The Portuguese international is one of the most successful transfers in the club’s rich history and he has transformed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side from mid-table mediocrity to title challengers within a year of his arrival.
But The Athletic reveals that the deal might never have happened but for one thing: the club’s failure to sign Norwegian striker Erling Haaland in that same transfer window.
‘United did scout Fernandes extensively, even if at one stage there were reservations about his ability to retain the ball,’ The Athletic reports.
‘Haaland’s decision to sign for Borussia Dortmund triggered United’s pursuit of Fernandes.
‘It can be revealed that upon returning from Salzburg — where Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward had tried and failed to convince Haaland to join United — a recruitment meeting was called.
‘On Thursday, December 19, six days after the trip to Austria, Solskjaer gathered staff, including personal scout Simon Wells, for a discussion as to how to proceed in the January window given the preferred new striker would not be joining.
‘With Woodward present, everyone decided to bring forward summer plans to sign an attacking midfielder.’
It was at that stage that Solskjaer and assistant Mike Phelan were hurriedly flown off to Portugal at the beginning of January to scout the player themselves.
‘Described as a “psychological scouting mission”, the aim was to observe aspects undetectable in the data, to look under the spreadsheets. The pair watched how Fernandes warmed up, engaged with officials, and interacted with his team-mates and manager,’ the report continues.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer picks up the story himself in an interview with the same outlet.
‘I knew what we were getting,’ the manager said. ‘He was in every team-mate’s ear that game; the referee’s ear, the linesman he was into… and, you know, I like that.
‘I have been part of a dressing room that was like this every single day, every training session.
‘If you want to survive at Man United, you need to be able to receive messages and advice. We are not doing it to put someone down. We are making sure we make the right decision for the team.
‘That is a winning mentality I want to see. I have to do less if the boys have that.’
That was all it took and an agreement with the player was already in place just three days later. However, the negotiations between clubs then became increasingly frustrating and looked to be in jeopardy a number of times.
‘On January 12, a rumour swept Carrington that a medical had been booked but the stand-off continued, with Sporting demanding €80 million and United insisting on a top guaranteed price of €50 million,’ The Athletic notes.
‘Joel Glazer was influential on United’s financial position and at one stage, the deal looked close to collapsing.
‘But behind the scenes, momentum started to gather. It can be revealed that on January 23, the day after the Burnley defeat, production company Mob Film shot half the promotional video for the signing, featuring misty aerial footage of Old Trafford lit up at night. The rest would be done with Fernandes.
‘An agreement was reached on January 28, hours before the attack on Woodward’s house. That unsavoury episode had no effect on negotiations.’
Every cloud has a silver lining and the revelation that the transfer would never have happened had Haaland joined United is certainly enough to give United fans comfort about having lost out on the prolific Norwegian.