Bruno Fernandes has transformed Manchester United from no-hopers into Premier League title contenders in just 12 months… but how does his stunning impact compare to the effect Aguero, Cantona, Salah and Co had when they arrived?
- Bruno Fernandes scored Man United’s winner against Liverpool in the FA Cup
- Portuguese star has now been involved in 46 goals in 51 games since he arrived
- Fernandes has made a first-year impact to rival any of the Premier League greats
- Eric Cantona did inspire United to win their first league title in 26 years in 1993
- Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie also started at a prolific scoring rate
- Mohamed Salah fired Liverpool to European final, Aguero won Man City the title
Even when he doesn’t play from the start, Bruno Fernandes still makes the telling impact.
Manchester United chose to start their Portuguese talisman on the bench in Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Liverpool, favouring Donny van de Beek and Paul Pogba in their midfield.
But with the scores locked at 2-2 in a classic cup tie, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer summoned Fernandes midway through the second half and there was never any doubt he’d prove the difference.
Bruno Fernandes was once again Manchester United’s matchwinner as they beat Liverpool
The Portuguese star fired home a brilliant free-kick to send United into the FA Cup fifth round
Fernandes hasn’t put a foot wrong since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed him last January
Twelve minutes after entering the fray, Fernandes fired home a free-kick to settle the contest in United’s favour and send them through to the fifth round.
It was his 28th goal since joining for an initial transfer fee of £47million from Sporting Lisbon almost exactly 12 months ago.
When you add in the 18 assists Fernandes has provided in that time, he has been involved in a remarkable 46 goals in 51 appearances for the club.
It’s often said that Fernandes has made the greatest impact on a United team since Eric Cantona came to the club in 1992.
But how does his first year impact compare with some of the other players who made flying starts after signing for Premier League clubs?
When Manchester City paid Atletico Madrid £35m for Aguero in July 2011, the club was just starting to see the enormous investment of Sheikh Mansour make an impact on the English football landscape.
They won the 2011 FA Cup – their first piece of major silverware since the mid-1970s – and had started to threaten the hegemony of neighbours Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League.
But it took the deadly finishing of Argentine striker Aguero to elevate them to the status of title winners. Twenty-three goals in his debut season, including several crucial ones in the run-in as City reeled in a United side that was eight points clear.
Of course, his most famous intervention came in the final minute of the final game when his powerful low shot earned City a 3-2 win over QPR and sealed their first league title since 1968.
Sergio Aguero won the Premier League for Man City in the last minute of his first season
Robin van Persie
Duly riled by their ‘noisy neighbours’ nicking the title from right under their noses, United paid £22.5m to bring Dutch striker Van Persie from Arsenal ahead of the following campaign.
Van Persie was no stranger to Premier League football of course – he had been a prolific score for Arsenal over many seasons – but he barely skipped a beat when he arrived at Old Trafford.
His 26 goals proved all the difference as the league title returned to United and Sir Alex Ferguson was given the perfect send-off into retirement.
The highlight was a stunning volley from outside the box against Aston Villa, part of a first-half hat-trick, in the game that wrapped up United’s 20th league title.
Robin van Persie scored a stunning volley against Aston Villa to seal the Premier League title in his first season with Manchester United in 2012-13
The impact made by Fernandes is often compared to that Cantona made when he joined Man United from Leeds for £1.2m in November 1992.
At the time, Leeds fans were upset about Cantona’s move across the Pennines so soon after their league title win but many pundits saw the Frenchman as a trouble-stirrer and a bad influence.
Man United were falling behind the likes of Aston Villa, Blackburn and Norwich in the first title race of the Premier League era and goals were a major concern.
Cantona was hardly prolific, scoring nine times in 23 games that season, but the sheer aura of the man had a magical impact on the club as they won their first league title in 26 years, the beginning of an era of dominance.
Fernandes is often credited as having a similar impact on Man United as Eric Cantona did
In the summer of 1994, Sutton was one of the hottest properties in English football. Linked with Man United and Arsenal, it was eventually the £5m paid by Jack Walker that brought him to Blackburn from Norwich.
The Ewood Park club had been there or thereabouts in the title race for a couple of years but Sutton made all the difference.
Forming that famous ‘SAS’ partnership with Alan Shearer, he scored 21 times and set up countless other goals as Blackburn won their first title since 1914.
Chris Sutton (right) formed the effective ‘SAS’ pairing with Alan Shearer to fire Blackburn Rovers to the Premier League title in 1994-95
Few strikers have hit the ground running in the Premier League quite like Torres, who joined Liverpool from Atletico Madrid for what proved to be a bargain £20m in 2007.
Torres scored on his Anfield debut against Chelsea and went on to net 33 goals in all competitions, including 24 in the league, in his maiden season. He set a new record for the most prolific foreign goalscorer in a debut season in England.
Liverpool had reached the Champions League final the previous season and, despite the Spaniard’s many goals, couldn’t quite repeat the trick as Chelsea beat them in the semi-finals.
Such was his first-season impact, there was speculation as early as 2008 that Chelsea were prepared to stump up £50m to sign him. As we know, they did precisely that in 2011 but without the desired result.
Fernando Torres enjoyed a free-scoring first season at Liverpool during 2007-08
Strikers and creative players naturally make a bigger impact on teams but often defenders can be the unsung heroes.
Take Cahill, who signed for Chelsea from Bolton midway through the 2011-12 season and was a European champion five months later.
Cahill slotted into the heart of Chelsea’s back line and stepped up when it mattered amid injuries to David Luiz and then the suspensions of captain John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic for the final with Bayern Munich.
Overcoming his own hamstring injury worry, Cahill put in a superb performance in the final at the Allianz Arena as Chelsea beat Bayern on penalties and became a mainstay in Chelsea’s defence for several years to come.
Gary Cahill lifts the European Cup for Chelsea just five months after signing for the club
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Good things come to those who wait and that was certainly the case for Manchester United with Van Nistelrooy.
The deal to buy the Dutch striker from PSV Eindhoven was done and dusted in the summer of 2000 until Van Nistelrooy ruptured cruciate ligaments in his knee during training.
It delayed the £19m move a year but this born goal poacher had a stunning impact when he did finally arrive at Old Trafford.
Van Nistelrooy scored 36 times in 49 games in his first season, including 23 in the league and 10 in the Champions League, playing and scoring as though making up for lost time.
It was only in the following season, 2002-03, however, that Van Nistelrooy’s goals powered United to another league title.
Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates scoring one of his 36 debut season goals for Man United
The Egyptian was well on his way to becoming a Liverpool club legend after just one season.
Salah scored at such a phenomenal rate in 2017-18, following his £36.5m move from Roma, that the records started tumbling on a regular basis.
In the end, Salah scored 44 times in 52 games, including 32 in the Premier League and 11 in the Champions League, though Jurgen Klopp’s team failed to win a trophy.
They did reach the Champions League final and who knows whether Salah could have inspired them to victory over Real Madrid but for the challenge by Sergio Ramos that forced him off with a shoulder injury.
Such rewards wouldn’t be long in arriving for Salah, however, with Liverpool winning the Champions League the following year and the Premier League title a year after that.
Mohamed Salah was well on his way to legendary status at Liverpool after a great first season