When it comes to prospective transfer fees, nothing is a surprise anymore. Europe’s top teams have a lot of money, and they aren’t afraid to spend it. So, when Portuguese outlet A Bola recently reported that Tottenham Hotspur may have to pay £87million to sign Bruno Fernandes, any shock quickly died down.
Still, there is a relevant question to be asked: is the midfielder actually worth pursuing, especially if Spurs are to pay such an astronomical price?
A couple of things are worth noting at this point. One: Fernandes has enjoyed an outstanding debut season back in his home country with Sporting CP. This form has led to a place in the Portugal squad, and if he does go to the World Cup this summer and play a starring role is value is likely to increase.
Two: the reported £87million fee is a buyout clause – it’s unlikely that any team would actually have to pay that amount, but it does give an indication of the player’s worth.
Alongside the above information, it’s important to evaluate the player’s individual qualities, style of play, background and upside before discussing whether or not Tottenham should attempt to sign the midfielder.
Who is Bruno Fernandes?
Having spent his formative years with Boavista’s youth academy, Fernandes moved to Italy and joined Serie B side Novara at the age of 17. Speaking of this move later in his career, he said: “It was kind of weird, as a scout came to see another…player, but he liked me and signed me.”
In his maiden campaign he established himself as a regular in the first team, making 23 appearances to steer the club to a play-off spot. Having helped himself to four goals and two assists that season, he earned the attention of top-tier sides, eventually signing for Udinese in the summer of 2013.
The Zebrette have a proud history of spotting and developing talent. Many of Europe’s finest players, including Manchester United star Alexis Sánchez, Juventus centre-back Mehdi Benatia and former Chelsea winger Juan Cuadrado, were nurtured in Udine before going on to have careers at the highest echelons of the game.
Fernandes looked like he would follow the trio to fame and fortune, but in truth he only flourished in short bursts during his time with Udinese. In three seasons he evidenced genuine talent and annoying inconsistency before a sideways move to fellow Serie A side Sampdoria in 2016.
Under the guidance of Marco Giampaolo the Portuguese playmaker began to fulfil his potential. Operating centrally within a diamond midfield for a team built on smooth possession play, he played some of his best football. Within a year, he would return to Portugal.
This season he has played a key role in Sporting’s title challenge, winning his first senior cap for his country along the way. He now has four caps to his name, and is almost certain to go to Russia this summer.
What are Fernandes' strengths and weaknesses?
During his time in Italy, Fernandes was often deployed as an attack-minded central midfielder within a three. However, he was also occasionally utilised in a more advanced area behind the forward line. Since moving to Sporting he has taken up the latter role, playing as a No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 system.
His footballing idol is Portuguese legend Rui Costa, and there are some similarities between the two. Not only did they both star in Italy and play creative roles, but they offer similar qualities in possession.
Fernandes, like his idol, has an excellent touch. He is calm under pressure, despite his relatively small 5ft 8in stature, thanks to his control and refined technique. He also moves well, constantly looking to get in behind the opposition midfield to receive penetrative through balls and connect attacking moves.
However, the 23-year-old is no luxury player – he also works hard without the ball at his feet. This can be shown statistically. Not only is he Sporting’s main provider of key passes this season with an average of 2.2 per 90, but he makes 1.8 tackles and one interception too.
Fernandes relishes work in the defensive phase, supporting the press well from the front when asked to do so. Ultimately it’s his attacking abilities that turn heads. His capacity for finding space, linking up with team-mates, threading balls through opposition defences and shooting from distance make him a potent offensive weapon.
Should Spurs sign Fernandes?
Mauricio Pochettino likes to rotate formations, though he regularly deploys at least two attacking midfielders within his various shapes. It is likely that, were Fernandes to join Tottenham, he would take up one of these positions.
Competition for places would be intense, however, and it’s also noteworthy that he bears a resemblance to Christian Eriksen in that they both are languid, lacking real physicality or athleticism, but are also spatially aware, intelligent and technically superb.
One question mark Pochettino might have is whether Fernandes can play in the same team as Eriksen. In order to facilitate this, he would have to commit to an attacking midfield three so as to not exclude the dynamic Dele Alli. But this trio would offer zero width, and no real pace.
In terms of his age profile and attributes, Fernandes fits Tottenham perfectly. His best years are well ahead of him, he’s good on the ball, and he has a positive work ethic. However, considering he doesn’t bring anything different to the team, the Premier League side would be wise to avoid paying his extravagant release clause.
If a more reasonable transfer fee can be agreed, Spurs should make their move, and do it fast. Come the World Cup, the player’s valuation is likely to escalate.