Bruno Fernandes has welcomed Erik ten Hag’s “strict” management style and believes the Dutchman’s “clear” philosophy can make Manchester United successful again.
Ten Hag has enjoyed a positive start to his new job since replacing interim coach Ralf Rangnick at the end of last season, with United thrashing Liverpool in his first pre-season game in Thailand, before also overseeing wins over Melbourne Victory and Crystal Palace in Australia.
Fernandes, who has impressed in those friendly matches, praised the 52-year-old’s no-nonsense and hands-on approach and says his ruthless attitude keeps the whole squad on their toes.
“He wants his rules, he demands a lot from us and he wants everyone on the same page doing the same things,” Fernandes told Sky Sports News ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Aston Villa in Perth.
“Everyone knows they have to be pushing to the same side and if not, they will be out of the team. That’s a good thing because if you want to be successful as a team you have to be always in the same way.
“He brings discipline but he also gives players the freedom to make choices. He has his own rules we have to follow, but he also wants to give some responsibility to the older ones.
“He’s strict, he’s tough, but at the same time, he’s a nice and easy guy to chat to.
“The main thing is following what he wants because I think he has a straight line that he wants to have with the team and I want to follow that straight line because I think we can be successful that way.
“If everyone understands that we have to follow the rules, follow what the coach demands and what the team demands, everyone will be on the same page, so that’s what will make the team successful.
“I think everyone will be happy at the end of the season if we can do everything he wants us to do.”
‘Ten Hag’s philosophy clear’
Charged with overseeing a big rebuild at Old Trafford, Ten Hag’s meticulous work has been clear during United’s pre-season so far.
In the early stages of their 4-0 friendly win over rivals Liverpool, it was clear the tenets Ten Hag had been drilling into his players – sharper reaction, surety in transition, confidence on the ball and cohesion without it – had been taken on board.
Asked if the team can already feel the difference in their style of play, Fernandes said: “I think it’s clear. He explains really well what he wants and he demands that so anyone not doing what he demands they know they will be punished.
“So I think when you talk about discipline, it’s about that. He’s very clear, so there’s no way you can escape from that. Even if you don’t understand English you can understand the way he wants to play, so I think that is really important for us.
“Nobody can get away with anything with him and the senior players have to play their part too, making sure that everyone is on the same page.”
Ten Hag: Man Utd must strengthen with right players
Erik ten Hag believes new signings are “vital” if his first season at Manchester United is to be a success.
Tyrell Malacia was the only new face on a pre-season trip that ends with Saturday’s friendly against Aston Villa in Perth, but deals for Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez were struck during their time in Australia.
“We sign Eriksen for the midfield department,” the United boss said. “We are really happy with that.
“Yes, I am really happy with the performance from our midfield and offence department in this moment, but I also know this season is a lot of games, the World Cup, so we need more options where you have a good team.
“And it’s not only about the team, you need a good squad to get the right results at the end of the season. So we have to strengthen the squad even more and we are looking around, but also we need the right players.”
Bruno hopes to repay United’s faith
Fernandes hit the ground running following his move to Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020, scoring 12 goals and registering eight assists in 22 appearances before the end of the 2020/21 season.
However, the last campaign was an underwhelming one by the Portguese’s standards. He managed 10 goals compared to 28 the previous season, but he is determined to justify the new five-year contract he signed in March.
“When I arrived the club was being criticised and the results were not the best, so when I came in but not because of me, the team started getting better results,” he said.
“Last season, as a team it was not successful so individually it’s difficult to be successful. I was trying in the same way to improve the team, but obviously, it was a difficult season for everyone and was tough to be successful individually because the results were not there.
Man Utd’s next five fixtures
- Aston Villa (N) – Friendly, Saturday July 23, kick off 10.45am
- Atletico Madrid (N) – Friendly, Saturday July 30, kick off 12.45pm
- Rayo Vallecano (H) – Friendly, Sunday July 31, kick off 4pm
- Brighton (H) – Premier League, Sunday August 7, kick off 2pm, live on Sky Sports
- Brentford (A) – Premier League, Saturday August 13, kick off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
“As soon as the team is doing well and getting good results, that will make me happy and make my game be much better.
“I know everyone is expecting so much from me because my first season was amazing and last season I only scored 10 goals and 14 assists. I know I can do much better than that.
“I’m happy for what I’ve been doing at the club and the new contract shows the club respects me and trusts me, and it’s time for me to repay that.
“I’m an emotional player and an emotional person. I criticise myself too much and sometimes I need to calm down a little bit, but that’s the way I am. I don’t like to lose but I don’t try to blame anyone. I try to see what I can do better to make the team improve.
“I talk with the manager and he asks me what I am feeling about the game-plan and I said to him I had a coach at Sporting Lisbon (Marcel Keizer) who came from Ajax too and the way of things was quite similar and I had my best season with him.
“So for me, it’s about following the rules [Ten Hag] wants, following his demands and my game will come naturally. The main thing for me is that the team is successful.”
‘Struggles were not due to Ronaldo’
Fernandes was also asked about the impact of United and Portugal team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, whose future has become the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks.
Ronaldo has told the club he wants to leave to play Champions League football and did not join the squad for their pre-season tour starting in Thailand, citing family issues.
Asked whether one of the issues last season was the fact United’s style changed to accommodate Ronaldo after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner returned to Old Trafford, Fernandes said: “No I don’t think so.
“I am there to serve my strikers and I think we had an amazing start to the season. When Cristiano came in he scored two goals in his first game and I scored one and after that, I scored many goals playing with Cristiano.
“I think all of my goals I was playing alongside Cristiano, so I don’t think that was the problem at all.
“I play with him for Portugal and that will never be the problem because good players can fit together at any time at any point.”
Ten Hag: No Ronaldo update
At what point Ronaldo will join up with the United squad remains to be seen, but Ten Hag has admitted he “cannot wait” for the 37-year-old to return.
“No (update),” Ten Hag said of the Portuguese star. “It’s the same as last week.”
Asked whether he was concerned that the longer Ronaldo stays away the less time he would have to be fit, the United boss said: “Of course. But concerning is maybe not the right word.
“I focus on the players who are there and they are doing really well. They are in good shape and I will further focus on that and develop that. I cannot wait for him to come in, then we will integrate him.”
Will Fernandes need to change his style of play under Ten Hag or have the perceived flaws in his game been overplayed?
Erik ten Hag’s first Premier League game as Manchester United manager will be against Brighton at Old Trafford, live on Sky Sports, on the opening Super Sunday of the 2022/23 season.
After facing Graham Potter’s Seagulls on Sunday August 7, live on Sky Sports, United travel to Brentford in the second round of fixtures before hosting rivals Liverpool in a blockbuster early-season clash on the weekend of August 20.
United’s trip to the Etihad Stadium for the first Manchester derby of the season on October 1 kicks off a daunting month which sees Ten Hag’s side travel to Everton and Chelsea and host Tottenham, Newcastle and West Ham.
The final game before the season pauses for the winter World Cup will be against Fulham on the weekend of November 12/13. United then return to action on Boxing Day at Fulham. 2023 will be ushered in by a home match against promoted Bournemouth. Premier League champions Manchester City are next up at Old Trafford on January 14, the return trip to Anfield on March 4, while United conclude their season at home to Fulham on May 28.
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