Dear United

Madeleine Penfold for The Players' Tribune

To our fans all over the world, 

I want to say a few words from the heart before this FA Cup final. I know that it has not been an easy season for you. We have not been up to the standard that you deserve. We have not always matched the support you’ve shown us. As the captain, I feel that more than anyone, and it is not a responsibility that I take for granted. 

This club is more than just something that I can put into a nice quote for social media. It is something that I care about deeply. 

I will never forget where I was when I was given the opportunity to come here four years ago. I was standing in the closet in our bedroom in Lisbon. My agent had rang me up around 10 o’clock at night, and my daughter was only three years old at the time, so that was bedtime for us. I went into the little closet to be quiet. I always told my agent, during my whole career, “I never want to hear about any transfer until it’s 100% real. I don’t want to be distracted unless there is an offer.” 

So I knew if he was calling me at that hour, something was going on. 

I shut the door and I said, “Miguel? Yeah?” 

He said, “Are you ready to hear the news?”

I said, “About what?”

“About going.” 

“Going where? Spurs?” 


“Are you joking?”

“No, no. I’m serious. United. It’s done. It’s just on you now. What do you want to do?”

I didn’t even reply. I started fighting back tears. But you know the feeling when you are trying to hold it in, so the other person doesn’t realise you’re crying, and you can’t even speak? 

He said, “Bruno? Bruno? Hello?” 

At that moment, my wife, Ana, comes looking for me in the bedroom. 

“Bruno??? Bruno???” 

She opens the door.

“What’s going on? Why are you in the closet?”

I said, “It’s Miguel. He just called. He’s saying United want me.”

She said, “Wait ...... Are you crying?

I told her, “I don’t know! I think it’s happiness!”

(Ana never cries. She’s the tough one. I am the emotional one. I know she is reading this right now, laughing at me.)

Madeleine Penfold for The Players' Tribune

You need to understand a bit about my situation. The previous summer, there were some rumors about Premier League clubs being interested in me, but the only thing that was concrete was Tottenham. It feels weird to me now, but at the time, I was excited. One of my life goals was to play in the Premier League. I tried to block out all the noise, but in the age we are living in, with social media and phones and text, of course my friends let me know about the rumours. As a kid from Portugal, you can’t help but dream a bit about playing at the big grounds in England. In the end, the clubs couldn’t reach an agreement, and the deal fell apart. It was a complicated emotion, but I was really happy at Sporting. I felt the love of the fans, and it was a fantastic place for me. But it was not my destiny. 

A few months went by, and the new season started, and I tried to block out all the noise. So when my agent called me in January, I was a bit shocked when he said, “No, no. I’m serious. United. What do you want to do?”

I literally told Ana, “I feel like I am already living a dream at Sporting. But this is…. It’s more than a dream. It’s Manchester United.” 

All this time, my agent was still on the phone! I don’t even know if I put him on mute. Maybe he was still talking to me about the deal, and I just wasn’t responding. Finally, I said, “Miguel?”

He said, “Yes?”

I said, “We are going to United.” 

I hung up the phone and hugged my wife, and I just cried tears of joy. 

Ana has been with me on this ride since we were 16, 17, 18 years old. We met as teenagers, and when we first started dating, I wasn’t making any money as a footballer, and she had a nice job working as a futsal referee on the weekends. She used to do three or four matches in a row on a Saturday, and then we would always go to the cinema on Sundays. I personally didn’t have much money at the time so Ana was the one who had to pay for our movie tickets. Same with going out to dinner. Even at the pizza shop, she had to pay. When I moved to Italy at 17, I lived at the training ground for the first year, and then she followed me at 18, when she finished high school. From day one, we have pursued this dream together.

So when I cried tears of joy, it was because of our entire history. 

(Ana, this memory is just for you…. Remember when the sporting director of Udinese called me when we were at the team dinner and told me that they didn’t want me anymore? Remember leaving the dinner, so embarrassed? Remember when I was crying in the hotel room? Remember what you told me? Keep going. This is your dream.)  

Look at where we are now…. The tough times, they have never broken us.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Growing up, this dream was always the only option. I had no backup, no other interests. When it was a lunch break at school, the only thing that was ever on my mind was to be the first one out the door so I could get to the football pitch and “claim” it before the older kids could get there. I laugh now when I see these kids today talking about fashion and worrying about what they’re going to wear to school tomorrow, because the only thing me and my friends ever wore to school were jeans and futsal shoes. Every day, we were out there at lunch playing in the mud, not giving a damn. I remember one Christmas I got the Nike futsal shoes that they made for Ricardinho. (If you don’t know Ricardinho, you have to go to YouTube now). I literally killed those shoes. They had no life in them anymore. May they rest in peace. 

If my mother made me stay inside for some reason, then I was playing football on the Sega or the PlayStation. I’m not talking about FIFA. I’m talking about the classics. Championship Manager and Pro Evolution Soccer.

Facu. Roberto Larcos. Castolo. Koko. Minanda. The legends of the Master League. I was managing “Man Red” to glory whenever I was not at the park. 

And when I was at the park? That was my happiest place. 

One of the first parks with the artificial turf that they ever did in Portugal was near my house in Porto. It was the astro mixed with sand. We called it “O Sintético.” Sometimes when I go home now, I drive by it and I park my car there just to feel the nostalgia. When I see a father kicking the ball with his son at that park, it makes me think of all the incredible times we had – the friends we made, the rivalries, the 5-v-5s, all the things you miss from the old times, when you were saying, “I’m Cristiano today!” and your friends were saying, “I’m Messi! I’m Deco! I’m Figo!”

When you were falling in love with the game, you know? O Sintético was a sacred place. 

One day, when my son is a bit older, I will take him there to play. 

And one day, many many years from now, I hope that he drives to that park when he is a grown man, and he can say, “This is where I made friends.” 

Maybe he will even say, “This is where I started dreaming.” 

When I was a kid on that sandy pitch, I had this vision that one day I would play for United. Obviously, every kid born in Portugal during the era of Cristiano and the 2004 Euros and the 2008 Champions League probably had this same crazy dream. But for me…. How can I say it? It wasn’t crazy. I looked at it like it was just a step on a long journey. A very, very long journey. But I was not going to stop until it happened.

So yes, when my agent called me four years ago and told me that United wanted me, it was dream complete.

Michael Regan/UEFA via Getty Images

I’ll never forget my very first game at Old Trafford. I went out for the warmup, and if I am honest, the stadium was only half-full, and I kind of thought, “OK … well, this is just normal.” 

We went back inside and had our team talk, and then stepping into the tunnel again, it was like magic. I could hear this rumbling. Then this incredible noise. Sort of like, “Hhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

Walking out the first time, it was just goosebumps. Everything is so much bigger even than your dreams. I’m sure some of you have seen the video, but I can totally understand how the little mascot felt when he got overwhelmed with emotion before the FA Cup game against Liverpool this season. Remember that? We were standing in the tunnel, waiting to go out, and I just saw this little boy standing there frozen, with tears coming down his face. I don’t even think he was sad, he just had his mind blown by the aura of Old Trafford. For me, as a father, it really hit me. I’ve seen that same look on my kids’ faces. He didn’t want to move. So I told him, “Hey, don’t worry, you can hold my hand and we’ll walk out together.” But he was still frozen! So I just picked him up, and we walked out of the tunnel together. That’s a moment you never forget. That “Hhhhhhhrrrrrrrraaahhhhhh” and the sight of the fans.

From that first match, you have all embraced the new guy who signed from Portugal. You know, honestly, I was so focused that everything was silent once we started playing. All I was thinking in my head was: You have no time to settle in here. You are either a Man United player or you are not. You have to show it.

Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

I remember when I got back to the dressing room after the match, I turned on my phone and my brother had texted me. I was a bit nervous about what it would say, because if you know my father and my brother (and even my wife!), they really don’t hold back with the criticism. But it just said:

Did you hear the music?!?!

I didn’t understand what he was talking about. 

I texted: What? What music?

In the stadium!!! Your music!!!!


They did a song for you!!!!!

Then he sent me the video, and I finally understood what he was talking about. All the people who went for drinks at the bar at halftime were singing my song. I was stunned, because I had only signed three days before! I was thinking, How do they even know I am any good? YouTube? Everybody looks good on YouTube! How did they come up with the lyrics in four days???

There will always be those who don’t like your football, but 99% of you have only shown me love. To this day, whenever I see someone on the other side of the world wearing my shirt, it gives me such a special feeling. People send me photos from Hong Kong, or from Nigeria, wearing my number 8 shirt, and every single time, it makes me feel so surprised and humble.

Manchester United

Last summer, when I was made captain, I remember coming home to Ana, and I said, “Something happened today… I can’t even explain.”

She said, “What?”

I said, “Something that I never even dreamed about is coming true.” 

As captain, I have simply tried to be Bruno. Not another legend, or another personality, but myself. Same Bruno on and off the pitch. And for me, honesty is everything. You fans deserve honesty, with the way you have supported us. 

Frustration. Isn’t that what we all feel? That’s really the only word for this season, I think. If you ask me, or if you ask any United fan, it would be the same. 

There were so many moments when we won a massive game, and it felt like OK, now we are going to build from this … and it just never happened. It never fully clicked for us. We were not consistent enough, and we have to be better. For each other, for the club, for our fans. 

Our traveling support has been amazing. You all saw it at Selhurst Park, when we lost 4–0, and our fans were still standing and singing the entire match. I was out with an injury, and I had to sit and watch at home, which just drives me crazy. (Apologies to my wife and children.) I could hear the fans singing, and it just made me wish that I could have been there on the pitch to stand in front of them and applaud them back. For all the s*** we have been through, with injuries and setbacks, our fans have never stopped giving everything.

Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

After this difficult season, it is my responsibility to give more. It starts with me. And it starts tomorrow. We have to give everything in this last match against City, and we have to move forward. 

I love to step out at Old Trafford more than anything in the world. I don’t want to leave. This has always been my ultimate dream. 

I just want my expectations to fit with the expectations of the club. If you go talk to any fan, they will tell you the same thing. We want to compete for the league. We want to be playing Champions League football. We want to be in cup finals. That is the standard. That is what I want. That is what you all deserve.

I just want to keep fighting. I want to be here. My family wants to be here. If you doubt that for a moment, then you just have to look at my Spotify Wrapped, and that will prove it to you….

When I arrived here four years ago, my daughter, Matilde, was only three. 

My son, Gonçalo, wasn’t even born yet. 

Matilde, she used to love football. She was the reason why I always did my “I can’t hear you” goal celebration, because whenever we asked her nicely to put her toys away, she would put her hands over her ears and say, “What??? I can’t hear you, daddy. I can’t heaaaarrrrr yooooouuu.” 

Whenever I would forget to do the celebration, she would never let me hear the end of it. 

“Why didn’t you do it, Daddy? You forgot about me!” 

She watched every match. 

It’s crazy how fast time goes by, because now I have a seven-year-old daughter who couldn’t care less about football. Now she wants to be a ballerina and an Olympic gymnast. And I have a three-year-old son who wants to do nothing but kick mini footballs around the house. He lines up five at a time, kicks them. Goes and gets them. Lines them up again. 

The only thing that they can agree on is the song that we always have to play when we drive them to school in the morning. Always the same song. 

My son, he can barely sing the lyrics. He mumbles most of the words and mixes them up, but he starts off very well.

Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

Imagine a three-year-old screaming his lungs out at 8 o’clock in the morning from the back seat of the car….

Glory, glory Man United!

Glory, glory Man United!

Glory, glory Man United!

As the Reds go marching on, on, ON!!!! (He loves that part). 

Then my daughter takes over for him….

We’re the boys in red!

And we're on our way to Wembley!!!

Wembley, Wembley!!!!!

Every morning, at 8 o’clock…..

So, to my kids, and to the rest of the United fans across the world, I just want to say: 

I know it has not been easy. I know it has not been to our standard. 

But we’re on our way to Wembley. 

Get behind us one more time. 

Your captain, 

Bruno Fernandes