Bruno Fernandes is Manchester United's heartbeat and has given four years of his prime to them… now they must return the favour and surround him with quality, writes NATHAN SALT

This idea that somehow Manchester United would be better off without Bruno Fernandes is complete and utter hogwash.

Bayern Munich want him. Inter Milan want him. Cristiano Ronaldo wants him to join him in Saudi Arabia. Of course they do. He’s Manchester United's best player; he’s the one player of a standard that, if given the help, can put this sinking ship back afloat.

Fernandes offers so many intangibles to United that just don’t translate to popular statistical metrics, or viral clips befitting of fan social media pages. There’s an infectiousness to him. A tenacity that rubs off on others that so few in this club seem to produce.

There are moments, sometimes fleeting but often crucial, where he is playing puppet master to pull his team-mates into positions and elevate them to the level of his play which, when at his best, is of a world class standard.

It was notable at Crystal Palace, the first game Fernandes has missed through injury in his professional career, just how United collapsed without him. A 4-0 shellacking was no great surprise.

Bruno Fernandes has been linked with a move away from Man United, with a number of clubs interested in signing him this summer

But United should be doing everything to keep him, and he is the one player who demands that his team-mates lift their level

Not just in midfield but through every rank of the side. Lost and without a leader to guide them through the storm, they collapsed. Even against Arsenal, a limp performance that saw the Gunners win while coasting in second gear, there was no spark plug to galvanise United minus their midfield metronome.

Here against Newcastle that was a non-issue, not with an energiser bunny like Fernandes haring from his false nine position to left back in the early exchanges to clear danger from the edge of his own box.

Moments later he’s back launching a counter-attack and all without breaking sweat. It set a tone. He is the standard bearer that all others must follow.

It is no exaggeration to say that Fernandes is the heartbeat of this side. Granted, this is a side still with the potential to finish with Manchester United’s worst ever Premier League points total. But that isn’t on Fernandes.

It is why when his entourage sat down with United’s senior football leadership team at Carrington in the past week it was stressed just how imperative it is that United build around him.

Fernandes' energy was infectious in Man United's win against Newcastle on Wednesday night

Fernandes no doubt walked into that meeting claiming that he has given four years of his prime to United at a time when they have gone backwards. Now they must return the favour by surrounding the 29-year-old with the quality required to compete for cups and titles.

‘I will be here till when the club wants me and the club wants me to be a part of the future,’ he said on the pitch at full-time. A not-so-subtle message to Sir Jim Ratcliffe ahead of the summer that the time is now to maximise his prime.

‘If for some reason they don’t want me, then I will go.’

Fernandes has an innate ability to elevate the game of everyone that works with him. That much feels obvious.

Only a few weeks ago he was seen encouraging Ethan Wheatley, the 250th academy graduate to crack the first team, when he came on. Wheatley, crowned Under-18s Player of the Season on Wednesday night, has benefitted immensely in recent months from Fernandes’ leadership and guidance.

Here it was Amad Diallo, the man of the match, that was notably boosted by Fernandes.

It was Fernandes’ dummy from Diallo’s pass that allowed Kobbie Mainoo the space inside the box to make it 1-0. At 2-1 it was Fernandes who turned provider, feeding Rasmus Hojlund, sent on from the bench late on, to score into the bottom corner.

While it is the intangibles that make Fernandes such a quality player he even walked out of Old Trafford on Wednesday night top of the class on the stats chart.

He ranked first for chances created - 5 (1st), touches - 70 (1st), passes - 48 (1st), and crosses - 8 (1st). It was, whether he likes the term or not, a quintessential captain’s performance.

‘It doesn’t exist, a captain's performance, it is a team performance,’ he told Sky after.

Fernandes was seen encouraging teenager Ethan Wheatley (right) when he made his senior debut last month

Fernandes has also helped guide Kobbie Mainoo through the early stages of his career

United and manager Erik ten Hag must now bring in world class players to complement Fernandes

‘I am no different from anyone just because I have the armband.

'I always try my best and we always do the best we can for the club – nobody hides that we play for a big club and we have to lift our standards every game.’

Sorry Bruno, there is such thing as a captain’s performance, one that lifts up others and helps guide peers through uncomfortable moments.

There have been plenty of those at Old Trafford this season and they haven’t all had the happy ending that this one delivered thanks to Hojlund’s late winner.

But the message to Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Cristiano Ronaldo and anyone else who wants Fernandes should be a hard and fast no.

Manchester United must match his ambition and give him a team that he can win with. Fail to do that and risk losing him and United will only go in one direction (the wrong one).

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