“The coach told me: ‘you have to let him do everything, or you get nothing. He is great, but he must be the star.’”
This conversation with a backroom staffer of a top Premier League club was relayed by a representative of a Germany starter when Manchester United had a free pass at Bruno Fernandes in the winter of 2019.
It was a widely held view in England that the 26-year-old was an exceptional talent - Jürgen Klopp had told him as much after a pre-season friendly in the US and Mauricio Pochettino seriously considered him for Tottenham - but one whose gifts glow most in the spotlight.
Teams with a gigantic focus on the collective structure, such as Liverpool, Manchester City and to a slightly lesser degree Spurs, swerved the opportunity to recruit Fernandes.
Their assessment was not that he was individualistic - and his talismanic performances for United have proven him to be a superb reference point that pulls the best out of his team-mates - but they noted that his strengths meant that he required central billing.
But Fernandes thrives on responsibility, in operating as his side's creative hub, taking ownership of deadball situations and being the decisive edge.
The sizeable reduction of this in his role for Portugal, in light of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota, has significantly hampered his influence at the European Championships.
Fernandes has painfully been a passenger at the tournament, anonymous against both Hungary and Germany.
While all Portugal’s attackers were laboured in the opener and required a slice of fortune plus the record-breaking antics of Ronaldo to steer them past Marco Rossi’s men, there were improved offensive contributions in the 4-2 defeat to the three-time European champions.
Fernandes was the exception, with his display depreciating. United’s main man managed just 30 passes against Hungary, with a solitary shot on target. Those figures dwindled further when he lined up against Germany, with 28 passes and no attempt to trouble the Manuel Neuer.
Portugal have netted five goals in the showpiece, with the playmaker instructive in none of them.
It cannot be due to an inability to operate with a stellar cast, given the presence of Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and co at Old Trafford. In a season and a half for the club, he has delivered a staggering 45 goal contributions in 51 Premier League matches.
There is the obvious need to tweak his game given that Ronaldo, who is just two successful efforts shy of equalling Ali Daei's international record of 109 goals, is the focal point through which everything funnels for the Selecao.
As Jose Mourinho emphasised, Portugal are desperate for him to turn up against France and to start impacting their chances at the tournament. Rafa Silva and Renato Sanches have offered heaps more in cameo roles and given the exacting demands Fernandes places on himself, he will be the first to expect better.
“The only important thing here is to help the team whatever way I can do that and, if I can help them with the goals inside or outside of the penalty box, I will be happy,” he has analysed. “Our goal is to help the national team to win and I’m no exception.”
It’s time for those words to be translated into action.