May 15, 2018 was a day Bruno Fernandes will never forget.
He arrived at Sporting Lisbon training with his team-mates just like any other day, albeit in the midst of a disappointing run of form.
Hours later, Fernandes and his team-mates had come under attack by around 50 hooligans, who launched an assault on their own club and broke into the training ground after being left furious by recent performances.
Initially, Fernandes was one of seven players to terminate their contracts with the Lisbon club, citing “just cause” after being shaken by the attack.
Rui Patricio, William Carvalho, Gelson Martins, Ruben Ribeiro, Bas Dost and Daniel Podence all departed the club.
But, eventually, Fernandes stayed put – and in the process set off a chain of events which would eventually lead him to Manchester United.
In a period of turmoil and upheaval, Sporting needed a new focal point and he was ready to step up to the plate.
Fast forward another 12 months and Fernandes was a man in demand.
With big names leaving the club, he became the leading light in Liga NOS, scoring 20 goals and providing 13 assists.
Understandably, that placed big clubs on red-alert, and Manchester United’s reported interest first came to light entering the 2019 summer transfer window.
“Last year, after the termination, I received approaches, mainly from England and also from Spain, but I did not feel prepared to go.” Fernandes later told SportTV in 2019.
“I’ve spent two intense years, I don’t know if I will spend a third year, I don’t know if I’m going to leave. No one knows the future,” he later added as he hinted he might be ready to move on.
It then emerged he had struck a gentleman’s agreement with the club whilst they were in disarray.
Instead of ripping up his contract, he reportedly agreed that if another club made a €35million bid for him Sporting would either have to accept the offer or pay the player a €5million compensation fee.
The agreement somewhat rubbished the midfielder’s reported €90million release clause, but enabled Sporting to keep hold of Fernandes for another season.
With his future up in the air, Fernandes headed to the United States as part of Sporting Lisbon’s pre-season tour.
He then caught the eye of Jurgen Klopp with an impressive display against Liverpool which only saw his stock rise.
Klopp made his way over to Fernandes for a chat after the game where he complimented him on his performance.
“If he [joins Manchester United] then we will face him. He’s obviously a really good player,” Klopp said after the game.
“They have already a few really good players, so that will probably make them stronger.”
Interestingly, United distanced themselves from speculation, suggesting their name was being used to ramp up interest from other clubs.
At the same time they were linked with Nicolas Pepe prior to his Arsenal move, the Red Devils hierarchy were left “irate” by the Fernandes rumours.
The transfer deadline passed with Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka the headline captures for Manchester United.
Jorge Mendes has become involved in the deal as a broker and was unable to strike a deal with the Red Devils.
Reports in Portugal claimed United were unwilling to fund a deal unless they offloaded Paul Pogba to Real Madrid, whilst others suggested Ed Woodward had reservations given Fernandes was untested at the highest level.
It seemed Fernandes was confident a move would happen as he struggled to contain his emotions after a pre-season friendly against Valencia.
It was claimed he would lead Sporting Lisbon into battle with rivals Benfica as his final game in the Portuguese Super Cup before heading to Manchester.
“Will this be the last match for Sporting? I don’t know, it’s the coach who decides,” Fernandes said ahead of the game.”I told them I’d like to play in England, but I don’t care about it right now.”
Instead of being a fond farewell, the game turned to disaster.
Sporting Lisbon were thrashed 5-0 and military guards were present at the training ground the following Monday to avoid a repeat of the ugly scenes of the previous year.
Just as their Super Cup tie had fallen about, Fernandes’ transfer unravelled before his eyes.
As the window slammed shut, he stayed put but super-agent Mendes allegedly touched base and made a promise – he would make it happen in 2020.
Testament to Fernandes’ attitude, he continued to lead by example in the Sporting side.
A WhatsApp voice note sent to team-mates was leaked to the press in September in which he blasted the attitude of some players.
By November, however, whispers of a January move began as Fernandes said: “I have dreams to come true, but I’m not worried, I have no reason to force out, I’m fine, in a club I like.”
He signed a new contract, bumping his release clause up from £65m to £85m, but it became apparent it was a case of when rather than if he would leave the Portuguese capital.
United scouts had initially advised against a move for Fernandes due to him frequently giving the ball away.
Yet when manager Solskjaer took a closer look on a scouting trip to Portugal, he liked what he saw.
“When you go and see them live you just get that feeling of the player,” he later told Sky Sports.
“What impressed me most that day was his personality. We knew about his skills and quality.
“If you follow him and watch him all the time (you notice) that he cares so much and wants to win, he had that fire in him. I thought, yep, that’s the character we need.”
When the transfer window finally arrived, it was clear tensions were running high for the passionate Fernandes.
He was alleged to have had an ‘angry’ phone call with the Sporting president, Federico Varandas, after they stalled a move to Old Trafford to allow him to take on rivals Benfica.
As the move was again delayed, he angrily slapped a camera after waving goodbye to fans after an ill-tempered defeat to Braga in a game with four red cards.
Later that week, he was stopped by reporters and asked about his impending move.
Asked whether the Premier League was his top priority, he replied: “It always was.”
Over in Manchester, meanwhile, there was a frenzy when a mystery man was smuggled into Carrington covering his face – it did not turn out to be Fernandes.
Talks dragged on and Barcelona launched a last-gasp attempt to hijack his move.
But eventually a deal was struck and, on January 29, 2020, Fernandes was finally confirmed as a Manchester United player.
A statement released by Sporting Lisbon confirmed the details of the deal – a £46.5million up front fee with add-ons up to a maximum of £21million based on both Fernandes’ and United’s performance during his time at the club.
The clauses include a £4.2m payment if United qualify for the Champions League, and £12.6m for ‘personal prizes’- for example if Fernandes were ever to win the Ballon d’Or.
For Jorge Mendes’ part, agents’ fees comprised £4.6million of the deal, with Fernandes’ representative, Miguel Pinho, also amongst those getting a cut.
“I realised in the negotiations that Manchester United was convinced that we were going to give in and that for €50m he was doing the deal. Well they ended up paying 65 million,” Sporting vice-president Francisco Salgado Zenha later claimed.
“They were wrong and ended up paying what we wanted. We went to get 20 million more than if we had sold four months ago.”
But United had few complaints having finally got their man as he was thrown in for his debut against Wolves just two days after arriving in England.
After his move was announced he declared his love for the Red Devils and made a promise to the fans.
“My love of Manchester United really started when I used to watch Cristiano Ronaldo play and ever since then I have been a big fan of this great club,” said Fernandes.
“For me to now play for Manchester United feels incredible, I have worked hard to get to this moment and I can promise the fans that I will give everything for the badge to help bring us more success and trophies.”
So far, Fernandes has made good on his promise and done everything in his power to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.
Now, United must wait and see if he can deliver the trophies and success they have long craved.