“I have the desire to play England, this is the league I want to play.”
Not for the first time, Bruno Fernandes has made his Premier League wish public.
The Sporting midfielder had a superb 2018/19 season and with scouts rocking up at the Lisbon club repeatedly, it seemed just a matter of where he’d go, not whether.
Tottenham Hotspur made an attempt before they somehow managed to get Giovani Lo Celso on a try-before-you-buy basis, yet it wasn’t enough for Sporting.
“The only serious proposal, which was still only verbal, was a €45m bid from Tottenham for Bruno Fernandes, plus €20m in goals,” club president Frederico Varandas told Sporting TV.
“Twenty million in goals which were about Tottenham becoming the Premier League winners, which they never were, and winning the Champions League, which has also never happened. So I found these goals extremely imposs…. difficult to accomplish. And I understood not to sell Bruno Fernandes.”
So, as Lisbon saw it, the offer was €45m dead.
This was for a player who scored 32 goals (including 7 penalties) and made 18 assists in 53 club games last season.
Manchester United were repeatedly linked, and despite the perception being the Portuguese media obsessively claimed he was days away from being a Red Devil, it was made clear on countless occasions there was no actual offer.
Correio da Manhã did speak of offers from Old Trafford, however, they were pretty much on their own with the insistence. The English media repeatedly talked up the potential move also, although the word coming from Manchester United, and delivered by the usual sources, was that there was no interest.
Paul Pogba’s situation may well have had a greater weight on the situation than previously thought, something which was edged forward in Portugal. The media there was excited, they knew he deserved a big move, so when they did start saying Pogba may need to go first, it felt like they were slowly letting go of a dream.
Since the close of the window, it’s been reported Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was concerned about Bruno’s passing accuracy, with the attacking midfielder having a success rate of 75% last season.
For comparison, Paul Pogba was 85.4%, whilst Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli were 81.7% and 81.6% respectively.
So far this season, Bruno stands at 78.2%, so maybe it’s an aspect of his game he’s looking to improve on. Interestingly, during the last international break, in matches against Lithuania and Serbia, his figures were 92% and 82%.
There’s every chance that playing with better players would help that troublesome statistic.
Sporting, you see, aren’t very good. That they’ve taken a chance on Jese Rodriguez should underline that point further. When scouts from big clubs turn up at the Alvalade, there’s not an endless list of names to realistically think they could be interested in.
Last season they finished third behind Benfica and Porto, and this campaign, after five matches, they’re fifth. They did win the Portuguese cup, with Bruno scoring in all six matches he played in.
And, so what? If Bruno Fernandes could get close to translating his other statistics to the Premier League then who would care about a few percentage points lost on passes when they can bathe in all those lovely goals and assists.
He likes a bit of a risk, clearly, but there’s a pay-off for that, and he’s a more of an attacking minded player than many believe.
From his side, the recently turned 25 year old may be wondering what more he can do. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez recently spoke publicly of a potential move next summer, and, still, Bruno continues to wink at English clubs.
Many players in his situation would be ending their sentences with ‘Hala Madrid!’, but, nope, it’s the cut and thrust of the Premier League which clearly attracts this footballer.
Perceptions can sometimes be misleading. There will be people, one of whom isn’t too far from here, who have wondered whether he’s got the bite, anger, aggressiveness needed to succeed at a big English club.
That if someone screamed at him too loudly he may have a little cry.
Him kicking two Boavista doors in after a recent red card perhaps shows there’s a little bit of animal behind the innocent looks. And who isn’t strangely drawn to a footballer who physically attacks not one, but two, defenceless pieces of wood?!
When the transfer rumours started, and it was clear he and Joao Felix were going to be the big Portuguese sagas of the summer, we at Sport Witness started taking more notice of the games of the big Lisbon two.
And Sporting basically were Bruno Fernandes, he was the man they looked to, and at times he felt he should be given a cape to go with the captain’s armband. From February onward it was more of an event if he didn’t score in a match than if he did.
As the summer window came into sight, it was Manchester City who were first linked. They’d been talking to Sporting about a partnership between the two clubs and, naturally, that encouraged claims of Bruno talks also happening.
Jorge Mendes was said to be on the case, and City were getting the chunk of stories.
Sport Witness had it confirmed at the beginning of May that Mendes had no involvement at all in any Bruno negotiations, maybe if he had been involved so early things would have turned out differently.
Bruno is represented by Miguel Pinho, who is also his brother-in-law. Whilst he represents other players, he’d never masterminded a transfer of such a level.
Portuguese newspapers had Pinho flying repeatedly between Portugal and England, trying to get an offer from Manchester United or Tottenham.
As August started, Mendes was pulled in as assistance, something which was also confirmed to Sport Witness. By that stage, and with less than two weeks left of the Premier League window, the super-agent, who was also busy with his own clients, would have had to pull off some sort of miracle.
He didn’t have the time, and it may be telling that Gedson Fernandes, a highly rated 20 year old Benfica midfielder, has since left the Pinho stable.
The best that could be conjured was that €45m from Spurs, something which Varandas knew he couldn’t accept. Benfica had just sold Felix for around €120m and that handed the Sporting president added pressure.
Sure, Felix is potentially a generational talent, but Bruno was the man in Portugal last season, and if the club couldn’t even get half of the fee Atletico Madrid paid then it wouldn’t look very good.
Under pressure since taking the job, such is the political situation at the club, and picking up the pieces from the Bruno de Carvalho reign of terror, Varandas had to look strong.
He wanted the headline €70m figure, yet it’s not too difficult to believe had a club offered something like €50m plus €10m in realistic bonuses and €10m in Ballon d’Or type fantasies that he’d have caved.
Sporting needed the money. Their failure to get that deal made selling Bas Dost almost compulsory.
He ended up at Eintracht Frankfurt, and since then the German club’s general manager Fredi Bobic has made the desperation very clear: “We have been interested in Bas Dost for a long time. In the beginning, Sporting did not want to sell him for less than 15 or 20 million. We made a lot of money [in the transfer market] and the other clubs thought they should not set limits on their claims. What is certain is that after the English window closed, Dost’s value suddenly dropped to €7m.”
The Portuguese press took that as absolutely relating to Bruno.
Now the midfielder continues to lead Sporting forward from the front. Three goals and four assists in five Liga NOS games so far, and one goal in his only Europa League appearance, show he’s continuing his form of the last campaign.
He wants England, he’s continuing to do his thing on the pitch to make that a realistic aim. There can be no certainties whether a player will be a success regardless of what is paid for him, yet it’s surely fitting that someone gives Bruno Fernandes the chance.