The Portugal international has become one of the finest creative midfielders in the business, but a former coach wanted him to line up in defence
Bruno Fernandes has become a talismanic presence for Manchester United in a playmaking post, but the Portuguese has revealed that he was once told by a youth coach that he would only be “really good” as a centre-half.
Like many aspiring youngsters, the talented midfielder started out in a defensive berth.
He showed plenty of promise in the roles he was asked to fill, with those looking to mould his development convinced that any future in the game would lay within a back four.
Fernandes has proved that assessment to be considerably wide of the mark, with the 26-year-old now a creative influence in the middle of the park that club and country look to for inspiration.
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“I played central defender for the most part when I started playing football, either central defence or right-back,” Fernandes told the UTD Podcast.
“I was really good, I had a coach who said to me, ‘If you want to be a top player, you will need to play as a central defender. If you want to be a good player, you will be a midfielder’.
“I think he was wrong but, maybe as a central defender, I could be much better, I don’t know! At the time I didn’t like to play there, but everyone was saying I was a good defender, they said I was smart, that I covered the sides.”
Fernandes added on his move up the field: “The coach looked at the list of players, and because some were on vacation he said, ‘Oh we have no strikers’ and I said ‘I’m a striker!’ He said, ‘I thought you were a central defender’ and I said, ‘No, I don’t play there anymore, I’m a striker!’
“So he gave me one try-out in training, I scored twice and he said ‘OK, you can play a striker!’ He played me as striker in one game, then, in the second game, I was like a fake nine with two strikers, and after that I moved back to number 10 and number eight.”
Fernandes has also revealed that his relentless drive and ability to brush off knocks is due to having played against boys much older than him when he was honing his skills on the streets of Portugal.
“I grew up with my brother who is five years older, and so I grew up playing with him and with his friends,” Fernandes said.
“Most of the time, I wouldn’t play because he didn’t want me to play with his friends – I don’t know if he was afraid that I was too good for them!
“I was a difficult boy at the time because I always wanted to play with the older ones and the problem was I didn’t want to just play, I wanted to be the best out of all of them. And if I need to do a nutmeg on someone, I will do it – I don’t care.
“And at that point, when you play with older guys, they are mad when they see a little boy do that, everyone starts shouting and laughing at them saying ‘Hey, you took a ‘meg from a little boy!’
“And then someone can come for you and kick you… so I think sometimes my brother was afraid of this and other times he knew I was good enough to play against them, and so he just doesn’t want problems!”
Fernandes has taken in 33 appearances for United since securing a switch from Sporting in January 2020, with 18 goals and 13 assists recorded across those outings.