The next Manchester United manager will have to come up with a formula for success this summer and if this season has provided anything, it’s that talent alone is not enough. United haven’t lacked for individual quality at times this campaign, but they haven’t always played like a team and the subject of leadership has never been far from the surface.
Most of that debate has centered around Harry Maguire’s captaincy — and that will be one of the first big decisions for a new manager — but there’s also been the wider issue of who is trying to steady a ship that had started to list badly.
There are leaders within this squad, however, and it was a role Bruno Fernandes took to on his arrival at United in January 2020. Within weeks of arriving, he was handing out on-pitch dressing downs to teammates who weren’t meeting his standards , something which happened a lot back in that team.
READ MORE: Fernandes signs new United contract
That trait has been less obvious recently and Fernandes has had to focus on his own form this season, although he’s not alone in having a campaign that is below his usual standards. He also has a tendency to become distracted when things aren’t going for him, arguing with officials and becoming engaged in squabbles with opponents who are working out which buttons to press.
But Fernandes found form for his country in midweek and will have a spring in his step against Leicester City this weekend, having signed a contract that could keep him at United until 2027, while also giving him a significant — and well-deserved — pay rise .
If United do decide on a change of captaincy this season then Fernandes is certainly a candidate, having worn the armband on seven occasions alone this season. The 27-year-old should certainly be part of a leadership group, but the praise that football director John Murtough placed on Fernandes when he confirmed his new deal felt significant.
Murtough’s sphere of influence at Old Trafford is growing and in Fernandes, he clearly sees not only the type of outstanding footballer United need but someone with the character to drive the club forward. Representing United can be a daunting prospect that weighs heavy on the shoulders of some, but Murtough clearly thinks Fernandes can play a key part off the pitch as well as on it under the new manager.
“Bruno’s work rate, dedication and fantastic attitude are exactly what we want from a Manchester United player. He is the ultimate professional with many fantastic attributes to drive the high standards required to play for this great club,” said Murtough.
“Bruno, like everyone across the football club, remains hugely ambitious and determined to deliver sustained success on the pitch to get us back to challenging for titles.”
You don’t need the armband to drive high standards, of course, but this is a ringing endorsement of Fernandes’ off-field qualities, which have often come under the microscope as well.
The pressure on United to sustain a proper title challenge and show the kind of improvement expected under a new manager is going to be significant, so players with the attributes that Murtough has listed above are going to be invaluable.
Fernandes’ contributions on the pitch might not have been as regular this season, but there is little doubt he will return to peak form sooner rather than later. But for a new manager, it might be his character that’s valued as much as his quality.
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