Bernardo Silva has transitioned from constant cameos to sparkling starter at Manchester City
Portuguese was the most-used player but a perennial replacement during City's title-winning campaign but is now one of the first names on Guardiola's teamsheet
In different ways, Pep Guardiola and Fabian Delph were discussing Bernardo Silva’s maturity.
“He looks about 45 but he's only about 20,” smiled Delph.
The Portuguese’s dress sense can be a source of amusement to his teammates. The 24-year-old winger’s uncomplaining attitude, coupled with a precocious sense of responsibility, has endeared him to his manager.
“Last season he had a top impact because he played three minutes from the bench and when he plays three minutes, he played the best he can play,” Guardiola said.
“When he plays five minutes he plays the best possible, always [with] a smile to help.”
Silva had a strange status in his debut season as a Manchester City footballer, as the constant who was often confined to cameos, the most-used player but a perennial replacement.
Now substitute has been reinvented as starter, Silva’s latest sparkling display coming in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Fulham.
“He is the most loved guy in the locker room and he played 90 minutes,” his manager said.
Delph illustrated his point. “He's average,” he joked. “One of the worst players in the team.”
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More seriously, Silva did a convincing impression of the injured Kevin de Bruyne. One particular passage of play, with a delectable piece of chest control, some impromptu juggling and a defence-splitting pass to release Raheem Sterling, who then hit the bar, was worthy of the Belgian.
One of Guardiola’s signature moves has been to take players who, in other circumstances, would be No 10s and trust them in deeper roles.
De Bruyne, a case in point, called the position a “free eight”, but with that freedom comes defensive responsibility. It is a station that often requires physicality in the English game.
“Bernardo can play there because he can fight,” said Guardiola. A fighter is also a runner, with Silva often covering the most distance, 12 or 13km, in a game.
“He is skinny, small but wow … he has that sense of intelligence,” his manager added. “You need to be strong and fast and he did it. Of course he can play there. His natural position is outside but it’s important for us to have players who can play in several positions.”
Silva, Guardiola suggested, can play in up to five. He tended to cut in from the flank in his Monaco days and elaborated: “I can play either in the centre, wide, whatever the manager thinks is best for the team. I am feeling well in the centre right now. I am feeling comfortable both ways.”
It was an illustration of his unselfish attitude. There are also signs that Silva, who had been outstanding in the Community Shield against Chelsea and Premier League opener at Arsenal, is benefiting from a year’s adjustment to English football.
“The second season is always easier than the first one,” he said. “When you change it is always more difficult, you have to adapt to the way the new team plays. You have to adapt to your teammates, to the league, the referees and I have a lot more confidence.”
It was an indication of his modesty that Silva spoke more effusively about Leroy Sane.
The German was one of those who kept him out of the side last season, before a reversal in fortunes. Sane failed to even make the bench against Newcastle United two weeks ago. He returned to score inside two minutes against Fulham.
“Everyone knows how important he is for us,” Silva said. “He was one of the best players last season. I hope this season – and everyone hopes – this season he can do the same.”
If Sane is charged with repeating his past, Silva has set about bettering his.
Updated: September 17, 2018 08:42 AM