When Bernardo Silva first signed for Manchester City a couple of seasons ago, few would have imagined the heights the Portuguese international would be hitting so quickly. There were signs, Bernardo had a fantastic breakthrough season with one of the best teams Monaco had seen in years and Manchester City was quick to cash in on the talent. It wasn’t a position City needed to urgently fill but the potential preceded the requirements and Guardiola did not want to pass up on a gem.
Bernardo took time to get used to proceedings at City and the first six months were transitional but he became an example for everyone in the dressing room with the professionalism he displayed. It quickly drew him close to the City supporters who adored him. One year on and that adoration has been supplemented by a plethora of reverence, obsession and pride.
The man nicknamed ‘bubblegum’– a direct allusion to his relationship with the ball was an integral part of Manchester City’s domestic treble winning side and stepped up in the absence of star playmaker Kevin de Bruyne. Bernardo made the right flank his own restricting Mahrez to the bench and was a key tactical cog in Pep’s creative machine at City. As a result, he was voted Manchester City’s Player of the Year ahead of the likes of Aguero and Raheem Sterling who had fantastic seasons in their own right as well.
Even with the national team, Bernardo enjoyed stupendous success and even though Ronaldo made the headlines for his semi-final hattrick against Switzerland and Guedes was lauded for his final winning goal, it was Bernardo who assisted both the key moments and was the orchestrator in the Portuguese midfield and final third. His efforts were duly recognised by UEFA and Silva was awarded the Player of the Tournament.
On the pitch, Bernardo Silva combines the best of the two aspects of football- technique and industry. Some players like Ozil are blessed with exceptional natural technique and can change the course of the game any time they want but their work ethic often leaves more for desire whereas there are those like Kante whose work rate is a delight for any manager but they’re not the most technically gifted. Bernardo however, packs silky skills and comfort on the ball with relentless industry off it.
Starting out on the right side of the pitch, Bernardo often swaps flanks with Sterling and Sane and depending upon his position he chooses to cut in or go wide and drive pin-point low crosses across the area. Quite often, he drifts towards the middle of the pitch to influence play to a greater extent and participate in the buildup process alongside David Silva and Ilkay Gundogan behind a front three of Aguero, Sane and Sterling. This makes Bernardo unpredictable and versatile. In this season’s Premier League, he scored 7 goals, some of them, being absolutely crucial to his side. His return in the UEFA Champions League was phenomenal too- scoring 4 times and assisting another 2 goals in 8 games.
Bernardo Silva is not one of the flashiest players on the pitch but he is very, very efficient. He is the kind of player that does not catch the eye on the first glimpse but once you watch him play it becomes ridiculously tough to take the eyes off him. Still just 24, Silva is a creative genius. He combines quick feet and is a smooth dribbler with the ball. Possessing a great passing technique that includes short passes and long range crosses and diagonals alike, Bernardo also has an off-beat but precise shooting technique that leaves goalkeepers confused and with the ball usually finding its way into the net. He often does this with an infectious joy, a smile on his play that reflects his childlike enthusiasm about stepping on to the pitch and kicking a ball with wonder just like he did as a kid in Lisbon. Yes, it’s true that the awarding of the Ballon d’Or has always been followed by controversy where football’s highest individual honour has often been a popularity contest but given the season Bernardo Silva had with Manchester City and his national side and was crucial to winning five trophies, he deserves a shot at the podium at the very least.
Author’s take- Yes, there are a lot of gray areas around how the think tank behind the awarding of the Ballon d’Or works, but with everything said and done, the very least Bernardo deserves is a place on the podium as one of the best players on the planet.