Winning the FA Cup in 2016 under Louis van Gaal and winning the Europa League under José Mourinho in 2017 were two highlights from a dull period when Ferguson retired in 2013. years in the club.
In January, the future didn’t look much brighter. The club, which is now managed by former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was in fifth place in the standings by the New Year.
Football was bad, the atmosphere was toxic and star Paul Pogba, once considered a saving grace, seemed about to leave as soon as he could.
But, fast forward seven months, and now there are signs of new life under Solskjaer, especially with the arrival of one Bruno Fernandes.
The Portuguese playmaker arrived at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in January and landed in a side that lacked creativity, quality and leadership.
Luckily for his new hires, Fernandez seems to have all three qualities in abundance.
What’s more, Fernandes has brought back the excitement of Manchester’s red half after years of boring and often depressing performances.
His eight league goals and seven assists show what kind of player United have right now.
“Have [Fernandes] told me about the league, how intense it is to play in this league,” Porto star Danilo Pereira told CNN Sport.
“I am not surprised by the impact he has had on Manchester United. I think United can go back to their golden years with him, Pogba and other players.”
“Really, a very good signing”
If there is such a thing as a typical Manchester United player, Fernandes certainly is.
The attacking midfielder, risk-taker, fun to watch and able to handle the extreme pressure of playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world, was an instant hit.
He has been a leader since day one; he took (and scored) six penalties in his short time at the club, including a key penalty against Leicester City that helped United on their way to the Champions League the following season.
Former players and pundits have raved about his performances since he moved to England, where he won the Man of the Match award in almost every game he played.
“But what I like is that he is quick to move around the field. He knows when to step between the lines. line is fantastic.
“He supports the midfield when they are coming up and struggling a little, and also when the teams put a lot of pressure on them.
“He can play long, he can make short short passes. He has the character to take free kicks and penalties. He is not afraid. He is not hiding. I think Manchester United made a really good choice. “
Adapting to the Premier League is not an easy task. It usually takes time for players to get used to the physical and dynamic nature of the league, but this has not been a stumbling block for Fernandes.
Although his performances in Portugal gave a glimpse of what was to come, such an instantaneous impact took many by surprise.
“But he was a transformative player and a revelation in terms of how quickly he did it, I mean it really was from day one.
“Look at both the number of goals and the number of assists and they are fantastic. If you could keep that kind of shape throughout the season, he would be an incredible player.”
While his individual brilliance is evident, the arrival of Fernandez has witnessed a surge in the number of players around him.
Pogba, in particular, is different from the player who seemed to be weighed down by the pressure of being the biggest star in the starting XI.
The Frenchman’s relationship with the club seemed to hit rock bottom at the start of this season, with rumors constantly circulating linking the midfielder to leaving the club.
Fans were also disappointed that Pogba spent most of the season on the treatment table after two ankle injuries. When they caught a glimpse of him on the pitch, he was often unimpressed.
But now that he’s back from his latest post-isolation injury, there are early signs that a partnership with Fernandes could flourish, and the World Cup winner is suddenly looking more comfortable.
“I think Pogba likes to be surrounded by big players and big characters in their own right, I don’t think he wants to be the only big name there and thus all the pressure falls on him,” Jolly said.
“I think he probably doesn’t want to be in midfield where he is surrounded by mediocrities. I think you’ve already seen signs of some chemistry between Pogba and Fernandez, which helps, but I think he also just appreciates the element he plays.” playing with other quality players around him.”
Fernandez was linked with a move to Old Trafford during 2019 and there was disappointment when the deal was not completed by the new season.
So, when the transfer fee topped the $61m (£47m) limit in January, fans were ready to see what all the fuss was about. It’s safe to say that they weren’t disappointed.
“I love what Eric Cantona did when he moved to Manchester United from Leeds. [in 1992] and we won our first Premier League title,” he said. – It was a kind of impetus to real success.
“I’m not saying that Bruno Fernandez is going to lead Manchester United to the same level of success as Cantona, but he’s not just one player who comes along and makes us great.
“This is one player who came in and made everyone around him better.”
It’s easy to forget that Fernandes has only been at the club for a few months, but he’s already established himself as a fan favorite – with one special moment against local rivals Manchester City defining his short time at the club.
Fernandes was involved in a brawl with Pep Guardiola that resulted in the Portuguese putting his finger to his lips and causing the City manager to hiss.
“I think Bruno, in a very short amount of time, definitely came in and really understood what Manchester United is,” said Goldbridge.
“Ultimately there is a fine line between understanding what Manchester United is and someone who just loves the game, wants to play it right and is passionate about winning.
“I remember his little argument with Pep when we played Man City and the fans loved it because I think Fernandes just wants to win.”
Another false dawn?
With United’s form dwindling towards the final two games of the season, fans will hold on to these encouraging signs of life and hope it’s not another false dawn at the club.
A third place, while not in line with the club’s true ambitions, should be seen as progress and attention can now be turned to winning the Europa League, due to resume on 5 August.
United will face a simple challenge in the second leg against LASK on Wednesday, leading 5-0 in the first leg and all but guaranteeing a spot in the quarter-finals.
While winning a second European Club Cup is no laughing matter, the real prize is still the Premier League.
Despite all the improvements that have taken place at the club in recent weeks, the gap between him and the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City remains wide – he finished 33 points behind eventual champions Liverpool this season.
A productive summer in the transfer market could be exactly what United need, and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is just one of the names linked to a move to Old Trafford.
There have been signs of success both under Van Gaal and Mourinho at the club, but something about United under Solskjaer really feels different.
Perhaps a return to the glory days is just around the corner.
“It looks more sustainable and one of the things they do is they don’t just beat teams, but if you look at that winning streak, they’ve won quite a few of those games comfortably and quite decisively and, quite entertaining,” Jolly said.
“I think next year you may not necessarily see United win the league, but getting into the top four will be much more comfortable.”