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The Fernandez family have become regulars at Manchester United games. Each week, they fly in from Spain in the hope that this will be the day their son, Alvaro, makes his first-team debut.
And although their wait is now stretching through the summer, the sense around Old Trafford is that that moment is tantalisingly close.
Fernandez was on the United bench for their final four games of last season – reward for the form that saw him named as the club’s Under-23s Player of the Year.
And this week, as United have returned to pre-season training, the 19-year-old has been among the group involved in Erik ten Hag’s first sessions, giving Fernandez an early chance to catch the new manager’s eye.
Ten Hag is likely to be impressed, given Fernandez has been impressing everyone at Carrington since he joined the club from Real Madrid in 2020 as part of United’s aggressive drive to pluck some of the best young players from Europe’s leading clubs and drop them into their own academy structure.
Hannibal Mejbri was already at the club having been lured from Monaco, while Marc Jurado and Alejandro Garnacho were signed from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, respectively, at the same time as Fernandez was brought in.
Of the quartet, Fernandez is perhaps best placed to force his way into Ten Hag’s plans, even if the club are targeting a new left-back in the shape of Feyenoord’s Tyrell Malacia.
Regardless, Fernandez’s performances at youth level have been impossible to ignore. Fast, brave, two-footed and with an eye for goal, he is a modern full-back in the style of Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo.
He is rampaging in full flow, with quick feet to get him out of tight spaces and the technique and vision to split defences with his passing.
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He has even developed a cult following among fans who pay attention to the U23s team, or who have seen some of his highlights on social media – most notably his wonderful solo goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge that saw him spin past three defenders into the box before rifling home a shot from a tight angle.
Goalscoring is something that comes naturally to Fernandez, having been converted from a striker to full-back at a young age.
“I loved scoring goals,” he told Brand. “There was a season at Racing de Ferrol when I scored more than 100!”
Fernandez admits that the most difficult part of his transition to playing in defense is “running backwards”, but it is something he has improved upon since arriving in Manchester.
“There’s that culture in Spain where it’s ‘attack, attack, attack,'” Paul McShane, the United youth coach who also plays for the U23s, told the Manchester Evening News when asked about Fernandez and his compatriot Jurado, who plays on the opposite flank, “and I’m trying to bring a little bit of ‘defend, defend, defend’ as well to their mentality.”
It is Fernandez’s attacking instincts, though, that make him so thrilling to watch, and such an exciting prospect.
Among his idols was Madrid legend Marcelo – a player he dreamed of emulating after joining Real in 2017 from Deportivo la Coruna.
But when his progress stalled in Madrid, United swooped, and the way in which the teenager has been able to settle into life in a new country while in the midst of a pandemic has been as impressive as his performances on the pitch.
For the first six months of his time in England, Fernandez was confined to his digs for all-but one hour’s training a day, and he used the time constructively, becoming near-fluent in English.
On the training ground, McShane was tasked with working individually with Fernandez on the defensive side of his game, while he has embraced the physical nature of English football.
“My characteristics have fit perfectly,” he said. “I wanted to come to England to improve in defense, and it’s impossible not to progress marking Cristiano [Ronaldo], [Juan] Mata, [Jadon] Sancho and [Marcus] Rashford every day in training. ”
Fernandez was there for Ronaldo’s very first session back at United following his move from Juventus in August 2021, and is a moment he cherishes, having hero-worshiped the Portugal forward when he was starring for Madrid.
Mata, though, was the senior player who truly took his compatriot under his wing before the World Cup-winner’s departure this summer.
Fernandez, though, has both the character and talent to survive without a mentor.
As well as his flair going forward, another notable quality of his game is his love of a tackle – no doubt inspired by another of his idols, Sergio Ramos.
It only adds to the growing belief within United that he is ready to make the breakthrough at first-team level, though there are clubs further down the pyramid, including ex-United coach Kieran McKenna’s Ipswich Town, who have shown an interest in signing him on loan this summer.
Either way, a professional debut is surely only a matter of weeks away. Regardless of the location, the Fernandez family will be there to see it in person, the proudest people in the stadium.