Side to side Bernardo Silva measures little more than a medium-build Yorkshire Terrier. He would win games of Escondidas (Hide and Seek) in his native Lisbon by standing still behind one of the city’s many strategically placed lamp posts. However, for a man of such frail physique, he sure is pulling up a few trees at Manchester City.  

Widely touted as the biggest talent to emerge from the breeding grounds of Portugal since Cristiano Ronaldo and the most gifted playmaker since Rui Costa hit his glorious stride in the mid 90s, City’s flying wide-midfielder is emerging as a star of the Premier League in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side.

A hugely exciting prospect for some time, his brilliance has now reached a global stage that is bringing him to mainstream attention.

Silva’s mesmeric close control, creative bent, intelligent and economical use of space and time has been allied to a surprising keenness to get stuck in, a wonderfully basic but all-important English football attribute.

Standard bearer of a new generation

This enviable skill set had always been in evidence, even in his early days as one of hundreds of youth prospects on the free-flowing Benfica conveyor belt in Seixal. Part of a new wave of Portuguese talent all coming through at the same time (Raphael Guerreiro, André Gomes, João Mário, André Silva and Gelson Martins are all around the same age), Bernardo has perhaps become the one who has blossomed the quickest and developed the most.

An early departure to Monaco left many Benfiquistas puzzled as to how their club could let such a talent leave so early in his career, but money has often talked loudest for Os Encarnardos and on this occasion Monaco’s €15.75m gave them a mild bout of tinnitus.

They will still be shaking their heads at the Estádio da Luz today. For his one Benfica appearance looks a little on the meagre side after what transpired during two seasons on the Cote d’Azur with Monaco.

Showcasing his gritty determination and angel’s wand of a left foot in Ligue Un, Silva quickly rose to prominence in a Monaco side weighed down with young talent. 2016-17 saw Monaco’s star rise ever higher, with a run to the Champions League semi-finals and a league title success. It was the former that heralded the beginning of the end for Silva in the South of France, however. After negotiating a tough group comprising Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham and CSKA Moscow, where they finished top, Monaco were paired with Manchester City.

Impressing his future employer

City, in the early stages of Pep Guardiola’s charismatic renewal processes, had advanced from what might have been considered an even tougher group, including Barcelona, Monchengladbach and Celtic. They were not prepared for what met them in the first leg at a stadium well used to seeing a man called Silva call the shots, however, as a Bernardo-inspired Monaco gave them a real run for their money.

Silva’s first-half performance brought him a shower of accolades. His mesmeric dribbling, pacey enthusiasm and ability to thread eye-of-the-needle through passes to his rampaging colleagues produced a game high on quality and full to bursting with goals. Twice ahead in a crazily high-paced match, Monaco could thank Silva’s penetrative running and slaloming skills for their well-deserved lead.

Featuring mainly on the right flank, Silva continuously carried possession infield and onto his left foot with a trail of City players in his mazy wake. Doing this, he managed to carve himself precious space to feed the in-coming Radamel Falcao and Fabinho, who scored the early equaliser in just such a move.

With City’s own creative Silva being outshone for once, the home side needed to dig deep and eventually found the route to goal with an astonishing second half onslaught as Bernardo’s influence waned and his namesake in sky blue began to hit the high notes.

He had nevertheless left an indelible mark on Guardiola that would make up the Catalan’s mind about acquisitions for his second season in charge in Manchester. At the top of his wish-list was Bernardo Silva.

€50m man

His fee had, meanwhile, jumped from €16m to €50m and the British press once again puffed out its chest and asked if such largesse was totally necessary. They had done the same when Belgian ace Kevin de Bruyne had arrived from Vfl Wolfsburg, citing his indifferent form for Chelsea before his stint in the Bundesliga, but had evidently not been paying much attention.

The little Portuguese midfielder has settled into his new environment with consummate ease, contributing panache and menace down the right flank of a side that has been driving all before it in this season’s Premier League. Being able to count the likes of namesake Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero, not to mention the audaciously talented De Bruyne, as team-mates has elevated Silva to elite status. That he does not look out of place is testament to a brittle looking player, who is built of stern stuff.

With City competing on all fronts up to the recent FA Cup exit at third tier Wigan, Guardiola has needed to carefully rotate his squad. Nominal first choice wide men Sane and Sterling have both hit injury problems, leaving the way clear for an extended run for Bernardo. To say that he has grasped the opportunity with both hands is a major understatement.

With goals against Arsenal and Chelsea in City’s thrilling last week (winning the League Cup, flattening Arsenal in their own ground and cowing Chelsea into such a state of submission at the weekend that the outgoing champions seemed afraid to leave their own half), Silva’s star has risen to new heights.

City fans, remembering the titanic Etihad battle in last season’s round of 16 between the two Silvas can now sit back and watch them play together, a sight that requires the wearing of sun glasses even in Manchester’s notoriously grey Irwell Riviera. For the time being a Silva brought in to replace a Silva is simply making things shine even more brightly by playing alongside him.

City supporters perish the thought of their Spanish playmaker ever giving up the ghost, but in Bernardo a light has appeared in the middle of that particular tunnel.

For the wiry Portuguese, a second domestic trophy with City beckons in the shape of a Premier League that City currently lead by 16 points. Who knows if a third will come in the shape of the Champions League, leaving the path open to an unprecedented 4th with Portugal in Russia this summer.

One can dream of course and, in Bernardo Silva’s case, many of those dreams seem to be coming true these days.

By Simon Curtis

 

Comments (4)

  1. Val

Took a while to become a starter but kudos to him for making the transition from Monaco to Man City. New city, new team, new language, new league. It cant be easy.

Considering how good City have been all season its a huge achievement for...

Took a while to become a starter but kudos to him for making the transition from Monaco to Man City. New city, new team, new language, new league. It cant be easy.

Considering how good City have been all season its a huge achievement for Bernardo to make the managers job so difficult in deciding whom to start. I assumed he was a long term replacement for David Silva but they often play together and to great effect.

With Gonzalo, Ronaldo and Bernardo playing so well bodes well for Portugal at the WC to have such in form players.

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  1. Ivo

The Sterling injury was the best thing that could have happened to Bernardo this season.

Before the injury, Sterling was on fire. So much so that he's still the fourth leading scorer in the Premier League with 15 goals (to go along with six...

The Sterling injury was the best thing that could have happened to Bernardo this season.

Before the injury, Sterling was on fire. So much so that he's still the fourth leading scorer in the Premier League with 15 goals (to go along with six assists). And that's the only thing that concerns me somewhat about Bernardo's place in the City squad.

When Sterling is fully fit he will likely go back to being Guardiola's preferred starter on the right wing eventually, if not right away. His goal scoring and assist tally are just too good to ignore, which points to City's insane squad depth. It's not the end of the world for Bernardo if that happens, since he'll still start occasionally and come on regularly as a substitute, but it is a bit of a shame that he likely wont be the first choice starter.

Still, I am very happy with the way Bernardo has integrated into the PL, especially considering how many other recent high profile Portuguese transfers have not panned out as we would have hoped, e.g. Joao Mario, Andre Silva, Sanches, Adrien Silva (still early and he missed half the season, but the early signs are not too promising).

I agree with Val that Goncalo, Ronaldo and Bernardo playing well bodes well for the WC. I wonder how effective a 433 with a front three of those players would be, especially given Andre Silva's drop in form and playing time. Could be a devastating lineup if Ronaldo is able to be effective as a lone striker, which has not always been the case.

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  1. Val    Ivo

Ivo,

Yes! Sterling was unplayable until his injury. I think even then Pep didn't play Bernardo regularly, I think it was when Sane when down injured from the awful EPL leg breakers that Bernardo cemented his spot.

Adrien really got screwed...

Ivo,

Yes! Sterling was unplayable until his injury. I think even then Pep didn't play Bernardo regularly, I think it was when Sane when down injured from the awful EPL leg breakers that Bernardo cemented his spot.

Adrien really got screwed during the transfer ordeal. He is made for EPL though, I think he will still come good.

Worried about Renato, he seems on an elevator ride down. But Bruma was on the same elevator and he is now starting to shine again, so is Ronny Lopes at Monaco. Going to be very interesting come selection time with the amount of options for Santos.

Just wish Guerreiro would come back. That kid is golden imo and irreplaceable.

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  1. jon/usa

Bernardo certainly has benefited from Sterling's absence, but I still feel he is capable of so much more, especially if he is given the opportunity to operate in a more central David Silva-esque role. Bernardo is undoubtedly one of the most...

Bernardo certainly has benefited from Sterling's absence, but I still feel he is capable of so much more, especially if he is given the opportunity to operate in a more central David Silva-esque role. Bernardo is undoubtedly one of the most technically gifted footballers in Europe, but I never thought he had the athleticism to excel as a winger/wide-forward.

I have faith that Fernando Santos will find the right role for him. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if he's playing on the right side of a 4-4-2 or as a #10 in behind Ronaldo -- if he's given the freedom to operate in between the lines in a free role, he will thrive.

Given the alarming lack of form/playing time of the likes of Andre Silva, Joao Mario, and Adrien, I wouldn't be opposed to playing Ronaldo, Guedes, and Bernardo in a fluid front 3. William, for me, has to start since Danilo leaves a lot to be desired with the ball at his feet. Moutinho has had a solid season at Monaco, so he's probably the favorite for the #8 position, especially when you take into account his wealth of international experience.

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