Erik ten Hag has been able to rely on one Manchester United player more than most since he took over at Old Trafford this summer.
Although Erik ten Hag confirmed that Harry Maguire would remain as club captain at the beginning of the season, Bruno Fernandes has led the way for Manchester United both on and off the pitch this season.
Fernandes demonstrates his passion and commitment to the cause every time he puts on a United shirt. The 28-year-old cannot hide his emotions on the pitch, wearing his heart on his sleeve with each and every kick of the ball.
Ten Hag raised some eyebrows when he confirmed in pre-season that Harry Maguire would remain as the club captain, yet the Portugal international has stepped up to the plate in the defender’s absence from the first team, wearing the armband in his absence.
This would have come as no surprise to the United manager, after Fernandes opened up on his leadership role at the club at the start of the season, admitting that it is something that is part of his DNA both as a footballer and a person.
“I try to be myself. It’s the way I am,” he said. “I know that if some people see me talking to my teammates or giving information to them, some of them like it, others less. I just try to help make the things better for the team.
It’s something that comes naturally to me [being vocally influential on the pitch]. It’s not something that I try and do in training. Even in normal life I try to help people. My mum and my dad made me understand that if you can help the next person, do it. If that means speaking then I speak.
“[To be a good leader] You have to be yourself and you have to lead by example. You have to be at your best in every training session and every game. Some players are more vocal than others, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not leaders. There are different ways to lead, even if some players don’t want to show it so much because they don’t feel it’s necessary or (feel) comfortable doing it. I don’t try to be a leader, I am how I am.”
Despite Maguire not making Ten Hag’s starting XI for the majority of the season, the role of a captain goes beyond a 90-minute performance on the pitch. Yet Fernandes is more than aware of this, as he explained how he tries to inspire some of the younger academy players at United.
He said: “Lead by example. Do everything that the coach asks you, do everything that is asked of you in every training session. I try to pass confidence to young players, it doesn’t matter how old they are. I also want them to feel part of the family at Manchester United. It’s not just about the first team. And I remember being a young player too and wanting support from older players.
“[How he sets the tone on the pitch] By example. It doesn’t matter if things are not going well, you still have to try as hard as you can. If you don’t train at your best level, you will never get the best of you in games.”
Maguire has not necessarily done anything wrong to warrant his role as captain being taken away from him, in fact the former Leicester City man has shown true character and resilience in the wake of some scathing criticism this term, but his absence from the pitch means that the Dutchman needs to be able to turn to someone else for leadership on a regular basis.
Fernandes has been the perfect person to take on that role under the Dutchman. He has worn the armband more than anybody else this season- and although he is not officially the club captain- Ten Hag knows who the real leader is in his squad.