Alvaro Fernandez is a left-back waiting in the wings at Manchester United — and now he has to wait that little bit longer for his opportunity at Old Trafford.

Fernandez has joined Spanish club Granada on a season-long loan, with the deal not including an option for the La Liga side to buy him next summer. The 20-year-old cleared out his locker at Carrington on Friday afternoon before making the switch.

The Spaniard’s move would have materialised earlier in the window had it not been for Luke Shaw’s unspecified muscular injury, which will see the England international sidelined for an extended period.

Tyrell Malacia, who missed all of pre-season, is also out with an unspecified injury, and United have sent Brandon Williams on loan to Championship side Ipswich Town.

This led to the club scouring the market for left-backs, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Sergio Reguilon arriving on a season-long loan with a break clause in January. United do not have an option to buy the 26-year-old and will cover his wages in full. Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella, Lyon’s Nicolas Tagliafico and Barcelona’s Marcos Alonso were other players they considered.

The answer to Erik ten Hag’s issues, however, could have come in the form of Fernandez, who had a successful loan spell at Championship side Preston North End, where he made 42 appearances in all competitions, registering six assists.

Left to right: Alejandro Garnacho, Alvaro Fernandez and Facundo Pellistri (Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Ten Hag held a meeting with Fernandez several days ago and outlined the club’s intention to sign a new left-back and, should one be signed, the most likely outcome would be that he would go out on loan.

However, it was also explained that if United failed to get a deal over the line for a replacement left-back, then Fernandez would stay and have a good chance of getting minutes with the first team.

Fernandez was on the bench for United’s 3-2 win over Nottingham Forest, with Ten Hag — who recently described the young defender as “very talented” — favouring Diogo Dalot.

Fernandez joined United from Real Madrid’s academy in September 2020, which was the same year deals for Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri were announced.

The young Spaniard turned down Real Madrid’s contract extension after being convinced by United’s plan, with the club telling him he would go straight into the Under-21s despite only being 17 at the time.

“I chose them (United) because they are a big club and they showed me exactly how they were going to plan my football career,” Fernandez said via Preston North End’s official website last year.



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He received the phone call from United during the COVID-19 pandemic and was in quarantine with his family at the time. When Fernandez arrived in Manchester, he came alone and could not speak English, although he quickly learned the language, and spent his first two years living with a host family. He now lives with his brother.

At United’s academy, it was quickly noted that he was technically able and was more than happy to cut inside on his right foot as opposed to always going down the outside on his favoured left. This would often take opposing players by surprise.

Fernandez playing for Preston last season (Dave Howarth – CameraSport via Getty Images)

If the under-21s were ever a player short in midfield, Fernandez, who used to play in that area of the pitch, would lobby his academy coaches to play there.

“He had to learn the English way of training and the discipline,” said a coaching source close to United, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect relationships. “He has got a good character on the pitch and off it.”

A year after joining United, the club signed Cristiano Ronaldo, a player Fernandez idolised growing up. He previously described training with Ronaldo as “crazy” and the pair spoke about Real Madrid. Sergio Ramos and Marcelo — Madrid’s former left-back who won a club record 25 trophies — were other players adored by Fernandez during his time at ‘La Fabrica’ (The Factory), Madrid’s academy.



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Fernandez was named as a substitute in the final four matches of United’s 2021-22 campaign but did not make an appearance. He joined Preston on loan a couple of weeks before the start of the 2022-23 season. As part of his due diligence before signing, Fernandez went to watch them play Leicester during pre-season and had a conversation with Preston manager Ryan Lowe after the game.

Those who knew him at the Championship side said he did not turn up with an ego and that his application and attitude were exemplary; it’s why he featured so prominently for Lowe’s side.

He sang Luis Fonsi’s Despacito, using a bottle of HP Sauce as a microphone, for his initiation song and went on to form a close bond with Bambo Diaby, a fellow Spaniard now playing for Sheffield Wednesday, at Deepdale. Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson (now at Stoke City) and Greg Cunningham were three other players Fernandez found to be supportive.

Fernandez during United’s pre-season friendly against Athletic Bilbao (Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Fernandez’s first start for Preston came against Huddersfield in the Carabao Cup. He played 45 minutes and created two goals in a 4-1 win. From there, his season went from strength to strength and he quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite.

It was clear to those who watched him that Fernandez was enjoying the experience of playing regular first-team football and, once he had settled in, his ability came to the fore. He often performed above the level required for the Championship and showed his versatility in several different systems, including a stint in central midfield against Luton Town.

United closely monitored Fernandez’s progress at Preston, with Les Parry, their elite player performance manager, going to watch him most weeks. Darren Fletcher, United’s technical director, held regular phone calls with him and went to watch him play in person twice.

Bruno Fernandes, the newly installed United captain, also spoke to Fernandez through the 2022-23 season, offering advice and support.



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Such was the impact he had at Preston, the left-back was voted as their young player of the year by supporters.

“It was a great season for me with great people around me,” he said at the time. “I played 42 games and I never thought it was going to be like that. I improved a lot. I just want to say thank you for everything, for everyone.”

Nobody inside Preston would think twice about signing Fernandez for a second loan spell, but it was always understood that United, should he depart on loan again, would want him to play at a higher level. Preston knew the next step in the defender’s development was unlikely to involve them.

Fernandez, who made a conscious effort to add muscle in pre-season, returned to Carrington in the summer and went on United’s tour of the United States. He featured in only one of United’s four fixtures, the 3-1 defeat to Wrexham, where he provided the assist for Marc Jurado to score. Wrexham aside, he started three more games for United over the summer against Athletic Bilbao, Leeds United and Lyon.

Although Ten Hag may feel that Fernandez is not quite ready to step up and perform at the highest level — evidenced by United signing Reguilon on loan — his potential is recognised. Just as they did when he was at Preston last season, United will monitor his progress closely throughout this campaign.

There will come a time when his obvious talent will be difficult to overlook and had United failed in their pursuit to temporarily replace Shaw, that moment may have come sooner rather than later.

(Top photo: Charles McQuillan via Getty Images)