Steve Bruce rates Bruno Fernandes very highly but the Newcastle head coach believes comparisons with Eric Cantona should be tempered until the Portuguese brings the glory days back to Manchester United.
Fernandes has been a galvanising force since his arrival at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon a little over a year ago and already has 21 goals and 12 assists in all competitions this season.
The impact he has made has been likened to when Cantona joined the Red Devils nearly 30 years ago, with the Frenchman’s signing often hailed as the final piece of the jigsaw that preceded a period of sustained success.
Bruce recognises how influential Fernandes has been but he feels the attacking midfielder can only be put alongside his former United team-mate by bringing some silverware to the club.
“What you have to judge people on over a period of time is what they’ve won. Certainly, Eric for us, was the catalyst to go and win things,” Bruce said ahead of Newcastle’s trip to United on Sunday evening.
“The way Fernandes has played in the last 12 months, it feels a bit like Eric because it’s his stage. Eric adored everything that went with playing for arguably the biggest and best club in the world.
“Fernandes has done fantastically well in doing that, it’s his stage. For it to be even suggested that he’s on the same hymn sheet as Eric is a wonderful compliment to him.
“Now they have to go and achieve and win things the way Eric did, and on big occasions win cup finals and semi-finals. If he does that then of course you can compare him to Eric.”
Bruce will again be without top-scorer Callum Wilson and defensive trio Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and Javi Manquillo due to injuries this weekend, but midfielder Jeff Hendrick is available after serving a suspension.
Wilson has been instrumental for the Magpies this season, scoring 10 of their 25 league goals, although Bruce is optimistic his absence for an unspecified period of time because of a hamstring problem can be overcome.
“He’s our centre-forward and been crucial to us this season. We’re going to have to do without him for a few weeks and that’s the way it is but I’m quietly confident we can do it,” Bruce added.
Dwight Gayle made his first start of the season as he replaced Wilson up front in Monday’s defeat at Chelsea, which left the Magpies 17th in the table ahead of the fixture against United.
The 31-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and Bruce was tight-lipped about the striker’s future beyond the end of this term.
“There are a number of players with contracts up and Dwight’s one of them,” Bruce added.
“There will be conversations to be had over the next few weeks, I’m sure, but we are in the middle of Covid and trying to secure our Premier League place, so discussions will be ongoing.”