Bruno Fernandes: Remembering the Portuguese Sensation's First Year as a Professional

03 July 2020 04:08

Every great success story has a humble beginning. And while Manchester United fans are only concerned with Bruno Fernandes' chapter at the Theatre Of Dreams, his story is a humbling one that is testament to his qualities as a footballer.

While Fernandes signed for United in January for a superstar fee that could rise to £67m, the 25-year-old has had to work tirelessly to put that price tag over his head. Their other major Portuguese success story - Cristiano Ronaldo - joined United from Sporting directly after impressing Sir Alex Ferguson in a preseason friendly.

Bruno, however, had to work his way up in every league he played, before finally getting his big break in Manchester.

Born in Maia, Portugal, Fernandes spent his time as a youth playing for Boavista, before moving to Italy at just 17 years old. After spells with Novara, Udinese and Sampdoria, the Portuguese playmaker returned home to Portugal with Sporting, off the back of the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship.

Fernandes had to move away from home for a career as a professional

It was here that his ascent to superstardom truly took off. Fernandes scored four goals in his first five Primeira Liga games, immediately letting his talents be known to his new teammates.

He finished his first season at Sporting with 16 goals in all competitions. With only Bas Dost in front of him, Fernandes had already stamped his authority on the side and made his presence felt in Europe, impressing in the Champions League. Two consecutive Primeira Liga Player of the Year awards in 2017/18 and 2018/19 further propelled him into the limelight as their main event star, and earned him an improved contract with a €100m release clause.

If his performances hadn't already painted the picture, the release clause certainly did. Bruno was quickly becoming a star, and the possibility of a move to a top European side was slowly becoming a probability.

Rumours of a move to Manchester United ahead of the 2019/20 season didn't materialise, and Fernandes remained with Sporting. His electric form continued, despite the uncertainty surrounding him, which meant that this time United were desperate to get their man. He got his move in January 2020 and has been a breath of fresh air in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

It's been a fairytale for fans, but a long time coming for Fernandes. At age 17, he left Portugal for Italy, leaving his family and future wife at home while he signed for Serie B side Novara, for a fee of just €40,000.

Speaking to Portuguese outlet Record, he explained how he had just €50 to live off during his first six months with the club: "When I got there I had a basic salary, which was the minimum in Italy, of €1,500, but I started receiving it from February. I was from June to February with €50 that my mother gave me in June for me to go."

How did he survive on such little money? Passion.

"Those €50 lasted until January, because I didn't leave the gym. I lived with what I had. I was happy. I had a ball, I had fields… it was enough for me".

The humble beginnings are testament to Fernandes' undying passion and commitment to the game, which explains his meteoric rise at Novara. He started in the youth setup, but after scoring three goals in his first six appearances, then-manager Giacomo Gattuso decided to take a punt on the young prodigy.

His first appearance came in November 2012. A substitute for Simone Pesce, Fernandes was given the last 15 minutes or so against AS Cittadella to try and turn his side's fortunes around. And while Novara would ultimately lose the game 1-0, they won with the debut of their new Portuguese prospect.

Fernandes, while quiet and humble off the pitch, was the opposite on it. He took charge, picking up the ball in midfield and dribbling past Cittadella players with the confidence of a world beater. He almost put the icing on the cake with a goal on his debut, but smashed the ball against the crossbar.

There was no looking back from here on in. Fernandes would continue to appear in Novara's first team, with local press dubbing him the 'Maradona of Novara'. He settled quickly off the pitch, too; he had learned the Italian language within the first few months of arriving, which again is testament to his character today.

Fernandes playing in Serie B

He finally got his first goal for Novara - and his first at senior level - in February 2013. He opened the scoring in an eventual 6-0 thrashing of Spezia Calcio, bursting into the six-yard box and quickly reacting to a low driven cross, before tapping past the keeper.

Appearances would continue to rack up and subsequently his stock would rise, as Fernandes finished the season with four goals and two assists from 23 games. His final goal for the club would prove to be his best strike, and once again proved to spectators that this unknown, Portuguese teenager was destined to become a main event player.

In a 3-2 victory against Sassuolo in April 2013, Fernandes picks the ball up on the edge of the 18-yard box, before rifling home a dipping right-footed effort, leaving the keeper with no chance. It was a fantastic finish that displayed superb technique, but his confidence to take it on while being pressed by two defenders made it even more impressive.

Novara narrowly missed out on promotion to Serie A in the 2012/13 campaign - falling short in the play-offs and finishing fifth - but Fernandes was taking the step up regardless. He transferred to Udinese for the 2013/14 season, making his way into the Italian top flight in just his second season at senior level.

Fernandes played with Udinese for three years from 2013

It took Bruno some time to truly find his feet, considering he was thrust into the senior game so early. But after working his way up through the ranks and slowly garnering a reputation in Italy, he got his heroes return to Portugal in 2017, signing with Sporting.

Now at Manchester United and a 17-cap Portugal international - at the time of writing - Fernandes feels like a superstar. With the majority of his career ahead of him, however, he still has plenty of room to grow into, which is what make his journey even more exciting.

His combination of talent and drive is exactly what the heart of the United squad has been missing for years, making him the ideal poster boy for a new-look Red Devils.

Source: 90min