Sergio Marques disappears to find his phone and to get a text message from Bruno Fernandes.
When was the last time he heard about the new signing of Manchester United?
“Yesterday,” Marques replies triumphantly as he enters the living room of his apartment and waves the phone that displays a message in Portuguese from his former protector.
Bruno Fernandes depicted with Sergio Marques, who was his first coach at FC Infesta
A team photo of the U9 team Marques coached at Infesta. Fernandes is the bottom row, on the far left
After fighting his way to the top, Fernandes wants to make an impact for Manchester United
“Thanks for everything,” Fernandes writes. ‘I am fine. It will be fine. “
Marques was his first coach in football. They met when Fernandes was eight years old and became a member of FC Infesta, a club in Matosinhos, northwest of Porto.
Marques was the coach of Under-9 and saw a gift in Fernandes that convinced him to offer the boy individual sessions on a Tuesday night, improving his skills on the dirt field.
“You could see from the start that he had a natural talent, but he always wanted the ball for himself,” says 65-year-old Fernandes, who would play as a center-back in the harder games and then allow him to dominate in midfield when the opposition was not that strong.
“He was not so fond of passing, heading and defending. I took him aside and said, “Bruno, you have the talent, but you have to work on these areas. Is that something you want to do?” He said yes and then we started the one-on-one sessions. “
A team photo of Pasteleira, with Fernandes third from the left on the bottom row
Fernandes plays for Boavista’s youth team – he was described as ‘a wild horse’
Fernandes comes from a bad background in the industrial city of Maia. He lived with his parents, older brother Rodrigo and younger sister Sara in a modest first-floor apartment in Gueifães, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city.
His father José worked in the Piu Belle textile factory and neither he nor the boy’s mother could drive Virgínia, so Infesta’s club secretary would bring Fernandes to the rickety stadium.
When the big clubs beckoned two years later, he would have preferred to join his youth team FC Porto, but Boavista’s offer of transportation to and from training tapped the balance in their favor.
Fernandes has never let himself be restrained by his light form. Instead of leaving the field, he became increasingly aggressive. When he switched to Boavista’s B-team ADR Pasteleira, the driving task fell under his 15-coach Antonio Peres six nights a week – and also the task of taming the ardent youngster.
“He was like a wild horse,” says Peres. “He had long hair like a girl and he was a rebel.
He learned to play football on the street and his fight, his character, his language came from the streets.
Fernandes depicted in a team magazine by Boavista U17, which was preserved by Mauro Borghetti
“There was a lot of competition for places and sometimes he went over the top in training. He would fight with his teammates and I had to send him out of the session to cool down.
“He often told me that he wanted to be a top player to get a better life because the family was poor. Everyone wants that, but only a few can get it. “
Fernandes was a bad loser but also a natural leader from an early age. Peres laughs as he remembers being a leader when Pasteleira left out games with a few more footballs than when they arrived, or the times he caught the boys watching movies instead of sleeping the night before a tournament.
What, adult movies? ‘No no no no …. perhaps!’
Pasteleira’s share of Fernandes move from Sporting to United will be around £ 170,000, considerably more than the success of two other old boys, Everton’s Andre Gomes and Benfica’s rising star Chiquinho.
Antonio Peres coached United’s new signing Fernandes at ADR Pasteleira at U15 and U16 level
“Bruno had problems but never gave up,” says Pasteleira’s academy coordinator Miguel Pedro.
“He will be a great help to Solskjaer and the players at Manchester United. I saw his first match (against Wolves) and he was like a boss on the field.
“After a training session there, he told Aaron Wan-Bissaka what to do. Wan-Bissaka probably thought “who is this guy talking to me about?” but Bruno did that when he was 15 years old. “
At Fernandes’ old school, Escola Basica 2/3 Gueifães, his English teacher Cristina Almeida remembers a boy whose only dream was to become a footballer and play in the Premier League one day.
“He was special,” she says. “I can still see him running to the classroom, the football under his arm, sweating and panting, and I had him wash his face before he goes to his place.
Fernandes depicted with his old youth team director at Boavista, Ricardo Gaia
‘He found it difficult to balance his studies with training and competitions, let alone homework. Sometimes he couldn’t do it, so I got angry and said, “Bruno, do you think you’re going to be a different Cristiano Ronaldo? Do you think? Forget about football, do your homework and study. That’s your future, okay?”.
“He looked down and nodded in silence. Fortunately for him and the rest of us, I was wrong! “
Fernandes moved to another school closer to Boavista at the age of 15 where he met his future wife Ana Pinho. She remembers being the first to kiss for a bubble gum store close to the school.
Her brother Miguel became his agent and it was on his recommendation that the Italian club Novara decided to take a look.
Novara’s sports director Cristiano Giaretta sent the head of his academy, Mauro Borghetti, to Portugal to see Fernandes play for Boavista Under-17s.
Fernandes in action for Novara, where he arrived without knowing anyone or speaking Italian
“At first glance, he made no impression on me,” Borghetti recalls. “He was not above average and even the movement of his body did not show great athletics.
“But during the game I realized that his game was full of personality. He was not afraid to dribble or shoot at the target. “
Novara agreed to pay Boavista a total of £ 33,500 in two installments, and it says a lot about Fernandes’ character that he was willing to leave the house at the age of 17 and move to Italy.
Juventus and Fiorentina also floated, but the teenager saw a better perspective on football in the first team in the B series with Novara.
Fernandes scored a hat trick in his first game for the Under-19s, but had to wait a few months for his senior debut. By that time the money was tight because paper problems with his first professional contract meant that his basic wage of £ 1,260 per month was paid only mid-season.
“From June to February I had € 50 that my mother gave me when I left Portugal,” Fernandes told the Portuguese newspaper Record.
“Arrived in Novara, didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, didn’t have anyone who could translate what had to happen, it was very difficult.”
Fernandes developed well in Udinese, where he spent three years before joining Sampdoria
Fernandes’ parents and Ana visited him four times during his year at the club and he worked hard to settle in the Hotel Novarello, his home at the Novara training complex in Piedmont.
Giaretta describes a fiercely committed teenager who regularly was the first and last training. In fact, he quickly mastered Italian by writing words on pieces of paper stuck to everything in his apartment.
“On the chair, the fridge, the wardrobe, everywhere,” says Giaretta. ‘He could speak Italian after a month and this was really impressive for me.
“He was different from the other boys. I have never known a player with such a desire to be the best. He wants to be someone. Not just one of the best, but the best. Playing for Manchester United is a way to do that. “
A maximum of 20 other young players stayed with Fernandes in Novarello. They remember that he was sulking for two consecutive hours if he lost at table tennis or table football.
“He would not accept defeat in training matches,” Borghetti adds.
“When he arrived in Novara, we hoped he would join the first team. Then we were all his fans when he made his debut in Serie A. We saw him score in the Europa League and play in the World Cup with Ronaldo.
Fernandes plays together with ex-United Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal on an international level
‘Now he plays for one of the most important clubs in the world. At the moment it would not surprise me if he also won the Ballon d’Or! “
The natural talents of Fernandes continued to flourish in Novara: dribbling, passing, long-distance blockbusters and deliveries of set pieces.
It earned him a switch to Udinese, where he received a pay raise and a smart car for sale.
Fernandes pet labrador Simba kept him company for the first few months, but the dog was sent to Maia when Ana permanently joined Bruno in Italy.
She was able to prepare his favorite dish, the francesinha, a meat and cheese sandwich, served with fries that are popular in Porto and so stodgy that he can only eat it once a month.
The couple got married in 2015 when he was in Udinese and their daughter Matilde was born two years later.
By that time, Fernandes had moved to Sampdoria, but he only spent one season there before returning to Portugal with Sporting Lisbon.
It was at Sporting that he really became an adult. Captain. Talisman. Star player. Fernandes finished last season with 32 goals and 18 assists and established himself as the most productive midfielder in Europe.
Fernandes became a superstar at Sporting Lisbon, which attracted the interest of United
He lifted the Portuguese Cup and two Portuguese League Cups in Lisbon, but was at the center of a controversy last year when a WhatsApp audio raged over teammates.
“Some players don’t argue and don’t want to be here – they can cut,” Fernandes heard. However, it said that the rest of the team still supported him.
He was also caught on CCTV who swore at a guard after dragging his right boot to a door when he was sent away on his return to Boavista in September, while the wild horse packed another kick.
It followed a summer of speculation about moving to England with United or Tottenham. Sporting was ready to sell their crown jewels to keep the club afloat, but sustained for £ 66.5 million.
“We had a cash flow requirement of £ 95.5 million and Bruno was the key to this,” Sporting President Frederico Varandas revealed last week.
United revived their interest in January under pressure to deliver a new signature, and in particular a player like Fernandes who could ignite their attack.
They agreed to pay a first £ 46.6m and another £ 21.2m could be paid in bonuses, including one if he wins the Ballon d’Or. Those who have followed his career do not exclude it.
More is expected from Fernandes when United takes on Chelsea on Monday evening
Fernandes shed tears in his farewell TV interview in Portugal and Sporting fans wept with him, but the player has his dream movement at the age of 25.
He landed in Manchester by private jet with Ana, Matilde and his agent Miguel Pinho on January 29 and made his debut in a scoreless draw with Wolves three days later.
A promising start saw Fernandes complete more passes and have more shots than one of his teammates.
On Monday evening, more is expected from his first away match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after a week of integration with the rest of the United team in a warm weather training camp in Marbella.
Of course, Fernandes was attracted to the Portuguese-speaking players of United – Diogo Dalot, Fred and Andreas Pereira – but he chose a Spanish song for his initiation for the team on Monday night and the Spanish contingent joined the choir.
If he can also call the number on the field, United may have just found his man in the boy from Maia.