17. Bernardo Silva
When Bernardo Silva was subbed off in the 84th minute of Portugal’s Confederations Cup semi-final tie with Chile Wednesday, the quality of his side dropped significantly in the final third.
Exhausted and hurting from a knock he picked up when scoring against New Zealand in the final match of the group stage, Silva still managed to be a key member of the Portuguese side during the first half against Chile, his tricky play on the wing adding more to the attack than anyone else on the squad not named Cristiano Ronaldo could.
But removed he was by Fernando Santos, which left the Seleção struggling to create much in the final six minutes of regulation and the entire half-hour of extra time which remained scoreless, his replacement Ricardo Quaresma failing to live up to his super-sub status of late.
Portugal would go on to lose in a penalty shootout, failing to score or save even a single shot, and were knocked out of the tournament — had there been a healthy Bernardo from the start, perhaps they’d be preparing for the late match on Sunday rather than the early one.
The fact he started the match and the two previous ones as well was frankly surprising to anyone who has followed Silva’s career, who have seen him be snubbed for players of lesser quality. It happened in Portugal’s opening match against Mexico (which ended in a 2-2 draw), it happened for his entire stay at his boyhood club and it’s yet to be seen but may likely repeat itself as Bernardo heads to Manchester to play for Pep Guardiola’s City side.
Watch what he was able to do with Monaco this season and you’ll see what those managers were missing out on.
Bernardo Silva is a versatile player — though he played mostly at right wing for Leonardo Jardim at Monaco this season, Silva often drifts to the middle of the pitch, able to play as a second striker or at the 10 — thanks to his brilliant dribbling ability. His teammate Benjamin Mendy revealed his nickname for Bernardo to The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/may/28/bernardo-silva-monaco-manchester-city) — bubble gum.
“Because the ball is glued to his foot,” Mendy explained. Confusing without context, watch a minute of him in action and it’s easy to see what the left-back means.
Silva isn’t afraid to go at his man, constantly dribbling when given a one-on-one situation on the wings, looking for space to whip in a killer ball or to cut inside and have a go at goal.
The Portuguese winger had a decent goal-scoring record in his first two seasons in France, putting in nine in his first and seven in his second, but it was the third year in which Silva evolved into the more complete player he is today.
At 22, Silva had the best season of his career, complimenting a goal tally of eight with nine assists, good for fourth in Ligue 1, numbers he hadn’t reached since his final season for Benfica.
There he contributed seven goals and as many assists with the B squad in the Portuguese second division as a 19-year old, a great track record that would only garner three appearances for a total of 31 minutes with the senior side.
Jorge Jesus, now managing crosstown rivals Sporting, was the manager of Benfica at the time and when looking in retrospect, is accused of underutilizing Bernardo. Much like he did with a number of players — most famously Fabio Coentrão — Jesus attempted to convert Silva into a left-back, much to the displeasure of his father. With a stacked squad featuring players like Gaitaán, Salvio, Marković and Rodrigo on the wings that would go on to win every domestic trophy and finish runners-up in the Europa League, it was difficult for Bernardo to find space to play.
And so off to Monaco he went, at first on loan and then as a permanent transfer. A usual starter in the squad for the first two seasons, it wasn’t until the most recent year that Silva found his footing, featuring in all but one Ligue 1 match and all but one Champions League game.
Brilliant for a large majority of the season and one of the biggest factors in Monaco winning its first domestic championship in 15 years, he was just as good, if not better in European play.
Among the clubs Silva faced en route to the Champions League semi-finals was the one which signed him early this summer and perhaps it was the two performances he had against them that convinced them to shell over the 50 million Euros to purchase him.
In Manchester, he provided a hockey assist for a goal, threaded through some smart balls to Mbappeé and Falcao, and left countless defenders — including a nutmegged Yaya Touré — in his wake in a 5-3 thriller at the Etihad.
In Monaco, he kick-started the home side’s comeback from the 5-3 first leg deficit, sliding in a ball from the left wing that found Mbappé’s foot and went past Willy Caballero. He’d play the entire 90 minutes as Monaco won 3-1 to tie the tie at 6-6 on aggregate, which allowed them to advance on away goals.
Good as he was for stretches of the match, Bernardo’s flaws were evident in the matches.
A world-class dribbler, Silva can go a step too far when taking on defenders, going for the extra move that results in him losing possession or killing the momentum of the developing play.
An adventurous player who often finds teammates’ runs with sublime passes, Silva can also send in aimless balls, hopeless from the moment he hits them.
Finally and most obviously, he depends heavily on his left foot, using his right every 100th touch and making him one-dimensional at times. Knowing what side he’s likely to favor, the physical defenders of the Premier League can take advantage of his slim frame to nudge him off the ball.
Guardiola overlooked those flaws and saw his upside — Bernardo turns 23 in August and was already among the best players in France, on his national side (though the appearances he’s granted under Santos doesn’t directly reflect that) and can make a claim to be a top-50 player in Europe.
Silva’s ability to dribble, particularly in tight, confined spaces, is among the best of the top in the world, as his passion and desire to play football and win, an underrated characteristic. Silva will have time to develop his currently slim frame and physical fitness levels to match Premier League standards, though he’ll have to do it quickly if he hopes to continue getting the regular playing time he had at Monaco.
Seen as a likely replacement for David Silva, he’ll also be fighting against Kevin De Bruyne, Īlkay Gündogan and Leroy Sané for time on the pitch, filling in the role of Nolito, who returns to his native Spain, from last season.
Only time will tell how Silva fits into Guardiola’s squad — all we know for now is he is the greatest Portuguese prospect since a young man named Cristiano Ronaldo, who was brought to the forefront of football playing across town with Manchester United as a teenager and hasn’t left the limelight since.
Whether Bernardo follows in those footsteps — and whether Guardiola gives him the opportunities to play that Alex Ferguson gave Ronaldo or repeats what Jesus did at Benfica — is yet to be seen.
Follow Brian Fonseca on Twitter @briannnnf for updates. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, concerns, tips or story ideas.