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

Australian Four Four Two - - FEATURES - In­ter­view An­drew Mur­ray

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.


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.


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

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