Bruno Fernandes might grind your gears, but the Neville-led pile-on is out of order
Bruno Fernandes was crap at Anfield. That’s absolutely fair comment. A lot of what has been said in the aftermath of a humbling, soul-destroying humping at the hand of Manchester United’s arch-rivals is not.
Fernandes was the captain of the ship that sunk without a trace in just over 45 minutes on Sunday. His team-mates were equally as wretched – actually, in many cases, they were worse – but as the skipper of Erik ten Hag’s crew, Fernandes is copping considerably more flak than anyone else.
As Harry Maguire has discovered, that’s part of the territory that comes with wearing the armband when United have one of their moments. The elastic on the bicep, as well as his style of leadership, puts Fernandes firmly in the firing line when the Red Devils surrender as they did on Sunday.
But that does not warrant the pile-on that commenced well before Liverpool completed their rout.
Gary Neville remains one of the ring-leaders. Neville – seething, stewing next to Jamie Carragher as the ex-Liverpool defender’s cackling intensified with each goal at the Kop end – took aim on multiple occasions at Fernandes. Only some of it was justified: “You give the ball away at Anfield, you try to get it back. You don’t flap your arms around. I’ve had enough of him whinging. He whinges at everybody. He’s got to put a captain’s performance in there, and that wasn’t a captain’s performance.”
Roy Keane echoed Neville’s thoughts and, of course, the pair were renowned for not whinging at team-mates and maintaining an even temper when they captained United. That’s right, isn’t it?
READ: Man Utd’s most humiliating Premier League defeats include Liverpool, Balotelli and Keane evisceration
Perhaps Neville would have preferred Fernandes to have chosen violence. The current skipper tried but, typically for United, he missed when Stefan Bajcetic skipped past him down the right flank late on. Last season, when Hannibal Mejbri came off the bench at 4-0 down and set about making his mark on his opponents’ ankles, Neville was all for it. In fact, he was “proud of him”.
“Maybe he doesn’t like the idea of Liverpool passing around him,” suggested Neville. “I wish the others were the same.” One suspects Fernandes’ frustrations ran along similar lines. Remember, though: Kicking people – fine. ‘Flapping’ arms around and ‘whining’ – not cool.
Neville zeroed in on Fernandes while many of this team-mates sleepwalked through the humiliating final half-hour. So incensed was the Sky Sports co-commentator, he started seeing things.
“Bruno Fernandes is stood in the centre circle with his arms raised asking: ‘Why is it me not coming off?’. Honestly, I have to say some of his behaviour in the second half has been a disgrace.”
Here is Fernandes raising his arms, asking to come off…
Bruno Fernandes was PLEADING to be subbed off 😭😭😭
— CF Comps (@CF_Compss) March 5, 2023
Or, as the club have since had to confirm, he was asking for clarity on how Marcus Rashford’s exit affects his position. Which is a reasonable question since he’s been shifted across the frontline at regular intervals in recent weeks with not a hint of complaint.
That was some time after Fernandes went down claiming to be caught by Ibrahima Konate’s arm. “Touches the chest, he holds his face, that’s embarrassing from Bruno Fernandes,” said Neville at the time while everyone else piled in. Some want Fernandes banned. Which wilfully ignores the fact that he was caught in the face. Hardly a knockout blow, but Neville should at least acknowledge the contact.
So should everyone else. Here’s the chief Liverpool writer for the Liverpool Echo‘s take on that incident and Fernandes’ character in general.
Poor from Fernandes earlier, who was actually caught nearer the chest. He really is a detestable little individual, no matter how good at football he happens to be. His parents must be disappointed
— Ian Doyle (@IanDoyleSport) March 5, 2023
I’ll wager Ma and Pa Fernandes are pretty damn proud. And we all know there are more ‘detestable little individuals’ on Premier League football pitches and in press boxes every week. Of course, Ian Doyle is playing to his audience, but his tone is typical of much of the Fernandes coverage.
‘Bruno Fernandes’ tantrum bordered on insubordination’ read the headline in The Telegraph. Writers often use the defence that they don’t write the headlines but James Ducker doubled down on ‘Manchester United’s second-half super brat’, writing that Fernandes ‘threw his arms up in disgust as if to ask why it was not him who was coming off’.
Only, he didn’t. Fernandes was p*ss-boilingly petulant – nothing new there – but he did not defy any orders.
He did, however, put his hand on the assistant referee in the second half, which was asking for trouble. But the officials didn’t seem perturbed and Dermot Gallagher took little issue with it too. Even if others are baying for a ban and demanding that Fernandes be stripped of the United captaincy.
Perhaps he isn’t cut out for the rank of skipper in the modern game. He certainly did not lead by example with his actions on Sunday and he won’t look back on his performance with any personal pride, but the petulance illustrated his fury at what was unfolding around him while most of his team-mates were sucking their thumb in the foetal position.
Fernandes has shown more leadership over a longer period of time at Old Trafford and risen above the rank mediocrity of recent seasons more than any other Manchester United player. For at least a year after he signed, he was one of the few reasons to bother watching them. Even on his bad days, he can be relied upon to impact a game, and never does he shirk his responsibility. Fernandes has missed one match through injury or illness in three years since he arrived. His resilience is admirable.
The other candidates for the role currently occupied by Maguire, primarily Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez, hardly highlighted their own credentials at Anfield. But, mercifully for United, Ten Hag will react but he won’t rush to the kind of personal judgements and falsehoods being pedalled elsewhere.