Is Manchester United transfer target Bruno Fernandes really worth the hype? – The Independent, Independent

Is Manchester United transfer target Bruno Fernandes really worth the hype? – The Independent, Independent


Obstacles remain butBruno Fernandescould soon be aManchester Unitedplayer. In negotiations involving the agent Jorge Mendes, Fernandes is keen on a move to Old Trafford, which leaves Sporting and United to settle on a fee.


That is not a mere formality. United’s preference in this window has always been to explore short-term options for cover in midfield, so as not to block or complicate moves planned for the summer, with James Maddison still greatly appreciated by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and others at the club.


Senior club sources stressed the difficulty of making January signings at the start of the window. Solskjaer refrained from making any adjustments to his squad this time last year while still serving as caretaker manager and this time last week, he was playing down the chance of any new arrivals.



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At the same time, United have remained open to any opportunities which may arise. Signing a 25 – year-old on a lengthy contract, for a fee likely to make him the club’s fifth-most expensive player of all time, would indicate that Fernandes is considered too good a player to turn down.


So, is he? Fernandes would certainly arrive with a lot of hype after carrying his impressive – 24 output into this season. An astonishing goals and 19 assists last year – predominantly from a central midfield position – has been followed by goals and assists this term in a slightly more advanced role.




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It is worth dissecting these numbers. Of his combined goals over the past season -and-a-half, just over a quarter of them are penalties. If he joins United, he will most likely have to share spot-kick duties with Marcus Rashford and the returning Paul Pogba. Just like that, a chunk of his raw scoring output could be lost.


But 39 non-penalty goals from attacking midfield in 18 months is still an excellent total. No Premier Leaguemidfielder comes close over the same period. Maddison, by comparison, has over the same period. Only Kevin De Bruyne could hope to come close to Fernandes ’output, had he not missed the majority of last season through injury.


Fernandes’s impressive goal-scoring record is down to his volume of shots, many of which come from distance. This year and last he has attempted an average of 3.7 shots-per-game in the Primeira Liga, which is comparable to Mohamed Salah’s output at Liverpool while playing in a generally more advanced position.


Think of other attacking midfielders who regularly speculate from long-range and Philippe Coutinho comes immediately to mind, particularly during his final days at Liverpool. Over the last four seasons, Coutinho has averaged around 3.6 shots-per-game – marginally less than Fernandes, even when deployed as a wide forward.


De Bruyne, meanwhile, is shooting more this season than he has done previously during his Manchester City career and his efforts have been rewarded with seven league goals. His total of 3.1 shots-per-game is the best of any out-and-out midfield player in the top flight and yet still some way short of Fernandes’s output in Portugal.


              Fernandes’ passing accuracy is lower than many of the Premier League’s elite midfielders (Getty)       


The opportunities Fernandes takes up may often come from distance and not always the best route to goal – only two of his eight league goals this season have come from outside the box, compared to of his shots – but his willingness to try things could help a united side which has consistently struggled against organized opponents.


If he joins, he will not only have been bought for his scoring ability. Fernandes’s passing may appear fairly ordinary when judged by his per cent completion rate when many top-flight midfielders hover around the per cent mark. But this ignores the types of pass Fernandes is playing – long, ambitious and difficult to perfect.


This time, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold provides a good point of comparison. His pass completion rate is actually marginally lower than Fernandes’s, but Jurgen Klopp is comfortable with Alexander-Arnold losing possession in order to maximise his play-making gifts. The risk is deemed worth the reward and Fernandes is a similarly aggressive passer, searching for the right ball rather than the safe option.


This is not to say that Fernandes will have the creative impact of De Bruyne or Alexander-Arnold if he joins United, nor is he certain to score from midfield with the regularity of Coutinho or even Maddison. The huge caveat to all of these statistics and comparisons is whether Fernandes can reproduce his Primeira Liga output in the Premier League, a significantly higher level.


There is certainly a sense in Portugal is that Fernandes has outgrown his homeland’s domestic league, having returned after a decent but unspectacular time developing in Italy. In a four-year Serie A spell taking in Udinese and Sampdoria, Fernandes never scored or set up more than five goals in a single season.


These were formative years in Fernandes’s career – he returned to Portugal at – years-old – and he has since developed into a more dominant and influential midfielder. But making any major signing from outside of Europe’s top five leagues carries risks. Nicolas Pepe’s gradual adjustment to life at Arsenal shows that even having an exemplary season in Ligue 1 is no guarantee of immediate success.


United want midfielders and see one who offers something that others in their squad do not. Sporting are eager to secure the second-highest outgoing transfer fee in Portuguese football history in order to help pay off significant debts. Fernandes himself wants to prove that he can maintain his outstanding level of performance in a new environment. There is no reason why he can’t but should he sign, whether he will is another question.


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