Sergio Marques disappears for a moment to find his phone and retrieve a text message from Bruno Fernandes.
So when did he last hear from Manchester United’s new signing?
‘Yesterday,’ replies Marques triumphantly as he re-enters the lounge of his apartment brandishing the phone which displays a message in Portuguese from his former protégé.
Bruno Fernandes pictured with Sergio Marques, who was his first coach at FC Infesta
A team picture of the U9 team Marques coached at Infesta. Fernandes is bottom row far left
After battling his way to the top, Fernandes is eager to make an impact for Manchester United
‘Thanks for everything,’ writes Fernandes. ‘I’m good. It’s going to be fine.’
Marques was his first coach in football. They met when Fernandes was eight-years-old and joined FC Infesta, a club in Matosinhos north west of Porto.
Marques was the Under-9s coach and saw a gift in Fernandes that convinced him to offer the boy one-to-one sessions on a Tuesday night, honing his skills on the dirt pitch.
‘From the beginning you could see he had a natural talent, but he always wanted the ball for himself,’ says the 65-year-old, who would play Fernandes as a centre-back in the harder games and then allow him to dominate in midfield when the opposition weren’t as strong.
A team picture of Pasteleira, with Fernandes third from left in the bottom row
Fernandes playing for Boavista's youth team - he was described as being like 'a wild horse'
‘He wasn’t very keen on passing, heading and defending. I took him to one side and said: “Bruno, you have the talent but you need to work on these areas. Is that something you want to do?” He said yes and that’s when we started the one-to-one sessions.’
Fernandes comes from a poor background in the industrial city of Maia. He lived with his parents, elder brother Rodrigo and younger sister Sara in a modest first-floor apartment in Gueifães, a district on the outskirts of town.
His father José worked in the Piu Belle textile factory and neither he nor the boy’s mother Virgínia could drive, so Infesta’s club secretary would take Fernandes to the ramshackle stadium.
Fernandes pictured in a Boavista U17s team sheet, which was kept by Mauro Borghetti
When the big clubs beckoned two years later, he would have preferred to join his boyhood team FC Porto but Boavista’s offer of transport to and from training tipped the balance in their favour.
Fernandes has never let his slight frame hold him back. Rather shy off the pitch, he became increasingly aggressive on it. When he switched to Boavista’s B-team ADR Pasteleira, driving duties fell to his Under-15 coach Antonio Peres six nights a week – and so too did the task of taming the fiery youngster.
‘He was like a wild horse,’ says Peres. ‘He had long hair like a girl and he was a rebel.
He learned to play football in the street and his fight, his character, his language came from the streets.
‘There was a lot of competition for places and sometimes he would go over the top in training. He would fight with his teammates and I had to send him out of the session to cool off.
‘He told me many times he wanted to be a top player to get a better life because the family was poor. Everyone wants that, but only a few can get it.’
Antonio Peres coached United's new signing Fernandes at ADR Pasteleira at U15 and U16 level
Fernandes was a bad loser but also a natural leader from an early age. Peres laughs as he recalls him being a ringleader when Pasteleira left away games with a few more footballs than when they arrived, or the times when he caught the boys watching films instead of sleeping the night before a tournament.
What, adult movies? ‘No, no, no, no …. well, maybe!’
Pasteleira’s cut of Fernandes’s move from Sporting to United will be roughly £170,000, significantly more than they made off the success of two other old boys, Everton’s Andre Gomes and Benfica’s rising star Chiquinho.
‘Bruno had difficulties but never gave up,’ says Pasteleira’s academy co-ordinator Miguel Pedro.
Fernandes pictured with his old youth-team director at Boavista, Ricardo Gaia
‘He will be a big help to Solskjaer and the players at Manchester United. I saw his first game (against Wolves) and he was like a boss on the pitch.
‘After one training session there, he was telling Aaron Wan-Bissaka what to do. Wan-Bissaka was probably thinking “who is this guy talking to me?” but Bruno was doing that at 15-years-old.’
At Fernandes’ old school, Escola Basica 2/3 Gueifães, his English teacher Cristina Almeida remembers a boy whose only dream was to be a footballer and one day play in the Premier League.
‘He was a special one,’ she says. ‘I can still see him running to the classroom, the football under his arm, sweating and panting and me having him wash his face before going to his place.
‘He had a hard time balancing his studies with training and matches, let alone homework. Sometimes he couldn’t do it so I would get angry and say: “Bruno, do you think you’re going to be another Cristiano Ronaldo? Do you? Forget the football, do your homework and study. That is your future, okay?”.
‘He used to look down and nod in silence. Luckily for him and the rest of us, I was wrong!’
Fernandes in action for Novara, where he arrived not knowing anyone or how to speak Italian
Fernandes moved to another school closer to Boavista at age of 15 where he met his future wife Ana Pinho. She remembers them kissing for the first time in front of a gum shop close to the school.
Her brother Miguel became his agent and it was on his recommendation that Italian club Novara decided to take a closer look.
Novara’s sporting director Cristiano Giaretta despatched the head of his academy, Mauro Borghetti, to Portugal to