Eric Cantona was one of the greatest players to ever grace a pitch for Manchester United, and that’s saying something when you look at the long list of truly world class players to have played for the club. So for Bruno Fernandes – present for the ‘Utopia’ issue of our new special edition print publication, SoccerBible Volumes – praise doesn’t come much higher than the comparisons that have been made between himself and the flamboyant Frenchman.

Bruno Fernandes has made his mark on the Premier League in a remarkably short space time. A gracious yet galvanising force who is emotionally on point as well as intellectually astute, it is his love for football in the purest sense that has endeared him to millions. Hard not to like him, be it for his easy ability on the pitch, or his gracious nature off it, we got to know more about United’s new talisman ahead of taking the Euros by storm.

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You’re such a charismatic player and have spoken so openly – it’s really endeared you to the football world. Do you see yourself as a role model in that sense?

I don't try to be a role model. Honestly I try to be myself. I think it doesn't matter the position you have in the community. You always have to go forward with what you think, say the things that are better for you and what you want to talk about. The way I am is that I never leave with nothing left to say. For me, as a person, I learned from my parents to be myself. To never change in any moment or situation, try to understand when you can talk and when you talk say what you think. Not what people want you to talk about.

How proud are you to have got to the level that you have, to know that your opinion means so much, it must be a good feeling?

What I have done in football has given me a chance to have a big voice in some situations. When we talk it can be reproduced everywhere. For me it’s amazing that my voice can travel from Portugal or England and it can go on to Spain, France and many other different countries. So for us it's important we use our voice in the right moments and right way. Sometimes people may not agree with you but it has to be said the right way. It has to be what you think and not what people want to hear. This is what I am most proud of and what I have done in the past. I will keep doing this in the future because I express my own opinion. Without worrying about the positive or negative replies from people.

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Your impact at Manchester United as an example has been incredible – have you always been that way, wanting to make your mark on where you go?

When I arrived at the club I knew that I can and I have to do something really big to be remembered. To be a part of and in the team. We talk about one of the biggest clubs in the world and for me the biggest league in the world. So when you come in it has to be powerful. You don't have to show everything straight away but when you step onto the pitch people are expecting something from you. The main thing is what you can do for yourself to make yourself better and make people happy. To make yourself happy being at one of the biggest teams in the world and living the dream.

I am lucky to be playing for the team I always dreamed about playing for in England. At the same time I am still living my dream by being a football player, that was my first dream. Not playing for any team but being a football player. I have the chance to do this everyday. I am lucky to be given this chance and have to show something everyday. To prove to myself that I am in this situation because I worked and fought very hard to be here. I know people will always have something to say about what I do with my performances.

What have you learned most with this experience since you joined Manchester United? Has your mindset changed at all? How would you describe that experience?

I didn't change my personality that’s for sure. The things I have in my head before I came, are still there. My mindset will be with me until the end of my career. It is the way I have lived football all my life. This most important thing for me is trying to make myself better and the best version of me.

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That goal against Everton. There’s so much greatness about it. Firstly the dummy, then the goal itself, then just the casual walk backwards as a celebration – how good did that moment feel?

It was really good. One of the things I have worked really hard on since the beginning of my career was my shots from long distance. I used to play a little bit deeper before so the chances to shoot were from outside the box only. So that's how it came to be. I hadn't scored many goals like that in the Premier League at the point.

In the past, if you look at my videos from Italy, most of the people remember me for shooting from long distances. In Portugal it was the same way. My first goal in Portugal, with Sporting Lisbon, was one of the best goals I have scored in my short career. Until now. I trained very hard for this and when this comes along in the game you have a chance. Hard work pays off and I was really happy.

The celebration comes naturally to me. Before the ball came to me, Fred passed the ball to me and I dummied the ball to Wan Bissaka. Already in that moment Fred was already saying shoot. So I did the dummy, the ball came inside and the first moment when I controlled the ball I saw Edison Cavani. Normally when I control the ball in that zone, Edison makes good movement. He made some good movement but my timing on the ball was slow. I needed another touch. When they let me have another touch Edison was already in an offside position. I tried my luck and Fred shouted twice to shoot. When I scored I turned around and saw Fred saying "I told you, I told you." My reaction to him was "Yeah, yeah, yeah." I don't know why that came out but it came out like that.

How much do you dream or visualise those moments before a game?

You have to dream with football until your career ends, because every day you can achieve different things. You can improve every day on different parts of your game, shooting, passing, heading and your power. Until the end of your career you still have the chance to improve everyday. So it's about dreaming to make yourself better and to make the best version of yourself, not trying to be better than anyone.

When you start to compare yourself to other people that is a problem. You don't have to be the same as someone else, you just have to be yourself and try to be your best. If your qualities are passing, shooting or heading then keep working on that. If you need to be more physical or faster then you can work on that to become better. Don't think you have to be as quick as somebody, who is best and just train sprinting. That is not your game. You need to start to improve on your passing, shooting and on the position where you play. So for me the most important thing is not to compare myself to anyone and trying to be the best version of myself. So today at training if I take two shots and score once, tomorrow I have to take two shots and score twice. Because if not then it is a signal I am not improving. Maybe in training you don't score. But in the game you have one chance and you score. It will make you better if you train on the same things every time. So in the game when you have a chance, you can miss, but you will be closer to score or to make it better.

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What is the perfect goal for you?

I don't have the perfect goal. For me the one that hits the net is the perfect one. Of course I will prefer to score a banger from 30 yards and powerful into the top corner, but if I have to score like I did in Istanbul, when the goalkeeper dropped it from his hands, it landed at my feet and I just have to tap it in, it is a perfect goal too.

People will forget your goals. Sometimes it’s about the moment you score in, or the size of the game rather than what the goal looks like. If you score just a tap in people will remember that anyway if it’s in a big game. You have many people that will score important goals. If you remember Filippo Inzaghi, nobody remembers him for great goals. He scored some great goals, but people remember him for tap ins. Because if the ball bounced anywhere then it was a Filippo Inzaghi goal. People remember him and remember those types of goals. I think one that people remember from him was a free kick from Pirlo. He tries to shoot at the side of the goalkeeper, Filippo flicks his leg, it bounces on him to the other side and goal. Everyone remembers that goal. Honestly there was a little deviation because he was in the way of the ball. But he put his leg out and everyone remembers his goal but not Pirlo taking the free kick.

What about the pitch as a place for you, is that somewhere where you feel free to be creative and to be able to express yourself? Is that your sanctuary?

I grew up on the pitch. When I was a kid it didn't matter what kind of pitch because when you are young sometimes you have to make your own pitch. Sometimes you have to paint the goal on the wall. The most important thing is playing and it doesn't matter where. For me playing football is the best thing that happened to me since I was born. Having a ball at my feet is where I feel the most comfortable. It doesn't need to be just on the pitch as I have balls all around the house. If I see a ball I have to kick it. It's impossible not to as a football player. It doesn't matter what type of shoes you have on your feet or how much they cost. If you see a ball you will kick that ball for sure. You can be wearing the rarest Air Jordans, the ball will come to you and you will kick the ball anyway.

For a kid growing up to be a football player the most comfortable place to be is where the ball is. It doesn't just have to be on the pitch. The pitch is where you can express yourself and show what it means for us to be a football player. Sometimes you can also take out your frustrations. For me if I had a problem I would take a ball, go to a pitch and play. It didn't matter if I just played by myself. Sometimes I would take a ball to school, where we had three pitches and I would shoot 20-30 times. Then it feels like your problems and frustrations are gone. In that moment you are free to be yourself.

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That's a really nice way of putting it. I guess we all have that feeling. When you see a ball, I don't know what it is, there's something in the back of our minds that just gets excited and gravitates towards it.

I think it comes naturally to everyone. To any person who likes or plays football. Sometimes you see a bottle on the ground and in the first moment we think "How can we kick this bottle?" Some people think twice and say "I better not." Normally in your mind you think I could kick or pass this bottle.

There were a lot of Cantona comparisons made around the time of that Everton goal. You’ve since met the man. What was that moment like?

The most iconic moment I have in my mind, from Cantona, is not him on the pitch. It's him in the cage for the football commercial of Nike throwing the ball down. You see him on top of the cage and he is throwing the ball down to Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Davids. You have all the biggest players for Nike and you see Eric Cantona giving them the ball to just play. He is like "I am the boss of all of this. You have to follow my rules." So you understand the power he has in football and what he has done for the game. The respect he has for every player. We are talking about players who have had a great career too. The players in the commercial had Ballon d'Or's and you can see the respect they had for him was unbelievable. You can see the difference he makes for football.

For me he is also a role model with his voice. He says what he thinks and doesn't care if people will like it or not. He lives how he wants and people have to respect that. I was really happy to meet him and talk with him for a few moments. It was good to listen to him talk about the game. He spoke with me about the game, the club and things of that nature. He had his own opinion and was openly telling me what he thought. He doesn't care if he doesn't know the person. If that person asks him a question "Do you think this player should play for this club?" Or "Is this one really good?" He will say his opinion. You have to have your opinion. It doesn't matter if you tell me a player is not good because he can be. The opinion you have and the way that you see football is different to other people. This is why you have to argue with people about football. Everyone in the world thinks they can argue about football because everyone has a different opinion. If you go to a coffee shop this is why you see people arguing with each other.

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You are the type of person that wouldn't settle for "Yes" men around you, are you…

For sure this is not the way I live. I know sometimes this can cause trouble, but I prefer to have the truth said to me so then I can do something different. If I don't think I should do anything different then it is not the way I need to be.

Let’s talk about the European Championships. What was it like for you as a fan and as a kid to watch Portugal play in big tournaments?

I always was a big fan of football. So for me playing for my country was my dream as a kid. I was that kid who would paint his face, fly the flag of Portugal and all that stuff. I was lucky because the beginning of my dream was when Euro 2004 was in Portugal. The impact that had in my mind was big. In every city, for example the city of Manchester, there was a big screen everywhere. Everyone from all over the city would gather to watch the game.

In Maia, I lived close to Maia, all the people would go to the main city to watch the screen. I saw all the people walking around with shirts, flags and their faces painted. Right there was my dream. Seeing those Euros made me want to be there. I want to be on the bus. Seeing people with the flags and singing for me. On the TV Portugal was playing every game at home. When they came out of the hotels, until they got to the stadium, it was full of people and cars stopped in the street. Just to see the bus passing and as you kid this was amazing to see. This is the dream everyone wants to live.

Now I don't think it is like it was before. People were more passionate about these situations. When you had the Euros and everything it was more passionate. But with the kids the passion is still there. It's really good when you are on the bus and you see all of the children there with their parents. They wave to the bus and sometimes they can see us. Normally we have tinted windows so no one is able to see us. But we once had a bus without the tint and they could all see us. The dream to be in the Euros, like I was in the World Cup, is one of my biggest dreams. I have never played in the Euros with the first team and this is a dream I want to have. To live it in the best way. I hope we are able to have fans because my first one without fans will not be the best one.

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What's it like when you think back to that first dream in the Euros as a kid and compare that to where you are now? Now you are walking into a dressing room and your Portugal shirt is hanging up and waiting for you…

The first time I played in a competition with Portugal was the Olympic games in Brazil. My first game was against Argentina. The first time I heard our national anthem we call that "Hino nacional," I was almost crying and trying hard to keep it inside. That was my first tournament with the national team. It was not with the major national team but for me the feeling to hear and sing that song, with my teammates hand in hand, I had dreamt all of my career to be here, with the national team shirt, having the chance to play against big players, teams and competitions.

I had the chance to play the Euros with the Under 21's and after that I played in the World Cup. Until now the World Cup, with the national team, has been the biggest achievement I have made. Playing in a World Cup for the national team, everyone knows that it is the biggest one. After you have the Euros because the European one is the second largest. You can't explain the feeling you have when you come into the dressing room and you see your shirt with your name on it. When you turn the shirt around, see the Portuguese flag and you see all of your teammates, you prepare yourself to defend your colours, country and family. It's the best feeling a football player can have.

As I said before I think it's the only time the country stops to support the same team. You will have people for one club and others for another, but in that moment you stop everything to support just your national team. I think this is the best feeling you have, feeling you have everyone on your side. Of course people will like players more from their own team, but when the whistle starts the game people understand we are all one; it's us against another country – like a war! Not a proper war but a fight against another country.

Being from Portugal we are such a small country, when we play against countries bigger than us we have to be together. We are small in size but big in our hearts. Portuguese players always have that fire inside; we know we come from a small country and to reach some levels is very difficult. When we have to play together we understand we have always dreamed to play at this level against them. It's really good when you go inside of the dressing room and feel that inspiration from the whole country. The best example was in the 2016 Euros. They made a hashtag of 1-11,000,000. Everybody would post that they are 1 person out of 11,000,000. That support was really good and we won the Euros. It was good to finally win a major trophy for the country because I think we deserved it.

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