The appointment of Erik ten Hag was announced 20 days after Fernandes' contract extension was made official. It was a baffling decision from the club to reward the player with a new deal with an interim manager in charge. It may be that Ten Hag gave the extension the green light and his blessing, but in any case United should have given him that choice upon his arrival.
Sources had indicated Ten Hag was the frontrunner for the United job throughout March and that was well before the confirmation of Fernandes' extension. There is a serious problem with player power at Old Trafford and the decision was a symptom of that.
Fernandes has hardly vindicated his salary raise since it was announced. “The best is yet to come from myself and this team,” the midfielder said after signing on the dotted line, but his performances since his contract extension have been awful.
Certain criticism of Fernandes this season hasn't been received well. He's been the driving force behind this United team since his arrival from Sporting Libson in 2020 and his talismanic displays have endeared him to supporters – he has credit in the bank. Although Fernandes had been the model of consistency, that has stopped this term. The rot in the dressing room has reached all four corners.
Fernandes is not exempt from criticism. He's been sensational for the club, but his performances have regressed this season and they have regressed again following his contract extension. Fernandes has been wasteful, petulant and ineffective in matches.
United lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace on Sunday and Fernandes gifted Palace their goal. He's prone to lapses in concentration and David de Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo are the only players who haven't let the club down this season. Fernandes is usually on that list.
Fernandes has won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award twice yet he's never in the conversation for this season's award. It's a testament to his quality that he's still managed to contribute 10 goals and 14 assists in his worst campaign in Manchester.
While his displays since his contract extension have been particularly poor, that doesn't mean it was a mistake to extend the player's deal. It was the correct decision to extend Fernandes' contract, but it was the wrong decision to do it without Ten Hag at the club.
It's unfair to lay the blame on Ten Hag for that. Football director John Murtough will take the responsibility, but perhaps Ten Hag might have been able to ask for the club to hold off on contract extensions before his arrival, albeit he was occupied with Ajax.
However, United should have taken that approach, regardless of whether it came up in discussions with Ten Hag or not. Handing out a contract extension with a temporary manager in charge sets a dangerous precedent that could eventually hurt United.
United's players have had no accountability for some time. The dressing room's lack of self-awareness has been frightening – Harry Maguire's pre-Liverpool comments come to mind – this season and the power dynamic at the club needs to change.
Ten Hag was straight-talking at his unveiling press conference on Monday afternoon. He talks like he could be the tyrant that United have desperately needed to address the toxic dressing room. There are far too many uncommitted players at the club.