Manchester United’s need for a reset is stark in so many clear and obvious ways, not least in how they manage players’ contracts. But negotiations with Bruno Fernandes would be the wrong time to shift their goalposts.
Reports in recent days suggest Fernandes has turned down United’s opening offer of a contract renewal, with talks reportedly shelved until the end of the season.
That the Portugal star has snubbed the club’s first offer should not trigger too much alarm; a bit of to-ing and fro-ing is an entirely normal part of the negotiation game. But United have continually made mis-steps when it comes to renewals and though lessons obviously need to be learned, Fernandes absolutely should not be the one to suffer for the club’s previous mismanagement.
Of course, we don’t know what Fernandes and his agent are asking for, but a hefty pay rise is certainly the objective and no one could argue that Fernandes does not deserve one.
United have enjoyed two years of Fernandes on the cheap. When he arrived from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020, he reportedly doubled his salary up to around £100,000 a week. Which, relative to United’s wage bill and that of some of their rivals, has proved to be a bargain given what Fernandes has brought to Old Trafford.
In basic terms, that would be 47 goals and 34 assists in 106 games for the Red Devils. In the same time frame, Mo Salah – himself in a contract stand-off – has had a direct role in only one more goal than Fernandes, with Salah having enjoyed the advantage of not playing for a dysfunctional rabble.
His second year was perhaps not as bountiful as his first at United but Fernandes’ status as United’s most important player remained, both statistically and in less tangible terms.
The impact of his first year drew comparisons with Eric Cantona and Robin van Persie, such was the improvement Fernandes provoked from United. The Red Devils bought not only a playmaker but a leader – and Lord knows they needed one.
Fernandes’ influence may have been overshadowed somewhat by Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival, but suggestions that the pair cannot play together are laughable. With each employed in their best positions, there have been flashes of brilliance between them.
The use of Fernandes is key. When Rangnick came in, he immediately shaped United in a 4-2-2-2 formation, which saw Fernandes shifted wider and to the periphery of the attacks he was used to orchestrating. Three fruitless games saw Fernandes benched before Rangnick recognised that United weren’t understanding or following his instructions. When Fernandes was restored to a central role, against Aston Villa last week, he scored twice in what many observed to be a performance more closely resembling his best form.
Most chances created in the Premier League this season:
5⃣5⃣ Trent Alexander-Arnold
4⃣8⃣ Bruno Fernandes
4⃣1⃣ Mohamed Salah
3⃣6⃣ Kevin De Bruyne
3⃣3⃣ 🟣 Michail Antonio
3⃣3⃣ James Ward-Prowse #LFC | #MUFC | #MCFC | #WHUFC | #SaintsFC | #FPL pic.twitter.com/Nto0aW1hyA
— EPL Statman (@EPLStatman) January 14, 2022
Rangnick and whoever comes next cannot afford to waste Fernandes – there simply isn’t the quality elsewhere in the squad to cover for what they would lose by not utilising him properly. Fernandes might be vying for the title of United’s MVP with Ronaldo but regardless of whichever order you place the pair, the former deserves to have his status acknowledged in the terms of his contract.
That is certainly not the case as things stand. Some reports suggest that right now, Ronaldo is paid around four times more, and the salary gap between him and David De Gea is a similarly sized chasm. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford are all believed to be on £200,000 or more – around double Fernandes’ wage – while Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw aren’t far behind.
Whichever report you believe, Fernandes is paid considerably less than all of those team-mates. How could anyone argue against his alleged demand for pay parity? De Gea’s contract may have been a mistake and Ronaldo’s an exception, but Fernandes deserves the same – if not more – than everyone else.
United have to be very careful with the timing of their belt-tightening when in comes to new deals and their lack of haste in addressing the disparity around Fernandes. The board at Old Trafford have been far too willing to sanction huge new contracts for inactive squad players, like Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly, under the mistaken guise of ‘protecting assets’ and lessons – ones that really ought not to have been needed – must be learned.
But Fernandes is one of the few current United players not short-changing their paymaster. Who else? Scott McTominay on his current terms, perhaps? United’s realignment of their wage bands is overdue and has to start somewhere. Anywhere and with anyone but Fernandes.
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