Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United’s second half ‘super brat’
As Mohamed Salah wheeled away in delight and Liverpool toasted their sixth goal, with the final, humiliating blow still to be delivered by the right boot of Roberto Firmino, the board went up to signal the end of Marcus Rashford’s afternoon. Cue an almighty wobbler in the centre circle from Manchester United’s second half super brat, Bruno Fernandes, who threw up his arms in disgust as if to ask why it was not him who was coming off.
Football audiences are no strangers to the sight of Fernandes’ histrionics. But this was insolence bordering on insubordination and the final, pitiful act of a player whose rank petulance seemed to take on ever darker shades as United’s Anfield meltdown deepened. This was not any player, either. This was United’s de facto captain, the man who has worn the armband pretty much all season in the absence of the official club skipper Harry Maguire, now a mere footnote at Old Trafford, a player to whom others should have been looking for leadership.
There are few better individuals to chronicle United in these moments of abject despair – of which there have been an almost incomprehensible number in the past few years – than Gary Neville and pure disgust dripped off the Sky Sports pundit’s tongue as he cast a scornful eye over Fernandes’ hissy fit. “I think some of his behaviour in the second has been a disgrace,” the former United defender fumed.
When Erik ten Hag described United’s capitulation as “unprofessional”, no one embodied that description more damningly than Fernandes. Sure, there was slapstick from Luke Shaw. Antony will doubtless get a dressing down over his lamentable role in Liverpool’s fourth goal. Lisandro Martinez had his mind scrambled by Mohamed Salah and Diogo Dalot needs telling you can’t defend your goalline from five yards inside the net.
Yet, when Ten Hag comes to watch it all back, few things may disappoint United’s manager quite like Fernandes’ wretched behaviour. As someone who places such a premium on high standards and discipline, it simply cannot go unaddressed.
The Portugal midfielder’s form has fluctuated this season – matchwinner one moment, maddening the next – but there had been clear signs in more recent times of him hitting a consistently high level and proving a central cog in Ten Hag’s apparatus, be it in his preferred No. 10 role or from a wider position on the right.
Yet this was felt like a day when so many of the assorted horrors from last season – indifference, indiscipline, incompetence – wormed their way back into public view and Fernandes’ personal strops, play acting and, by the end, surrender were a fitting reflection of a side that totally lost the plot after an encouraging first period.
At one point late in the game, having been beaten on United’s left touchline, Fernandes just stood still and refused to chase back – real white flag territory. In another instance, he even seemed to shove the assistant referee, Paul Adcock, in anger. Before then, there had been the unedifying sight of Fernandes being caught in the chest by a flailing arm from Ibrahima Konate and then hitting the deck clutching his face like he had chinned by the Liverpool defender. It warranted a booking. “That’s embarrassing from Fernandes,” Neville snorted with derision.
There was a game last season, away to Newcastle, when Fernandes – together with Cristiano Ronaldo – were rebuked for angrily waving their arms around in frustration and annoyance at team-mates. Now the act really is wearing thin. “I am fed up of the sight of him throwing his arms around, whinging at everyone,” Neville said. “He has to put in a captain’s performance. That wasn’t a captain’s performance.”
Roy Keane, another United captain, was no less scathing. “Fernandes’ body language was disgraceful,” he said. “He’s so much talent but his body language – waving his arms, not running back, you wouldn’t be happy with him in your dressing room tonight.”
Ten Hag could do a lot worse than start with his captain when the post mortem begins in earnest on Monday.