"He infected the place. Stuck his chest out, put his collar up and said, 'Look at me'." There is no collar on the current Manchester United shirt for Bruno Fernandes to raise like Eric Cantona used to do, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would doubtless still share the same sentiments about his own foreign talisman as Alex Ferguson did about the flamboyant Frenchman all those years ago.
Fernandes' impact at Old Trafford cannot be quantified in goals and assists alone, even if they are the overwhelming reason why United go into tomorrow's clash at Anfield three points clear of champions Liverpool at the top of the table and with the Portuguese having just received his fourth Premier League Player of the Month award in seven months of competitive action.
Much as Cantona's influence at United on the emerging 'Class of '92' of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers was pervading, Fernandes has made a similarly deep impression on dressing room culture: raising standards on and off the pitch.
Catalyst, leader, winner and motivator, a man intolerant of indifference and excuses.
Exactly what Solskjaer's rebuild needed, in other words.
"I have always been very demanding of myself, but I came to a club that was very demanding," says Fernandes, who has been directly involved in 33 goals in just 31 league matches since making his United debut in February.
"You play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, a club that has won everything. I don't think it was me changing the mindset of the club. If I changed the mindset of some players or my mindset helped some players to be better - maybe. But I don't think it was me changing anything for the club because playing for Manchester United means playing with the pressure, playing with the responsibility.
"You have to know you play for one of the biggest clubs in the world. My mindset has always been like that. But I want to be better. I want to grow up. I think you can always learn every day, it doesn't matter how good you are."
Fernandes talks like he plays: unafraid, perceptive and with complete conviction. Even from the other end of the phone line, you sense his presence. His English is immaculate, which is invaluable given the importance he places on communication, and that mentality - which Solskjaer can see permeating his squad - is reflected in his approach to Liverpool.
No one is more eager to win at Anfield, to deliver a 21st title this season and ensure their Merseyside rivals do not draw level on 20 apiece in the process, but, in Fernandes' eyes, appetite for this tussle has to be matched in every outing.
"Of course I know. You don't want your rivals at the same level as you, or with the same amount of trophies as you," Fernandes says when asked about the importance of staying above Liverpool in the championship count.
"Everyone knows what it means for the supporters. But the main point for us is to know that every game has to mean the same. We have to go into every game with the same mentality as we have for Liverpool. It can be different playing against Burnley to Liverpool.
"I understand for the fans it's different but, for us, it can't be because the result we want is the same and nothing else.
"I understand the fans and we will try everything to give them some joy. But the main point for us is to keep going and make our best in every game.
"Because you need to win the next game and the next one and the next one."
No interview with Fernandes would be complete without discussing penalties. Solskjaer has accused United's rivals, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp included, of trying to "influence referees" with their moans about the volume of penalties they have been awarded. But Fernandes insists the complaints do not register with him.
"I don't hear [them]," he explains. "You always see what people say, but I really don't care, honestly.
"I played in Portugal and, when you play for Sporting, Benfica and Porto are always talking about that kind of stuff - to put pressure on the referee, or to make noise in the press. When we have a penalty, if I go to take the ball, I just have to do my job."
Fernandes has converted 15 of his 16 penalties for United - a miss at Newcastle his only blemish - and says the sight of Manchester City's Raheem Sterling missing his third consecutive spot-kick in midweek was a reminder that the job is not as easy as he often makes it look.
"I saw in the news the other day that Sterling has missed his last three penalties. So it shows it's not as easy to take a penalty as people say,"
Fernandes adds: "You have to work on that, to be focused. It doesn't mean Sterling is not a good penalty taker because he missed three in a row. It can happen. It could maybe happen to me."
Marcus Rashford revealed this week that United had former manager Jose Mourinho to thank for teaching them to be more "savvy" in the box. Yet Fernandes says it is no surprise that a team with such speedy, fast-footed strikers should win a lot of penalties.
"As Ole says, we have really quick players up front. Anthony [Martial] is one of the best players, one against one, in the box. Marcus is another who has quick feet who can take the ball away from the defender in any moment.
"It's normal that sometimes [they will be tripped] and gain penalties. People can say what they want. But, for us, it's about continuing to do the right things and when we get a penalty - scoring."
And Fernandes, United's game changer, certainly does plenty of that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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