Manchester United was on the brink of signing long-time target Bruno Fernandes in a deal worth up to 80 million euros ($88 million), giving under-pressure manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the creative and prolific central midfielder the team has desperately needed.
The Portugal international was scheduled to have his medical examination on Thursday and finalize personal terms with United ahead of completing the Premier League’s most high-profile transfer of the January transfer window.
"Take good care of our boy, Man United," Fernandes’ Portuguese club, Sporting Lisbon, said on Twitter.
United has lacked an attacking midfielder with an eye for a pass and a goal, with Paul Pogba – a player who has those qualities – missing for most of the season because of injury and seemingly unsettled at Old Trafford.
Fernandes has scored more than 60 goals for Sporting – 32 of them came in 53 games last season – as well as twice in 19 appearances for his country. He is strong on either foot, and looks destined to fill the playmaker role behind striker Anthony Martial.
United was strongly linked with a move for the 25-year-old Fernandes in the off-season, but held off. Keen to make a late-season bid for Champions League qualification – Solskjaer’s team is fifth in the league, six points behind fourth-place Chelsea – United renewed its interest this month and finally offered enough money for Sporting to accept.
Sporting said in a statement to the Lisbon stock exchange that United is paying a fixed sum of 55 million euros ($60.5 million), plus up to 25 million euros ($27.5 million) in variables.
The variables are based on thee number of appearances he makes, United’s appearances in the Champions League, and various bonuses.
Fernandes previously had spells in Italy’s Serie A with Sampdoria and Udinese.
"Hello Sporting fans," Fernandes said in a video message, "I wanted to say `see you soon’ because I won’t stop following your games. It was a pleasure to be here with you. It was a pleasure to wear these colours, to be able to wear the Lion on my chest."
Although Solskjaer remains popular with fans, they are growing restless and directing their frustration at United’s boardroom as the team struggles to meet expectations as the biggest in English soccer.
Supporters chanted abusive songs about the club’s owners, the U.S.-based Glazer family, and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward during United’s last two games. On Tuesday, vandals threw flares over the gate of a property owned by Woodward, leading United to condemn an "unwarranted attack" on one of its employees.
If Fernandes completes the transfer on Thursday, he could make his debut against Wolverhampton in the league on Saturday.