Newly-promoted Granada are the shock leaders of La Liga, just months after securing their return to the top flight. The Andalusians beat regional rivals Real Betis 1-0 on Sunday, meaning Diego Martinez’s side took advantage of the cancelled Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid to take their place at the summit in Spain.
Granada are only the third promoted team to ever lead the way this late into a campaign, and the unlikely scenario is just the latest chapter in the rapid rise of one of their key men. Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Silva has been a revelation in Spanish football so far this term, keeping clean sheets in six of his team’s ten matches.
Although it has been almost three years since the 25-year-old moved to Spain, the story of Silva and Granada has only truly taken shape over the second half of his tenure. A native of Maia, the Portugal youth international headed to Nacional as an 18-year-old and after seeing off competition from Brazilian Eduardo Gottardi, Silva was first choice for the Madeira club by the start of the 2016/17 season.
"I had to wait for my chance"
Granada came calling in January 2017 and a €1m deal was agreed to take the 22-year-old to the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes, where he would see little in the way of opportunities for the first 18 months. “I knew it would be difficult,” Silva said in an interview published over the weekend. “It was a step forward in my career to come to Spain for one of the best leagues in the world. But it was complicated, I had an experienced goalkeeper in front of me [Mexican Guillermo Ochoa] and I had to wait for my chance.
“In my second season [after Granada was relegated] the club hired Javi Varas, an experienced and trusted goalkeeper, and I only played five games. But the following season, Granada had to lower their payroll, Varas left, along with other players, and that opened the door for me to the line-up.”
Silva has not looked back since, helping Granada to promotion as runners-up in the Segunda Division during his first full season as first-choice. Across his 40 appearances in the second tier, the goalkeeper managed to keep an impressive 18 clean sheets, which Silva says was a consequence of the trust shown in him.
“Getting the position gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I knew that I could play an important role in the team and in achieving the targets, despite having been almost a year and a half without playing. At first I felt a little pressure, I knew it was a year where I could not fail. But I always had the support of everyone and with good showings, confidence grew. It was my best season ever, to this day.”
Things could still get better for Silva, with his influence on the Granada backline continuing into the current term. As such, speculation has accelerated over a potential call-up to the Portugal national squad, and Silva admits that representing his country at senior level is a strong ambition.
"I can’t say that I am any closer to being called, because I know how hard it is to get to the national team,” he said. “It's a dream of mine and I also know that being in La Liga will mean I have greater visibility. I hope one day to realise this dream, I see it as a natural process. The important thing is to continue to work well, have good performances and help Granada. The decision to call me or not belongs to the coach Fernando Santos and I will respect the decision always.”
Portuguese connection at the back
Silva may not be the only Portuguese in his side with an eye on Fernando Santos’ squad. Defender Domingos Duarte, who arrived from Sporting in the summer via a loan spell with Deportivo La Coruna, has already expressed his desire to make the Seleção. “I'd like to make the Portugal team as soon as possible. I think it can happen, I am getting closer and if I maintain my form I may get there sooner,” Duarte said earlier this season.
Silva backs the notion. Speaking about his compatriot and colleague, the goalkeeper said: "I already knew Domingos from the U21s and, last season, I faced him when he was in La Coruna. This year I have the opportunity to play with him and the truth is that he is already a leader in defence. Although he is young, he has many games and has experience. We have helped each other."
By Sean Gillen