Soon after Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Man United was confirmed, fans started wondering whether he would become the club’s designated penalty-taker.
Magnus Carlsen, the world’s greatest chess player, tweeted “Bye, bye Bruno Fernandes the fantasy asset” soon after the transfer was formally acknowledged.
The Norwegian Grandmaster clearly believes the midfielder will be taken off penalties and replaced by his compatriot, who has been the primary spot-kick taker for every team he has represented for over a decade.
Ronaldo takes penalties for Portugal whether or not Fernandes is on the pitch – very successfully as displayed at Euro 2020 – and many expect Ole Gunnar Solksjaer to implement an identical pecking order going forward.
But if the Red Devils manager wants to be considered a serious manager, he shouldn’t put Ronaldo on penalties.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has a reputation for being one of the best penalty-takers in the world and the stats more or less reinforce this commonly-held opinion.
Ronaldo converts 84% of his spot-kicks, which is roughly 10% better than the average success rate.
However, Fernandes is an exceptional penalty-taker who converts 93% of his attempts.
Granted, the midfielder has taken significantly fewer penalties than his 36-year-old team-mate and it’s likely his success will fall closer to the average as his career progresses but his current record is undeniably sublime.
From a purely footballing perspective, Fernandes should continue to take Man United’s penalties, even if Ronaldo is on the pitch.
However, it wouldn’t be easy for Solskjaer to enforce this without upsetting his newest arrival.
Ronaldo has allowed team-mates to take penalties in the past – he memorably gave Karim Benzema one when the Frenchman was being criticised for his relatively poor strike rate – but he generally takes responsibility from 12 yards.
It’s natural that he would want to take penalties as he is extremely driven to score as many goals as possible – his elite mentality is perhaps his strongest attribute.
However, it’s Solskjaer’s job to ensure Man United get the best possible results.
Some fans may think there’s no real harm in taking Fernandes off penalties as it’s unlikely to make the difference between success and another trophyless campaign.
But if Ronaldo were to miss a crucial penalty – fans will remember he missed in the 2008 Champions League final shootout – when Fernandes was available to take it then what excuse would Solskjaer give for not appointing the best man for the job?
Would Sir Alex Ferguson priority a player’s ego over what’s best for the team? Almost certainly not.
Some may argue that giving Ronaldo penalties would help ensure his morale remains high, consequently producing benefits that outweigh the marginal negative of a 9% reduction in spot-kick success.
That may be true but a truly serious manager would be able retain Fernandes’ penalty expertise while simultaneously motivating Ronaldo.
Perhaps there could be a compromising arrangement stipulating that Fernandes takes decisive penalties (if the score is level on Man United are losing) while Ronaldo takes them when the consequences of a miss are relatively minor (if Man United are already winning).
Solskjaer has done a decent job since he was appointed manager on a permanent basis – much better than expected given his previous credentials.
Last season, Man United played their best football since Ferguson’s retirement but they were unable to claim any trophies to show for it.
The general criticism of Solskajer concerns the lack of a clear attacking plan, particularly when faced with low blocks.
He managed to construct an effective counterattacking system that paid dividends in big games against Man City and PSG most notably, but he relies too heavily on the individual brilliance of his players in games when Man United dominate possession against defensive-minded opposition.
What Solskjaer lacks in tactical nuance he makes up for in diplomacy.
As a member of the 1999 treble-winning squad, he is an Old Trafford legend who knows how much fans appreciate the club’s prestigious status and illustrious history.
His early press conferences were punctuated by repeated references to the special nature of the club, harking back to Ferguson’s reign and his famous achievements.
There’s something to be said for satisfying the fans in this way but if Solskajer has genuinely aspirations to match the likes of Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel in terms of tactical acumen then he needs to put the football of the current squad above all.
And choosing to keep Fernandes on penalties over the sentimental option of servicing the Ronaldo-based nostalgia would be a step in the right direction.