Manchester United would be shooting themselves in the foot if they let Bruno Fernandes leave

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New reports are linking Bruno Fernandes with a move away from Manchester United this summer - but selling him would be a grave mistake.

It seems that the reports which claimed that Manchester United would be open to offers for almost their entire senior squad this summer weren’t wide of the mark – The Independent are among the outlets now reporting that captain and key playmaker Bruno Fernandes is a target for Bayern Munich, and United would be “willing to do a deal.” But would they really move on their most important player? And should they?

There are lots of good arguments for moving players on in their prime, even when they’re key cogs in the machine. Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have made an art of it, allowing very few players to get past 30 before they’re moved on for a decent sum of money. Sir Alex Ferguson was pretty clinical about it, too, although admittedly key players often departed not necessarily because the club wanted to make some money while they still could but because they’d fallen out with him.

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The best clubs have long ago established that, in an ideal world, you should sell your stars on while they still have value – that way, you get to buy their replacement without leaving yourself short of the cash to do so if you hold on too long. Eventually, all players inevitably decline. The best teams get ahead of the curve.

But Fernandes, who will turn 30 in September, might be a different kettle of fish. He has been just about the only consistently impressive player at Old Trafford this season – he’s managed 10 Premier League goals and seven assists despite being at the heart of a disjointed, inconsistent and poorly-coached attack. He’s the club’s top scorer, top creator, captain and talisman.

It's hard to imagine what this United side would look like without him. Under Erik ten Hag, Fernandes has typically been the only functioning link between the front three and the rest of the team. It’s even harder to imagine what the fans might think of the decision to sell their best player while water pours from the roof of the stadium. Let’s just say it would be a bold first move by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, and that he wouldn’t be very popular for it.

Perhaps – perhapsMason Mount can be rejuvenated after an injury-free summer and pick up the slack in the number ten slot. Perhaps the review of Ten Hag’s position concludes that he needs replacing and they find a new head coach who doesn’t really want a number ten. Or perhaps selling Fernandes would simply represent throwing away the only functional and experienced fulcrum around which a new team could be built.

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One of the things about sides like Guardiola’s City or Ferguson’s United is that they had so many good players and were so well coached that losing one brick never pulled the whole wall down with it – the team was much bigger than any given player. But this United side is mouldering and it needs something to underpin it. Fernandes is, by some distance, the best bet that they have.

There is some economic appeal behind the notion of selling Fernandes anyway. According to The Independent’s report, the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules may impact the huge spending spree that they have planned, and selling Fernandes to Bayern, who apparently have money to spend, would make a big difference to the balance sheets.

Fernandes also has just two years left on his current contract, and for high-value players it makes sense to either sell or extend at that point, else they will surely leave for less than they’re worth down the line – but then again, they would make rather more money by getting back in the Champions League, and having Fernandes on the books would make that quite a bit easier.

To put it in perspective, Fernandes has generated nearly twice as many shooting chances as the next most creative United player this year (Alejandro Garnacho, for whatever that’s worth), has almost three times anybody else’s expected assists and almost three times as many successful ‘progressive’ passes – balls that go into the box or at least 10 yards further upfield. He simultaneously has the highest xG of any player in the current squad for the past season. He’s so far ahead of every other player around him that it borders on the absurd.

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United need a rebuild, but because it will be a major rebuild and may take time, they also need to ensure that it is underpinned by capable and experienced players who can lead the club through the transition. They have no better candidates on the books than Fernandes, and there is nobody more important to the club right now.

You can make all sorts of sensible arguments for successful clubs in good overall positions to sell their best players as they close in on 30 for economic reasons. But United aren’t in such a good place as to be able to let him go. In Fergie’s era, no player was too big for the club – now he’s the only player standing tall enough to carry them forward.

As it stands, this remains a rumour. Fernandes has been sanguine when asked about his future, saying only that if he is forced to think about leaving that he will worry about it after the European Championships. Some sources claim that he wants to sign a new contract, others than he’s inching towards the exit. But there is every chance that United will be tempted to sell this summer - and it’s a temptation they should make sure that they overcome/

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