This season, Bruno Fernandes has been more effective at whining at teammates than taking penalties for Manchester United, and the refusal of anyone to give anything back is another issue.
The video is over two and a half years old, yet it was good enough to be included in the Erik ten Hag brochure that Manchester United executives went through.
It’s seven days before Christmas in 2019, and Ajax is playing in the Dutch Cup second round in front of 5,000 supporters at second-tier SC Telstar. Only 17 days before, Noa Lang became Ajax’s first player in 60 years to score a hat-trick on their first full league appearance.
If Lang, who was 20 at the time, though he was entitled to any slack from his management, he was in for a rude awakening.
Ten Hag growls, “Noa, you have to run deep.” Lang, Ten Hag’s junior by 29 years, has the brass neck to complain.
“You have to stop talking,” Ten Hag retorts. “You must pay attention. All you have to do is get started. No, remove it. It’s not just your game; it’s ours as well.” The camera pans to Lang, who is totally terrified.
Lang was loaned out to Twente a month after his brush with Ten Hag. There could be a reason Lang is now a permanent member of Club Brugge. He made such an impact that Louis van Gaal considered him worthy of selection in the Netherlands squad in October, and Lang has three caps, despite being removed from the squad last month.
Lang was escorted out the door when Ajax signed Ryan Babel. Ajax’s XI vs the NEC Nijmegen on Saturday included six more Premier League outcasts. Daley Blind, one of them, is still in contact with individuals at United and assures them that Ten Hag is steadfast.
In the tape with Lang, Ten Hag’s voice seems scratchy, and he may lose it yelling at Bruno Fernandes. Fernandes has been erratic and lacking in quality for the whole of this season, and he is deserving of another demotion.
At first, Fernandes’ lip was energizing at United. On his debut against Wolves, he was on the case of teammates, and he famously silenced Pep Guardiola in the final Old Trafford encounter before the Covid-19 outbreak forced football’s suspension.
Fernandes had only been at United for two months when he took a squad from Europa League fodder to Champions League qualifiers. His presence was totemic, and he backed up his words with game-winning moments, creating something from nothing.
This season, that talent has dwindled. Fernandes’ advisers would use that dreadful new phrase in football jargon, ‘goals and assists,’ of which there have been 22. It can deceive a football club’s leadership into awarding an unnecessary contract, but not the public. When that stats-padding statement is uttered, a player commits the sin of underperformance.
Fernandes’ whining has grown irritating. At Arsenal, he set up a short corner with Alex Telles in the first half, only to threaten the crowd with an overhit cross. Fernandes had the audacity to criticize Telles.
Telles does not appear to be fully committed to playing for United, content with his quota of appearances as long as he remains in the Brazil squad. He remained silent. There have been numerous instances where a teammate has remained mute following a verbal salvo from Fernandes.
Is Fernandes willing to back it up? Not with crowds in the way. He is the best – or worse – example of a Manchester United player who thrived in the sterile training ground environments of behind-closed-doors matches only to wilt when the turnstiles were reopened. Fernandes made 19 of 20 penalties and missed one with the stands empty. With them packed again, he has missed both in regulation time.
The challenge for Fernandes would have been to control games if United had started the season with a legitimate coach. That is clearly beyond his comprehension. That ability distinguishes the genuinely world-class players, and Fernandes gave up that rank a long time ago.
Some in the Manchester United locker room may have felt sorry for Fernandes as he teed up Granit Xhaka 13 minutes after his erroneous penalty. On Saturday, with the wristband affixed to his bicep, Fernandes flailed like Harry Maguire until he got ensnared.
At United, according to Roy Keane, there are “no characters.” Harry Maguire is as well-versed in the media as an MP, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka is so quiet that he may never have talked to certain teammates. David de Gea speaks candidly, yet he appears to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after playing for United for so long.
Ten Hag may see Fernandes as a possibility for the captaincy next season if he deposes Maguire. Unlike the England Test team, United lacks an obvious short-term solution, and there is a persuasive case for it to be shared among a new leadership group, or to purposefully weaken its significance and award it to De Gea, should he survive the squad cull.
At the very least, United should have another manager ready to pierce players’ egos, which have been inflated by the star-struck Ed Woodward. Ralf Rangnick has begun to throw players under the bus and has only refrained from identifying names.
Rangnick has eight more press conferences to attend, and popcorn, rather than the Family Circle biscuits on display at Carrington, might be a more appropriate treatment.
“Whenever we pressured Arsenal today, we caused problems for them,” Rangnick explained. “But we didn’t do it often enough; we should do it more frequently, with greater intensity, and with more players involved.” It has a greater effect if all of the players dash against the ball than it did today.”
Ten Hag will insist on additional running.