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Other SportsNeville suggests Fernandes freedom is harming Manchester United

Neville suggests Fernandes freedom is harming Manchester United

Manchester United great Gary Neville believes the freedom granted to Bruno Fernandes is stopping Erik ten Hag’s side from becoming a disciplined, cohesive attacking unit.

United have endured a miserable second season under Ten Hag, with their diminishing attacking returns provoking concern among supporters and pundits alike.

Only three teams – Sheffield United (15), Burnley (21) and Crystal Palace (22) – have scored fewer than United’s 24 Premier League goals this season.

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While Fernandes’ six Premier League goal involvements (three goals, three assists) put him level with Marcus Rashford at the top of United’s charts, the Portugal star has repeatedly been accused of lacking tactical discipline.

Neville believes Ten Hag has granted Fernandes a level of freedom rarely seen at the elite level in modern football, suggesting he would not receive the same concessions from Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

“With any team that is anything at all you see repeated patterns. Bruno Fernandes is obviously the best player in terms of talent but he’s everywhere,” Neville said on The Overlap podcast.

“He must be told, ‘go and do what you want’. I don’t see Ten Hag say to him, ‘get back in’. With Pep Guardiola, if a player plays out of position for a minute or two minutes, the coaches are on the sideline saying, ‘get back into your position’.

“Ten Hag is giving him the freedom to go there, there, there. That means you can never have a combination or a pattern because you’ve got your main midfield player everywhere on the pitch.

“It’s almost like 20 years ago, when you gave your number 10 licence to play. That’s gone now. You have to fit within a combination and a pattern and system of attacking shape.”

Neville’s former team-mate Roy Keane echoed those sentiments, though he suggested it was part of Fernandes’ character and could not be coached out of him.

“If you watch him at international level, he does the same. It can’t all be the coaches and managers,” Keane said, sitting alongside Neville.

“If he’s producing magic you forgive him, but if you’re in a struggling team and he’s doing that stuff, that’s where it stands out and you go, ‘you’re costing us’.

“I think it’s a trait. It’s not as if he’s an inexperienced player. You’d get away with it if Manchester United were winning more matches and he was producing his magic.”

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher also appeared on the podcast, and he compared Fernandes to former United midfielder Paul Pogba, who often faced similar accusations during an underwhelming second spell at Old Trafford between 2016 and 2022.

“I used to describe Pogba a bit like this… I think there’s a difference between being a great talent and a great player,” he said.

“I think Pogba was a great talent but I don’t think he was a great player. It’s the same with Bruno Fernandes. For the great players, it’s in their head, understanding where they need to be.

“[Kevin] De Bruyne is better than Fernandes but in terms of creating chances, Fernandes isn’t a million miles from him.

“It’s not being lazy, he’s running everywhere without the ball. He’s emotional. He runs 30 yards to close the goalkeeper down. People sometimes get kidded by it and say, ‘look at him working hard’. No, he’s killing the team.”

Harry Carr
Harry Carr
Harry is a freelance sports journalist with experience of working for the Racing Post, Stats Perform, Opta Analyst and more, covering major events across all sports but holding a particular love for the beautiful game.
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