in either England or Spain and there is certainly no shortage of suitors this summer.
“My debut season at Sporting was the first time I played so many games, I thought I needed one more season with that kind of regularity. Now I feel prepared for this requirement if I ever have to play in England or a team in Spain.” He told Sport TV.
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Image 1 via Mondo Udinese