Portugal’s driving force at World Cup 2022 | Sunday Observer
Bruno Fernandes:

Portugal’s driving force at World Cup 2022

5 February, 2023
Bruno Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes is a professional footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder for the Portugal National Team and Premier League club Manchester United. He is known for his goal scoring, play-making and leadership. He represented Portugal at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics and made his senior international debut in 2017. He was chosen for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, 2019 UEFA Nations League Finals, UEFA Euro 2020 and 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Fernandes started his career at Italian Serie B side Novara before moving to Serie A side Udinese in 2013, followed by Sampdoria three years later. After five years in Italy, he signed with Sporting CP in 2017, where he was named club captain. He won back-to-back Tacas da Liga in 2018 and 2019, as well as the Taca de Portugal, leading to him being named in the Premier League Team of the Year and Player of the Year in both seasons.

In 2018/19, he scored a record thirty-three goals, making him the highest-scoring Portuguese midfielder and the highest-scoring midfielder in Europe in a single season. His performances sparked the interest of several Premier League clubs, with Manchester United signing him for an initial €55 million in January 2020, becoming securing the second-highest fee for a Portuguese player leaving the domestic league.

Player Profile

Fernandes is a direct, energetic box-to-box play-maker who is capable of both taking on defenders and setting the rhythm of play. Directness also means that he tends to take a lot of risks with the type and level of passes he attempts to complete. However, despite being prone to turnovers, he typically presses the opposition right after losing possession.

He boasts a prolific goal scoring record from the midfield position and frequently shoots from outside the penalty area. He is an accurate free-kick and penalty taker. His movement off the ball is also key, with him often roaming around the attacking areas of the pitch or dropping deep to pick up possession.

Beside operating in the attacking midfielder role, he can also operate in a deeper central midfield role, or as a second striker. The former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand praised his leadership abilities, stating “he was one of the players in the game that leads by example.”

Birth and Growth

He was born Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes on September 8, 1994 in Maia, Metropolitan Area of Porto. He supported the club Porto, due to his mother being a supporter of the club, and Manchester United as idolized his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane and Stephen Ireland, whom he looked to emulate.

During his childhood, Fernandes used to play football on the streets with his older brother Ricardo, who was also a professional football player. His father, who had emigrated to Switzerland, wanted Fernandes to move with him, but he refused, due to the standard of football in Switzerland.

Fernandes began his youth career at local club Infesta. Growing up, he joined Boavista, who offered him transportation to training. Fernandes started his career as a centre-back, before being converted to an attacking midfielder at the age of 15, following a loan to Pasteleira.

He has tattoos on both of his arms with the number 8, in which he tributes to his birth date and to his father, who was also a footballer and wore the number 8 shirt, during his playing career. The letter F symbolizing his surname and the number 23 as a tribute to his debut with the Portugal national team, aged twenty-three.

Fernandes moved to Italy at 18 and his childhood sweetheart Ana Pinho joined him there and they married in 2015. The couple have a daughter Matilde, born January 30, 2017, and a son Goncalo, born September 6, 2020. Fernandes is multilingual, apart from his native Portuguese, he is fluent in Spanish, English and Italian and speaks French.

International Career

Fernandes took part in the 2014 Toulon Tournament with the Portugal under-20 team. In this competition, he scored against Chile, helping Portugal to a third-place finish. He represented Portugal at under-19, under-20, under-21, and under-23 levels, for a total of 28 caps. Prior to his international debut, he was named captain of the under-21 team. He scored four goals and provided four assists in Portugal under-21 qualification campaign.

Fernandes took part in the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, helping Portugal to a group stage finish, and scoring a goal against Serbia in the opening match. Fernandes represented Portugal in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, starting every game and the team reaching the quarterfinals. Fernandes won his first full cap on November 10, 2017 in the 3 - 0 friendly win over Saudi Arabia.

FIFA World Cup 2018

Fernandes was then selected by Fernando Santos for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. He scored his first goal on June 7, with a header in the last warm-up match, a 3-0 victory over Algeria. Fernandes’ first World Cup game took place on June 15, 2018, when he played 66 minutes in a 3-3 group stage draw against Spain. Portugal was eliminated following a 1-2 lost to Uruguay.

Fernandes played three matches in the league phase of the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League group stage, helping the hosts Portugal qualify to the inaugural Nations League Finals in June 2019. In the UEFA Nations League Finals, Fernandes played both matches as Portugal beat the Netherlands 1-0 to win the trophy and was named in the “Team of the Tournament.”

Fernandes was a member of Portugal’s final squad for the delayed UEFA Euro 2020 tournament, appearing in all games of the eventual round of 16. On March 29, 2022, Fernandes scored both goals in Portugal’s 2-0 win over North Macedonia in the final of the World Cup qualification play-offs to ensure Portugal’s qualification for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

FIFA World Cup 2022

In October 2022, he was named in Portugal’s preliminary 55-man squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and later included in the final 26-man squad. On November 25, Fernandes provided two assists in Portugal’s 3-2 group stage win against Ghana.

On November 28, he scored both of Portugal’s goals in a 2-0 victory over Uruguay, securing his team’s qualification to the knockout stages. On December 6, he provided an assist in a thrashing 6-1 win in the round of 16 match against Switzerland and became the second-oldest player to ever score in the tournament.

In the process, he equalled a 56-year record for Portugal directly involving in five goals since 1966 when Jose Torres and Eusebio both reached that feat. Portugal’s world cup journey ended when they lost to Morocco 0-1 in the quarterfinals.

Club Career

Fernandes joined Novara in Italy on August 27, 2012. After only a few weeks with the youth sides, he was promoted to the first team in Serie B, and went on to appear in the league games during the 2012/13 season, helping his team to fifth place.

In 2013, Fernandes decided to sign for Udinese and made his debut in Serie A on November 3, coming on as a second-half substitute in a 0-3 loss against Inter Milan. Fernandes scored his first league goal on December 7, 2013, in a 3-3 draw at Napoli. He scored again in the second match between the sides in a 1-1 draw.

On August 16, 2016, Fernandes moved to Sampdoria and made his league debut twelve days later, playing six minutes in a 2-1 win over Atalanta. Fernandes scored his first goal for his new team on September 26, in a 1-2 loss to Cagliari. He scored five goals in 33 Serie A appearances during the campaign.

On June 27, 2017, after returning from the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Fernandes joined Sporting CP on a five-year deal. On August 6, 2017, Fernandes made his debut for the club in a 2-0 victory against Desportivo das Aves.

He scored four goals in his first five Premier League games, including a brace in a 5-0 win against Vitoria de Guimaraes. His first appearance in the UEFA Champions’ League group stage was on September 12, an eventual 3-2 win at Olympiacos. He finished his first season 2017/18 with 16 goals, second only to Bas Dost and provided twenty assists, being named in the Premier League Team of the Year and Player of the Year.

Fernandes scored his 23rd goal of the 2018/19 campaign during a 3-1 win against Portimonense on March 3, 2019, through a late penalty, surpassing Antonio Oliveira’s club record for goals by a midfielder in a season. On May 5, he scored a hat-trick in an 8-1 rout of Belenenses SAD, in the process becoming the highest-scoring Portuguese midfielder in a single season of all time, with thirty-one goals to his name.

He scored his 33rd and final goal of the season on May 25, 2019, during Sporting’s victory against Porto in the Taca de Portugal final. He was named Premier League Player of the Year for the second successive year for his performances in the 2018/19 season.

He scored seven goals in his first ten appearances of the 2019/20 season, including a run of scoring in six consecutive appearances. This made him the third Sporting player to do so in the 21st century, after Mario Jardel and Bas Dost. On November 28, he scored twice and assisted twice in a 4-0 victory over PSV Eindhoven.

On January 29, 2020, Manchester United reached an agreement with Sporting for the transfer of Fernandes for a fee of €80 million. The transfer was officially completed the following day with him signing a five-and-a-half-year contract.

He made his debut on February 1, playing the full 90 minutes of a goalless draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers. In Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Chelsea on February 17, he provided an assist for the second goal. Fernandes came on as a late substitute for Manchester United against Club Brugge in a 1-1 draw on his European debut for the club.

He scored his first goal for Manchester United against Watford on February 23, converting from the penalty spot in an eventual 3-0 victory at Old Trafford, a match in which he also provided an assist. His first European goal for the club came in the second leg of their UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie against Club Brugge, in which he scored a penalty, helping them to a 5-0 victory.

On March 16, Fernandes was voted as the Premier League Player of the Month for February. On June 30, Fernandes scored his first brace for the club in a 3-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion. For his performances in June, he won multiple club and Premier League awards, including Premier League Player of the Month and Goal of the Month, becoming the first player to win both awards concurrently in Premier League history.

He also became the first Manchester United player to win back-to-back Premier League Player of the Month awards since Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2006/07 season. In September, Fernandes was named as the winner of Manchester United’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award, given to the club’s best player from the previous season.

On September 26, Fernandes scored his first goal of the season against Brighton & Hove Albion in the 100th minute of a 3-2 win at the Amex Stadium; it was one of the latest goals in Premier League history, and came after referee Chris Kavanagh had blown the final whistle, before a video assistant referee awarded United a penalty which Fernandes converted.

On November 7, Fernandes scored a brace and provided an assist against Everton to secure a 3-1 win. He was named Premier League Player of the Month for November in recognition of his four goals and one assist that month, and again in December after scoring three goals and providing four assists in that month, becoming the first player to win the award four times in a single calendar year.

He scored one goal and made two assists in United’s Premier League record-equalling 9-0 win against Southampton on February 2, 2021. He finished third in terms of top goal scorers in the league with eighteen goals and second among the top assist providers with 12. On April 29, he scored twice and assisted two more goals in a 6-2 win over Roma in the first leg of the Europa League semi-finals. He also provided an assist in a 2-3 loss in the return leg, which allowed United to advance to the final.

On May 26, Manchester United drew 1-1 against Villarreal after extra-time, in the Europa League Final, but eventually lost on penalties, despite Fernandes netting his spot kick in the shoot-out. In the opening match of the Premier League season, Fernandes scored a hat-trick against Leeds United in a 5-1 win. He then scored in the team’s next game against Newcastle United with a powerful shot from 25 yards.

On November 23, Fernandes provided an assist in United’s 2-0 victory against Villarreal in the Champions League, becoming the first player to provide an assist in five consecutive matches of a Champions League campaign for an English club. On December 2, Fernandes made his 100th appearance for the club, opening the scoring in United’s 3-2 win over rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford.

On April 1, 2022, Fernandes signed a new contract which will keep him at Manchester United until June 2026, with the option of a further year. On May 2, he scored his 50th goal for Manchester United in the club’s 3-0 win over Brentford.

On July 1, Manchester United changed Fernandes’ squad number from 18 to his preferred number 8. Fernandes scored his first goal of the season on August 27, 2022, volleying in the only goal in a 1-0 win at Southampton.

On January 3, 2023, Fernandes made his 150th appearance for the club, assisting a goal in United’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth. Two weeks later, Fernandes scored and provided an assist in a 2-1 win over rivals Manchester City, helping United to extend their winning run to nine in all competitions.

On January 18, Fernandes became the Manchester United midfielder to register the second most goal contributions in the Premier League, behind Paul Scholes, after scoring in United’s 1-1 draw to Crystal Palace, registering his 100th goal for the club.

(The author is an Associate Professor, International Scholar, winner of Presidential Awards and multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil, and double MSc. His email is [email protected])