Rafa Benitez has revealed Newcastle United passed on the chance to sign Bruno Fernandes for free while the Manchester United star was at Sporting CP.
Writing in his column for The Times, Benitez claims he and his scouting department kept regular tabs on Fernandes’ situation in Portugal during his tenure at St. James’ Park.
An issue between the midfielder and Sporting is said to have presented Newcastle with a chance to strike a free transfer, yet Toon chiefs put a halt to any negotiations as the club refused to see the matter go to court.
The Magpies were progressing well with their discussions to sign Fernandes, who Benitez adds has changed everything at Old Trafford by playing with personality, an eye for the right pass and with a strong determination and intensity.
Fernandes joined Manchester United in a £47m deal that could reach £68m last January, and has been named the Premier League Player of the Month on four occasions after being given the award for December thanks to scoring three goals in six games.
The 26-year-old has now scored 11 times and provided seven assists in 17 Premier League games this season, to take his Red Devils record to 27 goals and 17 assists in 48 appearances across all competitions ahead of Manchester United’s top-of-the-table clash with Liverpool on Sunday.
Newcastle passing up on a chance to sign Fernandes for free can and will only ever be looked back on as a horrific blunder by Toon owner Mike Ashley, with United passing on the opportunity to sign a player of true game-changing ability.
Manchester United are an entirely different entity from the club who signed Fernandes on Deadline Day in the previous January window, adding a new attitude and mentality into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side that has seen the club become apparent title-contenders.
Former Liverpool and England midfielder Jamie Redknapp cannot sing Fernandes’ praises highly enough having seen how things have changed at Old Trafford, where the Red Devils are unbeaten in 11 Premier League games.
“Since he’s come to the club, he’s single-handedly changed the mentality of it. The goals he’s scored, the assists he’s made,” he told Sky Sports. “I’ve seen an attitude shift in the players because I think he demands such high standards. I think when he plays well, when he scores United play well. It’s as simple as that. He’s changed players around him.”
Fernandes’ vision has seen the Manchester United star prove to be one of the Premier League’s most creative players this season, with the midfielder, who Roy Keane lauds for having “pure quality”, offering a mammoth 53 key passes to date – only Jack Grealish (56) has created more goalscoring opportunities, per SofaScore.
Of those key passes, Fernandes has also fashioned 10 chances where Red Devils players have a reasonable expectancy to find the back of the net. The 25-cap Portugal international, now valued at £81m by TransferMarkt, has further played more passes in the final third (326) during top-flight fixtures than any other player in the division.
If Benitez had been able to have a player of Fernandes’ talent at St. James’ Park and in a free deal, who knows what Newcastle could have achieved. Any success on a similar level would have surely made any court battle over Sporting’s compensation worthwhile, at least.