FA Cup victory in 2016 under Louis van Gaal and Europa League glory under Jose Mourinho in 2017 were two of the highlights of what has been an uninspiring period since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 – and far from 38 trophies won by Scot in his 26 years at the club.
The future didn’t look much brighter in January. The club, now managed by former player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, found themselves fifth in the New Year table.
The football was poor, the atmosphere was toxic and star man Paul Pogba, once seen as the saving grace, looked set to leave as soon as he could.
But, fast forward seven months, and there are now signs of new life under Solskjaer, especially since the arrival of a certain Bruno Fernandes.
The Portuguese playmaker arrived at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in January and was thrown into a squad lacking in creativity, quality and leadership.
Luckily for his new hires, it seems Fernandes has all three of these attributes in abundance.
What’s more, Fernandes has brought excitement back to Manchester’s red half after years of uninspiring and often dismal performances.
His eight league goals and seven assists demonstrate the kind of player United now have in their hands.
“He [Fernandes] told me about the league, how intense it is to play in this league,” Porto star Danilo Pereira told CNN Sport.
“It’s no surprise to me to see the impact he had at Manchester. I think United can go back to their golden years with him and Pogba and other players.”
“A very, very good signing”
If there was a typical Manchester United player, Fernandes would surely be it.
A risk-taker, exciting to watch and able to cope with the extreme pressures of playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world, the attacking midfielder became an instant hit.
He has been a leader from day one; stepping up to take (and score) six penalties during his short spell at the club – including the game-winning spot-kick against Leicester City that helped United on their way to Champions League football next season.
Former players and pundits alike have loved his performances since moving to England, where he won man of the match awards in nearly every game he played.
“But what I like is that he’s smart in terms of moving around the pitch. He knows when to get between the lines. He knows when to go into space when he sees someone is available. to make a chip.He arrives at the second line fantastically.
“He supports the midfield when he builds up and struggles a bit, and when teams put a lot of pressure on him.
“He can play long, he can play short, small passes. He has the personality to take free kicks and penalties. He’s not scared. He’s not hiding. I think Man United have done a very good choice. A very good signing.”
Adapting to the Premier League is no easy feat. It usually takes time for players to get used to the physicality and fast-paced nature of the league, but that hasn’t been a deal breaker for Fernandes.
Although his performances in Portugal gave an indication of what was to come, such an instantaneous impact surprised many.
“But he was a transformative player and a revelation in terms of how quickly he did it, I mean it was really from day one.
“You look at both the goal tally and the assist tally, and they’re fantastic. If you could maintain that form for the whole season, he’s an incredible player there.”
While his individual genius is evident, the arrival of Fernandes has seen the upside in the form of players around him.
Pogba, in particular, is a different player to one who was seemingly weighed down by the pressure of being the biggest star in the starting lineup.
The Frenchman’s relationship with the club appeared to be hitting rock bottom earlier this season, with constant rumors linking the midfielder with a move away from the club.
Fans also grew frustrated with Pogba for spending much of the season on the treatment table after suffering two ankle injuries. When they saw him on the field, he was often disappointed.
But now, since returning from his latest injury after the lockdown, there have been early signs that a partnership with Fernandes could flourish and the World Cup winner suddenly looks more at ease.
“I think Pogba likes being around great players and great characters in their own right, I don’t think he wants to be the only big name there, and therefore have all the pressure on him,” Jolly said.
“I think he probably doesn’t want to be in a midfield where he’s surrounded by mediocrity. I think you’ve already seen signs of a bit of chemistry between Pogba and Fernandes, which helps, but I think that he also appreciates the element that he plays with other quality players around him.”
The new Cantona?
Fernandes had been linked with a move to Old Trafford throughout 2019 and there was disappointment when the deal was not completed in time for the new season.
So when the transfer went over the limit in January for an initial fee of $61m (£47m), fans were ready to see what the fuss was all about. It’s safe to say they weren’t disappointed.
“I sort of liken it to what Eric Cantona did when he came to Manchester United from Leeds [in 1992] and we won our first Premier League title,” he said. “It was kind of the kick-off to real success.
“Now I’m not saying Bruno Fernandes is going to take Manchester United to the same level of success as Cantona, but he’s not just a player who comes in and makes us great.
“He’s a 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 particular moment, in a game against local rivals Manchester City , a defining moment in his short period. at the club.
Fernandes got embroiled in a secondary feud with Pep Guardiola which saw the Portuguese player put his finger to his lips and silence the City manager.
“I think Bruno, in a very short time, certainly arrived and really understood what Manchester United is,” Goldbridge said.
“At the end of the day, there’s a fine line between grasping what Manchester United is and actually being someone who loves the game, wants to play the game the right way and is passionate about winning.
“I remember his little argument with Pep when we played at Man City, and the fans loved it because I think Fernandes just wants to win.”
Another false dawn?
As United’s form plummeted for the final two games of the season, fans will hold on to these encouraging signs of life and hope it’s not yet another false dawn at the club.
Third place, while not the club’s true ambition, should be seen as progress and attention can now turn to winning the Europa League, which is set to resume on August 5.
United face a simple task in their second leg against LASK on Wednesday, leading 5-0 from the first leg and securing a place in the quarter-finals.
While winning European football’s Minority Clubs’ Cup is no smirk, the real prize is still the Premier League.
Despite all the improvements seen at the club in recent weeks, the gap between them and Liverpool and Manchester City remains wide – they finished 33 points behind eventual champions Liverpool this season.
A productive summer in the transfer market could be just what United need, and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is just one of the names linked with a move to Old Trafford.
There had been signs of success during Van Gaal and Mourinho’s time at the club, but something seems different about United under Solskjaer.
Perhaps a return to its glory days isn’t too far off.
“It seems more sustainable and one of the things they do is not just beat teams but, if you look at that winning streak, they’ve won a lot of those games comfortably and with enough emphasis. , and , quite amusingly,” Jolly said.
“I think what you might see next year is not necessarily United winning the league, but getting into the top four much more comfortably.”