In 2022, Erik ten Hag did what no manager in world soccer had ever done before: stand up to Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was a move that could have brought down his reign as Manchester United boss owing to the reverence that the Old Trafford crowd had for Ronaldo, but instead, it turned out to be a decision that transformed United’s fortunes.
Indeed, just three months after the club cut ties with Ronaldo following Ten Hag’s desire to see the Portuguese superstar leave, they would go on to win their first trophy in six years.
Essentially, this is a man that doesn’t tolerate disruptive forces in the change room, and irrespective of how unpopular it may make him, the Dutchman will force out any player who gets in the way of the collective effort.
So, with this in mind, what does the future hold for Bruno Fernandes after his Anfield meltdown?
A day that may change Fernandes’ professional life
When the Manchester United bus arrived at Liverpool before kick-off on the 5th of March, the club was being spoken about as one of the main protagonists in a thrilling title race.
Just 90 minutes later, however, the odds on the Premier League winner for the 2022/2023 season showed the Red Devils to be at +3000 to win their first title since 2013. It was a catastrophic afternoon for United and proved to be the club’s heaviest defeat since Boxing Day in 1931.
Yes, you could argue that it came out of the blue given that it followed a week where the Red Devils won the Carabao Cup at Wembley Stadium but there were features in the calamitous defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s charges that weren’t altogether surprising.
One of those was Fernandes’ knack for throwing in the towel when the going gets tough.
In fact, Fernandes’ on-field antics were picked up by ex-United players Roy Keane and Gary Neville who would end up describing the Portuguese’s actions as unprofessional and a disgrace.
Undoubtedly, the low point came when Fernandes appeared to gesticulate angrily at Ten Hag after the Dutchman decided to substitute Marcus Rashford and not him on 84 minutes with the score at 6-0.
Whatever it may have been about, it was a moment that Fernandes may live to regret given the level of unacceptable insubordination shown towards the bench by the midfielder.
The fallout that may ensue
At least, if we return to Ten Hag’s fabled management style that is built on unwavering discipline, you would, after witnessing events at Anfied, be left with the unmistakable impression that Fernandes is now in the United manager’s book.
Regardless of whether he is the captain or not, it was such a strong show of internal defiance on an afternoon when the club was crying out for a leader and it may signal the beginning of the end of Fernandes’ Old Trafford career.
There will be those who will surely feel that this is an overreaction, but the reality is that Ten Hag has been, with the exception of Piers Morgan, widely lauded by the soccer world for his man-management style that has seen a level of healthy authority return to the change room.
In other words, no player is bigger than the club and ever since the trophy-laden days of Sir Alex Ferguson, this has been a mantra that has separated the Red Devils from other teams.
It’s unlikely that any fan, owner, or board member at Old Trafford will want to see a return to the days when all discipline has broken down, which is why Fernandes’ ill-timed actions have brought his role at the club under an intense glare.
The 28-year-old may survive this episode or it may eventually lead to Ten Hag sending another player once thought indispensable on his way.