Indefatigable Fernandes defies belief

Wednesday 28 February 2024 22:04

Much has been made of the fact that Bruno Fernandes has not missed a game due to injury since joining Manchester United.

Our no.8 was only absent due to illness, for the 3-2 victory over Tottenham in 2022, when his Portugal team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick. He has been suspended but he has stood up to the rigours in astounding fashion since 2020.

Towards the end of Saturday's defeat to Fulham, he took a heavy knock and appeared to hurt himself in the closing stages. Manager Erik ten Hag flagged him as a doubt for the Emirates FA Cup fifth-round tie at Nottingham Forest and he was believed to be struggling to prove his fitness.

Once again, showing his character and commitment, the midfielder led the team out at The City Ground but, four minutes in, he was caught when setting up Antony for a shot that clipped the bar.

Report: Forest 0 United 1


A late goal in front of our travelling fans at The City Ground sets up a blockbuster Emirates FA Cup quarter-final tie.

Watching him from close quarters, it was obvious he was in trouble. Not only was there a grimace, but a hobble that effectively ruled him out of the action for a good few minutes.

Ten Hag sent Christian Eriksen and Kobbie Mainoo out to warm-up in front of us and the writing looked on the wall for Fernandes.

However, having had the pleasure to interview him, he told me that he hates missing any of the action and can rest when he retires. He's always top, or towards the top, of the players who rack up the most minutes and it's like a personal affront if he's denied the chance to do what he loves doing.

I continued to monitor him closely as he started moving a little more freely again. I've watched a hell of a lot of football over the years and you can detect when somebody is carrying a knock that inhibits them. As he tried to remain physical and make challenges, each one seemed fraught with the danger of upping the pain.

Still Bruno persisted and, after being sent crashing to the floor again, he complained to referee Chris Kavanagh, but nothing was doing. The brushes and collisions may be inevitable in a game of this level but it did feel somewhat like the Forest players were aware this was a wounded animal they could joust and jostle. Casemiro appeared to calm his colleague down at one point but Fernandes plays on the edge, and never shirked a challenge.

He was sent tumbling again when the hosts broke to fire a shot over through Neco Williams but he lasted until the interval, when, presumably, some treatment would be applied, and there would be a chance to assess the problem.

I didn't expect Bruno to reappear after the interval but, inevitably, he did. And he grew in influence as the tie wore on.

A block on Morgan Gibbs-White early in the half showed he was okay and he continued pressing to good effect. When referee Kavanagh did award him a free-kick, when caught by Ryan Yates, he still showed his frustration at another late clip and this led to boos from the home crowd.

Suddenly, the shots started coming from the Portuguese magnifico, bending one off target with the outside of his boot, seeing a goalbound effort deflect wide of Scott McTominay, keeping Matt Turner earnest with a long-range skimmer and then only managing a tame effort from a Marcus Rashford dummy.

Instead, he would have to look to be the provider, releasing Rashford, only for the England international to smash wide and then producing the matchwinning assist. With 89 minutes gone, Bruno opted for a flat free-kick that found its way through to Casemiro, whose header got the final touch to send the away end into delirium.

Job done, after a lengthy VAR check? Of course not. When Callum Hudson-Odoi hurdled Casemiro's tackle, who was back to make the challenge? Bruno. When trying to run down the clock at the end, there was a spat with Felipe by the corner. The Forest man grabbed Fernandes by the neck but he was smiling afterwards, perhaps ruefully reflecting Casemiro had been sent off for a similar, probably lesser, offence against Crystal Palace last season.

Bruno has played better, far better, than this, as have United. But his input in helping ensure a difficult obstacle is overcome to set up a quarter-final cracker with Liverpool should not be underestimated. He clearly played through the pain and led from the front.

Bruno Fernandes grits his teeth and gets on with it.

When I think of United captains over the years, the likes of Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Roy Keane instantly leap to mind. Footballers who would run through brick walls for the badge and put their bodies on the line, game after game.

Steve's son Alex is part of our MUTV team here, with us in Nottingham, and when I spent some time with the pair of them last year, they were joking about how the United defender would never go off injured, as we watched footage of the famous game against Sheffield Wednesday in our first Premier League title-winning season.

Such character embodies the club and Bruno's determination and indefatigability can never be in question. The home fans near me catcalling and describing him as a "cheat" as he made his way off the pitch missed the way he soldiered on when his body must have been screaming to come off. In that respect, he was doing the opposite of cheating.

Let's just hope he's fit for the Manchester derby on Sunday.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.