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Bruno Fernandes & Man Utd: Why it all comes down to Ole's choice

COMMENT: Frederico Varandas, the Sporting CP president, has a plan. And it does involve Bruno Fernandes. But whether this scheme stretches to Manchester United... well, we'll know more this week.

Varandas was in London on Friday. As was his sporting director Hugo Viana, the former Newcastle United midfielder. In England, they're insisting it was to meet with United officials at their Mayfair office. But Portuguese sources are a little less bullish. The president and Viana were in London on Friday. But people in and around the club are tightlipped about who they were meeting and why.

Indeed, it was only whistle-stop trip. No hotels were booked in case 'negotiations' stretched into a second day. Instead, Varandas and Viana were back in Portugal Friday evening to see Sporting win 3-1 at Vitoria Setubal the following day. And offering us just a little hint of how things progressed in London, on the scoresheet was a certain Bruno Fernandes - twice. With millions at stake, you fancy if anything had been close to being settled then Varandas would've given orders for his club captain to be withdrawn before kickoff.

But that's not to say there's no smouldering embers amongst all this smoke. Going into the game, Silas, Sporting's coach, left us in little doubt. Fernandes is basically in play. The free-scoring midfielder, for many the best in the country, could be lost to Silas before the end of the month.

"He is a huge player," declared the head coach, addressing the United rumours. "All players like Bruno always have a lot of market. We know that he will always be a much talked about player and sought after by clubs as big as the talk.

"I don't like to think about that before, but I'm starting to think about alternatives within our team if Bruno doesn't stay with us. I hope that doesn't happen. In Portugal, unfortunately, we can't keep the best players for long. Bruno is the best player in the league."

So for Silas, Sporting should be working on a replacement - Fernandes already has a foot outside the club. But will the destination be United? Again, in Lisbon, they're saying Varandas was keeping his options open. A meeting with United took place. But he also was in contact with Tottenham officials in the afternoon. Add those words from Silas on Thursday and things start falling into place. Varandas does have a plan this month - and it all centres on selling Fernandes.

Indeed, we can go further. If United were serious about Fernandes earlier this season, the Portugal international could've been theirs on January 1 - and for much less than the €70m Varandas quoted them on Friday. It was only in November that the 25 year-old signed a new deal with Sporting and in the process had a €35m buyout clause written out of his contract. The gesture was viewed as a show of faith by Fernandes. However, from the club's position, barely a month out from the January market, it set up Varandas to maximise his star's price potential just in time for the transfer window.

Of course, if United had been serious six weeks ago, a tap on the shoulder, urging Fernandes to wait, could've been enough for him to resist Varandas' suggestion and make the move to Old Trafford for that €35m fee.

That's not to say Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn't now interested. We can confirm both the United manager and his No2 Mike Phelan were at the Alvalade to see the Classico between Sporting and Porto. No word has been offered regarding the subject of their interest. But Fernandes did turn in a full 90.

Solskjaer wants a new No10. Not a midfield schemer, but a goalscorer. A player capable of arriving late and converting. Basically an upgrade on Jesse Lingard. Fernandes - in every way - fits the bill.

And at the €70m Varandas is demanding, it's a good £20-25m less than what it would take to convince Leicester City to part with James Maddison. It's also a figure that has turned off Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman. As mentioned, Varandas did try to drum up an auction on Friday afternoon. But word came back that he'd had his chance with Spurs. Their last offer remained the best they could do.

As Varandas revealed back in September, "We had bids, lots of enquiries, but the only serious bid was €45m from Tottenham, plus €20m for goals that were to win the Premier League and Champions League."

And for all the talk from Fernandes about Tottenham being "everything I wish I had at that moment", it wasn't enough for him to push the buyout clause angle. Levy's fingers have been burnt. And €70m is simply too rich for him.

So now it's down to Solskjaer. Varandas wants to do a deal. And the United manager has been told he'll be backed if he wants it to happen. Even Marcos Rojo is open to returning to Sporting on-loan - so long as United make up the shortfall in wages the Lisbon club are prepared to pay.

But has Solskjaer seen enough? Is he convinced? This is one driven by the selling club. Varandas has been preparing for this since November. The question now is: does Solskjaer want to help Sporting's president bring this plan together...?

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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