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Onus is on Bruno Fernandes to prove popular Cristiano Ronaldo theory is wrong

Man United’s Bruno Fernandes has insisted that playing with Cristiano Ronaldo has not been detrimental to his performances.

Bruno Fernandes signed for Manchester United from Sporting Libson in January 2020 and it didn’t take long for supporters to fall in love with the midfielder. Fernandes couldn’t have wished to make a better impression during his first six months at Old Trafford.

“Bruno, Bruno, Bruno, came from Sporting like Cristiano,” was soon heard on the terraces and it seemed like United had signed a player that would inspire them to win silverware. Fernandes was an immediate fan favourite and he was the type of player that opposition sides in the Premier League feared on matchday, which was something that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had initially lacked.

Fernandes was transformative besides being influential in the dressing room with his elite mentality and was genuinely world-class in his first two seasons at the club. Such was his impact that he ended up winning the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award for two successive campaigns.

Then news broke that Manchester City were looking to sign Ronaldo that summer and Solskjaer’s now famous press conference followed where the Norwegian was asked about Ronaldo and said: “If he was ever going to move, he knows we’re here. Let’s see what happens.”

Ronaldo re-signed for United just a few days after that press conference and Solskjaer couldn’t contain the broad grin on his face.

Along with the other key members of the dressing room, Fernandes was delighted about his Portugal teammate Ronaldo’s arrival. United having already signed Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane prior to that, Ronaldo promised to be the remaining piece of the jigsaw to challenge for the Premier League title.

The premise of being a serious league title challenger ended up being totally laughable on hindsight, as United endured their worst Premier League campaign for decades instead. Ronaldo ended up being one of two players – the other being David de Gea – who emerged from the season with credit and Fernandes’ shockingly lackluster performances pointed clearly towards his deteriorating form. He was fast becoming one among the majority who looked like a pale shadow of their former selves.

Failing to be as effective in the final third of the pitch as he had been in the earlier season, it was suggested that the 28-year-old could not play alongside Ronaldo – a contention he strongly denied although he has yet to back up his words on the pitch.

Fernandes contributed 43 goals and 35 assists in 83 games without Ronaldo at the club, whereas he has only contributed eight goals and 15 assists in the 51 games since the five-time Ballon d’Or winner made his return against Newcastle last September.

“Most of my assists last season were for him, so I don’t think [it is fair],” Fernandes told The Athletic this week when asked about whether he can play with Ronaldo. “I just had a poor season in terms of my own numbers. I don’t think it is about Cristiano.

“Before he came I was taking the penalties but I had two chances to take them last season and I missed both. So I cannot blame Cristiano for taking penalties, especially when he scores them.

“When I missed against Arsenal in April, it was him who gave me the ball and said, ‘Go yourself and score’. I missed but I felt that he trusted me to be the one to step up in the big moment. So I don’t think it is because of Cristiano.

“It is because I didn’t do the best in myself in some moments to get goals or assists. In the national team, I play with him and when I score, he is on the pitch. To play with Cristiano as a No 10 is actually really good because players respect him so much that it creates more space, as the opponents are afraid of him taking the ball and scoring.”

It is lamentable and unfortunate for Fernandes that Ronaldo’s first season back at United coincided with the club enduring a nightmare campaign, but a new era seems to be beckoning now with Erik ten Hag in charge, meaning that there will be no more excuses for him not to perform.

United won four consecutive Premier League games for the first time since April 2021 by defeating Arsenal and the good feeling has returned, which means he will be now able to excel alongside Ronaldo if what he’s maintained about their relationship is true.

The jury is still out on whether Fernandes and Ronaldo can play together, something the duo need to prove.