Imagine buying one of the best players in the world and all it cost was €40,000. It takes skill, vision, intelligence and a pinch of “madness.” Today, Bruno Fernandes is a star in the Premier League with Manchester United and in the world of football. The 26-year-old’s average of goals and assists with United (0.62 goals per 90 minutes, 0.37 assists per 90 minutes) is extraordinary considering he’s only been with the team for a little over a year. It’s safe to say United’s deal in January 2020 to buy the Portuguese midfielder from Sporting in Lisbon has been one of the best transfers made by any team in the last year or so.
But how did we get here?
The rise of Fernandes as a can’t-miss talent on a European level was born 50 minutes from Milan in Northern Italy, precisely in Novara, a small city of 100,000 inhabitants. Growing up in Boavista, Portugal, Fernandes was noticed in 2012 and brought to Italy thanks to Miguel Pinho, who’s still alongside Fernandes today as his agent, together with Rui Guimaraes. Those two were the architects of the mega move to Man United that has kept Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and supporters of the Red Devils everywhere happy for more than a year.
Javier Ribalta, now the sporting director of Zenit St. Petersburg who in recent years was a member of the board and the scouting director for both Juventus and Manchester United, knew he had found a gem in Fernandes when the creative midfielder showed his winning intuition as soon as he arrived in Novara.
Ribalta was immediately convinced of Fernandes and made the move to pluck him out of Boavista and buy him for Novara in 2012, which at the time was playing in Serie B, Italian football’s second tier. Ribalta had no doubts about the move, but he ran into a personal hurdle when he received a job offer from Juventus to become scouting director. Ribalta, who found himself transitioning from Novara to Juventus, initiated the Fernandes deal for Novara and personally insisted together with Pinho to push the deal through the finish line. The two had an extremely good relationship and the end result becomes Novara purchasing Bruno Fernandes for €40,000, roughly $48,000, to play in Serie B. Who would have imagined that?
The Portuguese champion was a mere teenager (17 years old), still considered a minor during his move to Italy. From Novara, he then joined Udinese and Sampdoria before making his return to Portugal at Sporting and then the big splash to Manchester United. As it stands, €100 million would not be enough to take him away from Old Trafford, where he has become an idol, a star and one of the best players in the world. But that intuition of Ribalta with Pinho in the small town of Novara, in the Italian second division, is now worth gold. One of the incredible stories of the transfer market.