Home Sports Heir to the throne: Fernandes can be new King Eric for United

Heir to the throne: Fernandes can be new King Eric for United

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Eric Cantona arrived with a swagger, a colourful reputation and an upturned collar, the spark that ignited Manchester United’s first Premier League title triumph almost three decades ago.

runo Fernandes has been a United player for just over a year and has not won a thing. No trophies yet, not even a cup final appearance, let alone a league winner’s crown.

But while he does not have the same sense of style or movie star looks, there are similarities in what he has brought to the team in a similar stage of its development.

He is less volatile, less controversial, less quotable, but regarding his impact on games, playing culture and the drive to raise standards, the Portuguese is the closest Old Trafford has come to the greatest showman of them all.

As hard as you might try to resist comparing players from two different eras – with two vastly different personalities, who play the game in a different way – it is hard not to be drawn into talking about Fernandes in the same way people were once excited by Cantona.

Fittingly in the modern world of analysis and data, Fernandes’ statistics are stunning, as well as revealing.

In the 58 games he has played since his £47m move from Sporting Lisbon he has been directly involved in 52 goals, with 33 scored and 19 assists.

Despite not playing as a striker, Fernandes has scored 21 times this season, by far the most of any United player.

Steve Bruce was a team-mate of Cantona, his captain many times. He witnessed the impact first-hand, with a front-row seat, as well as a vested interest.

He was stunned by what he saw and was in awe of a player who brought so much to that team so quickly.

As he prepares to take his Newcastle United side to Old Trafford tomorrow he sees the similarities with Fernandes and as an opposition manager, who has just seen Manchester United thrash one of the best teams in Spain – Real Sociedad, 4-0 – there is an acknowledgment that his old club are back on an upward curve.

“The addition of Fernandes has been the key to it all in my opinion,” said Bruce, whose side are sitting fourth from bottom in the table and very much embroiled in a relegation fight.

“Since he walked through the door, he has had that swagger and poise about him which tells you it is his stage. He was ready for it and over the last 12 months he has been terrific.

“They are a very, very good side. On their day, they are as good as anything you are going to face, as we saw against Real Sociedad the other night. But Sheffield United went there a few weeks ago and won 1-0, that’s the beauty of the Premier League, you’ve always got a chance.”

What of those Cantona comparisons? Bruce remembers others who were mentioned in the same breath, but he can see why it is being made now.

“Certainly, in terms of talent,” he said. “But what you have to do is judge people over a period of time and what they have won. Eric was certainly the catalyst for us to go and win things.

“But the way Fernandes has played over the last 12 months, it feels like Eric because it’s his stage, you know.

“Eric adored it, adored everything that went for playing for arguably the biggest and the best club in the world. And Fernandes has done fantastically well doing that as well. The influence he has over the last 12 months, to even compare him to the great Eric, it’s a huge compliment to him.

“Now, he has to go and win things like Eric did, influencing the big occasions. Winning cup finals, winning semi-finals and if he does that, then you can really compare the two. But for it to even be suggested is a wonderful compliment to him.”

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows about the legend of King Eric at Old Trafford, but it is not a comparison he needs to make – or would want to. He is only concerned with what Fernandes brings and it is his attitude, as much as his ability, that delights him.

“He always wants to do the next thing correctly and wants to do the next thing at the best of his ability,” said Solskjaer.

“And that’s a good attitude and quality. Never rest on your laurels, if he scores two, he wants three, he drives everyone on, sometimes he drives too much and does too much, but against Sociedad, he played his position well and you can see how efficient he is.”

Now all Fernandes and United need is some silverware to show for it.

Man United v Newcastle
Live, BT Sport 1, 7.0

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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