“WHO CONVINCED ME TO JOIN MAN CITY? CRISTIANO RONALDO, OF COURSE!”
The Portuguese schemer’s $75m price tag already seems a snip after the maddest silly season ever. The aim now is to win it all
Imagine the state you’re in after your weekly five-a-side or Sunday League run-out. Now imagine having to sit down and talk through the minutiae of your hopes for the following week and beyond in the immediate aftermath of said exertion. Let’s face it, talking football is probably the last thing you’d want to be doing. But not Bernardo Silva. Manchester City’s new $75million man has only just ended an extended training session as he prepares for his first major interview since his off-seasobn arrival from Monaco. “It was long!” laughs the Portuguese as he greets FFT. “But good.” One thing that you quickly learn about the Blues’ latest diminutive playmaker is that he breathes football. An artist in a sport of athletes, the 23-year-old shares more than just a name with team-mate David Silva. Small, technical and supremely football-smart, he posted 10 goals and 10 assists in winning Ligue 1 and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League with Monaco in 2016-17. Essentially, Silva is the perfect Pep Guardiola player – one who was perfectly content to live in a small, dishwasher-less apartment on the French Riviera because it felt like home. “Bernardo is a guy who loves football, who lives 24 hours thinking about the game,” the Manchester City manager explained earlier this year. “I like that. He is a humble guy and he’s so intelligent, which is a huge quality. Intelligent players don’t need time to be involved in the way we want to play.” Described by Benjamin Mendy – who followed Silva to the Etihad Stadium from Monaco – as “a bubble gum player” because the ball always sticks to his feet, he cannot wait to get going. Or quench his Champions League thirst…
How does it feel to be a Manchester City player?
It’s brilliant. When you’re young and watch Premier League games, everyone dreams of being here. Man City are one of the best football clubs in the world: the players, the manager. This is just the start for me. I’m enjoying it a lot and I hope I can achieve a lot of things here.
What do you think the team can achieve this season?
We have a lot of young players with a lot of quality. Throw in some experience as well and we’ve got a team who can compete on all fronts. The Premier League title is a big goal for the club this season, but the Champions League is also huge. When you’re at a club like Manchester City, you have to really fight to win every competition. You were late to start pre-season because of your participation in this year’s Confederations Cup with Portugal. How have you found getting up to speed with your new team-mates? It’s great to be part of the group. They have had about three weeks more training than me so that I could have some time to recover from the Confederations Cup, but I feel good now and I’ll be back up to 100 per cent fitness soon. I was able to have a great holiday with family and friends, but it’s good to be playing football again.
What did you know about Man City before you joined the club?
I’ll always remember seeing the goal Sergio Aguero scored against QPR to win the Premier League in 2012. I was in Benfica’s under-19 team at the time. News of winning something as important as the Premier League in that way goes around the world. It’s the biggest league, and it would be a dream to win it in my first season here.
How would you describe Bernardo Silva to an alien?
[ Laughs] I would say that I’m an attacking player who likes to create chances and score goals. I press high to try to win the ball back and that’s part of the reason I chose to come to Man City, because I like the style of play and I know I have got the qualities to succeed here. You played on the right flank a lot at Monaco, often cutting inside onto your left foot. Where do you see yourself playing this term? It’s not easy to answer that. I was at Benfica for 12 years and almost always played as a central playmaker, behind the striker, but since I moved to Monaco I’ve mainly been on the right-hand side. It’s the same with Portugal, so I’m used to that. I can play in either position, and maybe the centre is the more natural place for me, but I like both. I could even play on the left if I need to.
“I’LL AL WAYS REMEMBER AGUERO’S GOAL AGAI NST QPR – NEWS OF WINNING THE TITLE LIKE THAT GOES ALL AROU ND THE WORLD”
Did you speak to anyone about Manchester before coming here?
Not before, but when I was with Portugal at the Confederations Cup and about to sign, I asked Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani about the city. They told me how much they enjoyed it here. They said that all of the people were great and that it’s a real football city. The Premier League, too – a competitive league with full stadiums each week and everyone watching. They both said it would be a great move for me.
What were your impressions of City when you came up against them – and beat them – in the Champions League last season?
They were two great games. The first leg at the Etihad was a crazy match. We went 1-0 up, then 1-1, 2-1, 2-2 and eventually 3-2, after which they scored three goals in a row. When you lose 5-3 against someone, you know you still have a chance of scoring against them in the return leg. In the first half in Monaco we were excellent. In the second half they were better than us and we just managed to react to go back ahead. Those games, with both teams attacking, attacking, attacking, are crazy. Last season’s City were very strong and just a bit unlucky, especially in the Premier League. There’s so much quality and ambition that you can see. Even if things didn’t go perfectly last season, the potential’s here. We can win anything.
Did you see the Silva vs Silva poster outside the Stade Louis II ahead of the second leg, referring to yourself and David?
[ Laughs] Yes I did, and I was so proud to see it. David Silva is a great player and it’s an honour to now be at his side and try to learn from his qualities. It was good enough just to play against him! Are we similar players? I would love people to say that, because it would be a huge compliment. We play in more or less the same position, are not particularly strong, but make up for it when we have the ball.
How different is your game to the typical Premier League player – do you think you will be able to adapt to the style straight away?
First and foremost, I try to enjoy myself when I’m on the pitch. Yes, football is my job, but it’s also what I love too. Football is football, and no matter which team you go to there will always be space for quality footballers, no matter their build. I want to prove that.
Which is more important for a footballer: the feet or the brain?
Their brain, for sure. This is truer now more than ever. Football is becoming so aggressive that you have to think faster to keep up. If you have both, that’s perfect, but you have to work really hard to become a complete player like that. In the Premier League or the Champions League, you come up against the best and most intelligent players and you have to think quickest to stand out. Last season you scored against Villarreal – in the Champions League play-off – Spurs, Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain, and set up goals against City too. Are youa big-game player? I’d like to think so, yes. Last season was my best one yet and it’s always nice to do well in the big games, but it’s not about trying harder in one game more than another – you need consistency.
Is it possible to say ‘no’ to Pep Guardiola if he comes calling?
[ Laughs] Look around, he is the best manager in the world. He has managed Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City. The best players in the world want to work with him. If a player has the chance to be managed by the best coach, you can’t turn him down.
Why is Guardiola the best?
First of all, even on television, you can see the way his teams control the game. The way that they press, the way they attack and the way they hammer teams. He’s got that vision. I have only had a couple of weeks with him in training but it’s been great – I’ve learned so much from him already. He gives the players so much information. We go out onto the pitch knowing exactly what he wants us to do in every situation and that gives you a lot of confidence. He’s so detailed and analytical in everything that he does – it’s amazing.
You went to an English-speaking school when you were growing up – has the language helped you settle quickly in Manchester?
Yes I did, for about four or five years. My parents thought it would be good for my future. All I wanted to be was a footballer, but they knew that if didn’t work out, being able to speak a second language in any business career is a big advantage. I’m really glad that I have it now and it will definitely help me here. English was actually the common language between me and my girlfriend when we first met around two and a half years ago, because she’s French and couldn’t speak any Portuguese. Now it’s a mix of three – it’s a multi-lingual house! You seem like a real football student, too. Do you analyse games? I love watching football. When I go home and have enough time, I watch anything there is on television. Premier League games are always good to watch and I try to keep up to date with every game that Benfica play, as well as a few matches from La Liga. It’s about
analysis and understanding who’s doing what, as well as looking at improving your own game. I think that’s true of any footballer. This is our job, we train every day, we have to learn and study the game.
What’s your earliest football memory?
The semi-final of Euro 2000 between Portugal vs France. Zinedine Zidane scored a golden goal penalty in extra time and it was just heartbreaking. [ FFT: We know about late penalty heartbreak in Australia...] That’s true! [ Laughs]
Did you grow up with a ball at your feet?
Always, not that my mum was particularly happy about it! I can still remember breaking a few things in the house and she complained. All I wanted to be was a footballer. I played constantly with my sister and my dad. Once I broke an heirloom from my great-grandfather and my grandma was annoyed at me. I still remember her reaction. You’re a Benfica supporter and first joined the youth team when you were just eight years old. Why did you decide to leave them? I was there for 12 years. It’s always been my club and it was fantastic to learn and grow so much during my time there. I played with the reserves for a year when I was 19 and did really well for them. After such a good season [Silva’s performances earned him the Segunda Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year award in 2013-14], I wanted to play for the first team. I could see that the coach, Jorge Jesus, didn’t count on me because he was playing me at left-back during training sessions. I had to follow my dreams. Monaco showed some interest in me – they were going to be playing in the Champions League and would be fighting for many titles in France. I couldn’t say no to them.
What do you put last season’s successes at Monaco down to?
We had a young team who had spent two or three years together. Once you’re used to your team-mates, when you know each other inside out, it’s easy to play. Add to that base the players who came in – Benjamin Mendy on the left, Djibril Sidibe on the right and Kamil Glik, an experienced player in defence, plus Kylian Mbappe rising – and we knew we had a great team and could do something special.
How will Benjamin Mendy joining you at City help you to adapt?
He was injured at the start of the season, but he’s one of the best left-backs in the world and it’s great to have him here. He will show his quality straight away and will be great for us. We’re great friends.
How are you finding life in Manchester so far?
I really like it. There are people here from all around the world and they have been so friendly to me. There are some great restaurants in Manchester. I’ve also walked past the National Football Museum a couple of times with my girlfriend. I haven’t been inside it yet, but I’ll have to go and check it out soon. The weather is about the only downside since I’ve arrived, but that’s because I’m not used to it.
Sergio Aguero once told FFT that the sound of the rain bouncing off his bedroom window helped him to get to sleep at night…
[ Laughs] Really?! I’ve not experienced that, but it’s not rained that much. Of course, it’s different to Monaco and Lisbon and I’m used to sun and a lot of heat, but the temperature and rain can also be good to play football. It’s better to play football when it’s cold rather than hot and a bit of water on top means the ball will travel faster.
Have you picked up any Mancunian yet?
I haven’t! I have heard a few things and the guys here say that it’s very difficult, but there’s nothing I know yet. What should I know?
Well, there’s keks, which are trousers…
Keks?! And that’s a word in the Mancunian vocabulary? Wow, how do you spell that? I will have to ask the other lads about that one.
Have you heard of Oasis?
[ Sounds confused] Oasis? Ah yes, I’ve seen the Gallagher brothers on Instagram. I don’t know much by them, but I know they’re big fans.
Have you found anywhere to live yet?
I’m still living in a hotel at the minute, but I have seen a few places so it won’t be long before we move into our own place. In Monaco I just had a small one-bed flat in the middle of the town, looking out to sea. I moved on my own when I first came from Benfica, so didn’t really need anything bigger than a small apartment. But it felt like home straight away, so when it was me and my girlfriend we decided to stay there because it’s a lot of work to move house. The Premier League or the Champions League – you can only win one of them come the end of the season. Which do you choose? [ Immediately] The Champions League, as it’s more difficult to win. Of course, the Premier League isn’t easy to win, but the Champions League has all of the best teams in Europe, so it’s as good as it gets. Manchester City have never won it either, so I want to make history.
“THE BEST PLAYERS In THE WORLD WA nT TO WORK WITH PEP. YOU CA n’T TUR n HIM DOW n”
Below There’s a new Silva in town: Bernardo says he’s honoured to play with namesake David and learn from his quality at Man City