Why Fernandes needs Sancho: Neil Humphreys
Man United's Portuguese talisman could use a jolt at Old Trafford
Life was good for Bruno Fernandes. He was the biggest fish in Manchester United's pond, the rising star in a faded franchise.
Last season cemented his status. Eighteen league goals and 12 assists reiterated his consistency and confirmed his position as the main man.
And then Euro 2020 happened.
Or it didn't really happen, not for Fernandes. From United's shiniest light to Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow, he struggled with the adjustment. In truth, he disappeared.
Portugal lost faith in him. He was substituted in their first two games and started on the bench in their last two, unable to make an impact in any of them.
A couple of shots against Hungary in Portugal's opening 3-0 win were as good as it got for Fernandes. No goals, no assists and a particularly peripheral display in a 4-2 defeat against Germany felt like a final nail. He didn't start another match.
Ronaldo was his obvious problem. Even though both men play in different positions, they take on similar responsibilities in different places. Ronaldo plays the conduit for Portugal. Fernandes does likewise for United.
Everything goes through them.
At Old Trafford, Fernandes generally roams where he pleases, much to the delight of a manager still in search of a definitive pattern. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Portuguese handyman filled the gaps.
At Euro 2020, Fernandes served the bronzed icon. Ronaldo won the Golden Boot in the process, but Fernandes lost his way.
Jadon Sancho can bring him back.
Once the youngster's £73 million (S$137.2m) United move is completed, he'll lift Fernandes' spirits, not to mention his energy levels, and provide the Red Devils with a spectacular forward line.
On initial inspection, such a claim seems contradictory. A player of Sancho's prodigious ability may tip the balance of power in his favour, forcing Solskjaer to build around the 21-year-old kid with the brightest future.
But Sancho isn't Ronaldo. For Portugal, the ageing colossus almost acts as an injured batsman in cricket, allowing willing runners to do the hard yards for him. When he's needed to strike a ball, he'll step in and deliver.
But Sancho shares the workload. He revels in his own industry. At Borussia Dortmund, his 16 goals were eye-catching. But his 20 assists arguably sealed the deal for United. He brings teammates into the game, regularly, at speed.
The forward boasts a high success rate when it comes to successful dribbles and entries into the box.
In this regard, Fernandes is swopping old Ronaldo for a younger version - a clever, inventive speedster, ready to support and assist.
Fernandes finally has a teammate that can match both his artistry and intensity. Paul Pogba has those attributes, but not quite the focus that he always seems to find for his country.
Sancho will improve Pogba, Fernandes and even Edinson Cavani. With the unfortunate Marcus Rashford ruled out with injury, the younger Englishman's timing looks impeccable.
As United juggled last season's domestic fixtures with a run to the Europa League final, fatigue took its toll, both collectively and individually. Their drift towards mediocrity and another trophy-less campaign became self-perpetuating.
Fernandes struggled to take control of key contests without adequate support and grew increasingly weary. But Fernandes couldn't rest without adequate support and failed to take control of key contests.
Sancho can break that cycle.
Ironically, Fernandes may leave behind an awkward relationship with Ronaldo at international level to enjoy the kind of fruitful relationship that Wayne Rooney once had with Ronaldo at United.
Fernandes and Sancho are both capable of drifting out wide to share the running, before threading a path into the box, especially if Pogba provides protection.
The two men played out similar storylines at Euro 2020. Neither talent was given a real, sustained opportunity to replicate their club form.
That should change now.
At Old Trafford, Fernandes and Sancho's partnership will give them the kind of attacking freedom that their remarkable talent deserves.