Rashford was the substitute who then became the match-winner at Wolves but Fernandes reflected: “That shows the manager gives the same respect to the ones who are not playing. Marcus did really well because he knew he was wrong. It is difficult to accept sometimes, but he accepted it, came on and decided the game for us.”
In 20 minutes, Fernandes uses the word “everyone” some 30 times. It seems a sign of a collectivism United lacked last season when they rarely looked united. Perhaps it is a coincidence that Cristiano Ronaldo goes unmentioned. Certainly United’s wretched 2021-22, their worst season in more than three decades, prompted Fernandes to ponder whether they shared his aims. He is arguably their best signing since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, but has not won any silverware at Old Trafford. Before signing a new deal in April, he went to director of football John Murtough and technical director Darren Fletcher with his concerns. His motives were not primarily financial. He sought reassurances theirs were not either.
“I had a conversation last year with the club when everyone knew that Ralf [Rangnick] was not the coach for the future and I said: ‘I want to be a solution for the club, I want to be helpful for the club, but I also want to know where we are going. Is there a plan, is there a future?’” Fernandes recalled.
“I said to the club: ‘Obviously money is important, no one can hide that, it’s always important to earn more and more and more in football or life, whatever job you do, you always want to have the best for yourself. But at that time, I’m on good money, I don’t want a new contract without knowing that we have a good future in the club. I want to know where we are going, I don’t need to know who the manager is, but I want to know just as a club, do you have a plan for the future? What are your thoughts on where we can go? What does the club want? Does the club want to achieve trophies or does the club want to build something to go to the Champions League?’”
They are questions that seemed to cut to the heart of the problems around United in recent years: there was money, in copious quantities, but was there a real strategy, or the excellence required to implement one? Fernandes’ frustration reflected many fans’ feelings. His ambitions extended beyond securing the Champions League cash.
“Because for me, that’s not enough and the club demands more,” he added. “The history of this club, the quality of the players we have, it demands more than just being here and fighting for fourth place. It demands trophies, it demands at least fighting for trophies.”
If Ten Hag has provided many of the answers the Portuguese was looking for, he enters his second Manchester derby having lost the first 6-3. But Fernandes feels an inferiority complex is gone; perhaps United sweated it out in August. “You go to every game and the feeling you have now is that we are no afraid to play against anyone,” he said. “In the past you could not see that.” And now he can see the brighter future he was looking for.
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