Bruno Fernandes is finally a Manchester United player after nearly a year of speculation, costing a reported £47 million from Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese midfielder will be instantly tasked with saving United’s season and propelling his new club into the top four. Fernandes’ stats suggest he has massive boom-or-bust potential, but given United’s current situation, a high-stakes gamble is the right thing to do.
United has been a chore to watch for most of this season. The club was sorely lacking for creativity in midfield even when Paul Pogba was available, and it has been moribund while he’s been injured. Attacking midfielders Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard, in particular, have been taking abuse from United fans in recent weeks. It’s clear at this point that neither is good enough to be a No. 10 for a top-four team in the Premier League.
Enter Fernandes, who has a chance to fill the most glaring hole in United’s lineup. He’s a bonafide attacking midfielder who has tallied 39 goals and 30 assists in the Portuguese Liga over the last two-and-a-half seasons with Sporting Lisbon. Importantly, he’s the type of player who can create something out of nothing and provide a spark.
Fernandes is perhaps the best highlights player in the world today. I mean that in a slightly derogatory way, but I’ll elaborate later. Here’s 18 minutes of tricks and long range bangers, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Fernandes’ statistical profile, from StatsBomb, looks pretty decent. Last year, he was an exceptional volume shooter and a good playmaker.
This season, he has stepped up his creative output considerably without toning down his shooting at all. He is still above 90th percentile for shots attempted by an attacking midfielder or winger in the Portuguese Liga, but he’s now the best player in the league when it comes to open play Expected Goals assisted. He’s creating clear-cut chances for his teammates at a much higher volume than he did previously.
But there are drawbacks to Fernandes’ game that likely explain why United reportedly didn’t have a lot of competition for his services. A £47 million fee for a player with Fernandes’ goal and assist numbers is a bargain in today’s transfer market, but those numbers come from an exceptionally high rate of low-percentage plays. Fernandes is middle of the pack in passing percentage, and well below average in Expected Goals per shot.
His passing sonar shows a ridiculously high average passing length, in addition to a lot of incomplete passes. United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will probably ask Fernandes to keep it simple a liiiiiittle more often. Fernandes is all about attempting Hollywood balls.
Fernandes’ shooting map, which shows how many shots he’s taking to put up those solid goal numbers, is also unique. Only 17 of his 55 open play shots have come from inside the box, and several of them have come from more than 30 yards out. A lot of these shots are just wasteful attack killers.
Fernandes’ playing style is all about high risk and high rewards. The same can be said for United’s decision to sign him. He’s a bit of a late bloomer to be making this move at 25 years old. His previous stint in a top league, four seasons in Serie A, was neither spectacular nor disastrous. It wouldn’t be surprising if Fernandes simply failed to produce against a higher level of competition.
But United has few other options. The club couldn’t secure its summer transfer targets, and was recently rejected by Erling Haaland despite an offer for presumably more money than he’s making at Borussia Dortmund. Nearly a decade of poor results and worse managerial hires has taken a toll on the club’s reputation, to the point it now has more money to spend than quality players to spend it on. Fernandes might not live up to his price tag, but he’s also talented enough he could turn out to be a bargain.
United isn’t going to make it into the Champions League with a safe signing or two. The Red Devils sit six points behind fourth-place Chelsea, with Pogba and Marcus Rashford out indefinitely. They lack creativity even when those two are in the lineup. Finding a player like Fernandes was United’s only shot at top four.
I don’t know if Fernandes is a good or bad signing for Man United, but he is a sensible one for a club that is getting left behind.