Some of the biggest names in World Football have come from the Iberian nation of Portugal. Rui Miguel Martins gives us an insight into another talented youngster coming through from the country, Bernardo Silva.
Portugal has for some time now looked at itself as a country that competes far above its weight class in international football. It has produced three World Footballers of The Year. Its best result at a World Cup was third-place in 1966. And it lost a European Championship Final on their home soil just a decade ago.
The so-called ‘Golden Generation’ that emerged in the early 2000s lifted many Portuguese fans spirits after several dark decades. However, this talented group of players that included Luis Figo failed to deliver the elusive senior title. But currently, there is a new generation of talented youngsters that could finally propel the modest European nation into the elite of global football.
20-year-old attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva is sure to be a big part of that future. The Benfica product was part of the U-19 squad that made the semi-finals of the UEFA European Championships last year. And he has been selected for the U-21 squad during the qualifying stage for the 2015 UEFA European Championships.
Silva spent the 2013-14 season with Benfica’s reserve squad which plays in Portugal’s second tier Segunda Liga, where he was named the Breakthrough Player of the Season. He has now been loaned to Ligue 1 club AS Monaco for the 2014-15 season.
Who is Bernardo Silva?
From an early age, Bernardo Silva was a supporter of SL Benfica and eventually joined its academy. His first taste of real success came during the 2012-13 season when he helped the club win the Portuguese junior championship.
Silva followed that up with another impressive performance at the U-19 UEFA European Championships, helping Portugal reach the semi-finals. He was later profiled on the UEFA website as one of the top 10 talents under the age of 19.
At the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Silva was promoted to Benfica B where he continued to grow as a player, helping the squad finish fifth in the Segunda Liga. He was the creative influence behind a promising group of talented youngsters at the Portuguese club. Silva made 38 appearances, scoring seven goals and notching another seven assists.
But the highlight of his young career so far took place during a U-21 UEFA Euro qualifying match against Israel on November 18, 2013. With Portugal down 2-1, Silva dribbled past several defenders before passing the ball to FC Porto winger Ricardo Pereira, who would score the tying goal. A video of his amazing individual effort was widely circulated in the Portuguese media.
It seemed to mark the moment that Bernardo Silva announced himself to Portuguese fans. And he was not done. Silva would go on to score two goals later in that match, including the eventual winning goal in the 86th minute, lifting Portugal to victory.
Talent Radar Accolades
- 2016-17 Ligue 1 Team of the Season
- 2015-16 Ligue 1 Team of the Season
- 2015 U21 Euros Team of the Season
- Finished 10th in Talent Radar Performance Rankings (Midfielders) 2016-17
Silva found it difficult to break into Benfica’s senior side making his first appearance at senior level in a Portuguese Cup match against Cinfães in October 2013. But he made only one appearance for Benfica A in the Primeira Liga this past season, which came in the late stages of their final league match against FC Porto.
After not playing very much during Benfica’s pre-season, Silva was loaned to AS Monaco for one season. The deal came as a surprise to many, but he was unlikely to factor much at Benfica this season. The deal includes an option to make the deal permanent at the end of the season.
It did not take Silva very long to impress his new employers. He scored in his first training session with the French club and also managed to catch the attention of AS Monaco midfielder and Portuguese international João Moutinho. “Bernardo Silva is an excellent player, he spent last season with Benfica’s B squad, but he is promising player. I have already trained a few times with him. He has a lot quality and is intelligent” Moutinho told media in August 2014.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
The most striking feature of Bernardo Silva’s game is his amazing dribbling skills, which should remind observers of Zinedine Zidane or Lionel Messi. His style of play is more similar to Zidane or former Portuguese international Rui Costa (to draw an apt parallel). Silva is a ‘Number 10’ or a natural playmaker, a position that appears to be disappearing from the European game.
Most clubs today do not play with a pure ‘Number 10.’ João Moutinho, for example was considered such a player in his early years at Sporting Lisbon but he has developed into a box-to-box midfielder, who is skilled at both defending and attacking.
Bernardo Silva has excellent vision, technical skill, an ability to beat defenders one-on-one, and has a particularly strong left foot. He is not blessed with size, standing at only 1.73m tall. Helena Costa (who recently made headlines after being named manager of Ligue 2 squad Clermont Foot 63, before stepping down weeks later) was Bernardo Silva’s first manager at Benfica’s academy.
Costa told Portuguese football website Maisfutebol in November 2013, that Silva made up for his lack of stature with an impressive ability to read the game. “He stayed with us and from the first day began to adapt. He was short and had to learn how to compensate for that by learning to think before everyone else did. He continued to play with youngsters, who were in some cases, almost twice as big”
Bernardo Silva is undoubtedly talented but he is still very raw. Like all young players, Silva will have to learn how to play football at the highest level; still only 20-years-old, he will have to mature physically first. Training will help him build the endurance needed to play a full season at the highest level.
He will also need to learn how to play within a defensive system. That includes learning when he should run forward and attack. These deficiencies are a common part of maturing as a player. But he needs game action in order to do so. His primary objective this season should be to convince AS Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim that he deserves to play regularly at the Ligue 1 club.
The club will be competing in three competitions this season, including the UEFA Champions League and it would be reasonable to expect atleast a few appearances in the cup games. So far, Silva has been primarily used as a late match substitute by Jardim. He should continue to be selected for Portugal’s U-21 squad, as they look to qualify for the European Championships in the Czech Republic next June.
“He looks like a street player, the ball stuck to his body and snot coming out from his nose”. Pepa, former coach of Bernardo Silva, used a metaphor to describe in perfection the offensive midfielder of AS Monaco.
When the ball is close to his feet, Bernardo is capable of anything. He dazzles, he changes pace, he takes risks with superb intelligence. Tiny and skinny in the earlier years, the Portuguese talent developed his technique to compensate his fragile structure. Still, there is work to be done.
Jorge Jesus considers that Bernardo Silva needs to work more without the ball and one must agree. Going to a different reality, a tough championship, might work out perfect for the hot prospect. Rony Lopes, another left footed talent coming out of Benfica, seems to have progressed more during his time at Manchester City but the duel between the two is at an interesting stage in Ligue 1. Rony (Marcos Lopes) at Lille, Bernardo at Monaco. The national team of Portugal is waiting and never had a player quite like these two.
Written by Rui Miguel Martins. Visit his football blog, Futebol Factory
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