Erik ten Hag is showing Manchester United player Bruno Fernandes what he thinks of him – Steven Railston

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The ‘Football For Dummies’ book will no doubt outline that it is inadvisable for a football club to give new contracts to players with an interim manager in charge. Manchester United defied that rule by giving Bruno Fernandes a new deal last season.

The appointment of Erik ten Hag was yet to be made official and Ralf Rangnick was in charge when Fernandes’ contract extension was announced in April. If United had to make an exception to that rule for any player at the club, it was always going to be just for Fernandes. The midfielder has been United’s best player since making the move to Manchester in January 2020.

Fernandes made the switch to Old Trafford for £ 47million from Sporting Lisbon and he made an immediate impact. Fernandes scored 12 goals and created eight assists in his first 22 appearances during his debut campaign – which was interrupted by the pandemic – and he swiftly became the driving force behind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. His impact was remarkable and his displays were talismanic.

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Fernandes won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award and he claimed that prize again the following season. That was Fernandes’ first full campaign at United and it was even more impressive. Fernandes contributed 28 goals and 17 assists in 2020/21.

His value to the team exceeded statistics, though. Fernandes was the catalyst for every transition, he was instrumental in the final third and he possessed the ruthless mentality that the dressing room had been missing. Fernandes was clearly a winner.

Fernandes sadly did more moaning than winning last season. He was never in contention for a third consecutive Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award – that would have been an incredible achievement – and his performances were well below the standards he set in the two campaigns prior.

Fernandes is guilty of being wasteful in possession and he was often seen rolling around on the floor and complaining to the referee instead of getting on with the job at hand. Fernandes would be a certainty to succeed Harry Maguire as captain without his petulant behavior.

Fernandes also lost his head with Portugal this month, appearing to shout ‘f *** you’ to the opposition bench and it was a reminder that Fernandes plays the game on the edge. That’s definitely not a bad thing, it makes him the world-class player he can be, but that energy needs to be channelled.

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Although fans have grown frustrated with Fernandes, he has credit in the bank with supporters, although there is recognition that he was not at his best last season. Fernandes certainly was not alone in that – only David de Gea, Cristiano Ronaldo and perhaps Fred truly performed at an acceptable level – but he needs to rediscover his form under Erik ten Hag, who wants to sign two new midfielders this summer.

The Manchester Evening News understands United are making progress in talks for Frenkie de Jong, who is Ten Hag’s priority signing this summer, and the Dutchman also wants to bring Christian Eriksen to Old Trafford, who is available on a free transfer.

Ten Hag is expected to play three in midfield next season and Fernandes has been a guaranteed starter – rightly or wrongly – during his time at the club. A midfield three of Fernandes, De Jong and Eriksen would be unbalanced and lacking physicality, though.

Ten Hag might only start two of those three players in matches, with the final position left for a more defensive-minded midfielder to take. Eriksen is clearly the most likely to deputise but he will give Fernandes intense competition, which is something he hasn’t had at United. Donny van de Beek and Juan Mata were the closest players that were considered as competition to Fernandes.

It could be argued Fernandes was superior to those two even on his worst days, but he won’t be starting by default with Eriksen potentially at the club. Fernandes will have to earn his place in the starting XI and he certainly did not earn it last season.

Fernandes was always going to be given a new contract, but his performances regressed after he signed his extension. Fernandes might be world-class, but he’s not exempt from complacency and increased competition for his place can only be a good thing.

Ten Hag signing two new midfielders could be the wake-up call that he needs to return to his very best.

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