“You Can Never Write Real Madrid Off”
The City midfielder spoke to AS about the Champions League tie against Real Madrid, his moves to Benfica and City and what it’s like playing under Guardiola.
Bernardo Silva, playing at Manchester City, has put himself firmly in the group of the current best in the world. Under Guardiola he’s become a fantastic and stylish player, of the kind Luis Aragonés liked, who would have put him in his best XI with all the other diminutive geniuses.
Thanks to the coronavirus lockdown, the Portuguese international can now hardly remember the first leg of the Champions League last-16 match at the Bernabéu against Real Madrid, which City won 1-2. What’s certain is he doesn’t think Madrid are out of it, particularly not playing behind closed doors.
Bernardo Silva plays the piano. He’s attempting Lennon’s Imagine, playing with the same style that’s evident every time he dribbles with that magic left foot of his. He speaks four languages, reads poetry, cooks. And he doesn’t have a PlayStation in the house.
– How are you coping with the lockdown? You’ll be desperate to get back to playing football?
– We need to be patient and wait, but of course I can’t wait to get back.
– You’ve had the [Covid-19] test and are waiting for instructions from the Premier League.
– Yes. We want it to be as safe as possible, but we’re desperate to get back and play football, to kick the ball again. We’re waiting for them to tell us when we can start.
Start of your career
– What do you remember of your time at Benfica?
– I had a great time at Benfica. I was there for 12 years. The club made me a footballer and a man.
– You came up through the ranks but didn’t break into the first team. Is there any bitterness towards Jorge Jésus for not allowing you to succeed at Benfica?
– I’m never bitter at anyone. All the coaches have their options and their preferences. At that moment in time I wasn’t in the plans of the Benfica coach, and I had to get on with my life. I took a really good decision to go to Monaco, where I had three incredible years, which gave me the opportunity to be at City now with Pep, and it’s been magnificent up to now.
– In contrast to Jorge Jésus’ lack of confidence in you, came the complete faith of Leonardo Jardim.
– All coaches have different ways of seeing the game. Some prefer one type of player, others choose footballers with other characteristics. I was lucky to have Jardim at Monaco and other Portuguese players such as Ricardo Carvalho and Moutinho, who helped me a lot at the start. Everything went so well for me at Monaco.
– 19 years old and with no experience in the top flight, what was the Bernardo Silva who arrived at Monaco like?
– He was a Bernardo Silva who still didn’t know if he was good enough to play in a team in the Champions League and which was up there fighting for titles. Moving to Monaco and finding out I was good enough was fantastic. My first season at Monaco was an amazing experience.
– That Monaco side was amazing: Martial, Carrasco, Mbappé breaking through…
– Mbappé arrived in my last season at Monaco, but there were so many great players when I joined: Berbatov, Martial, Moutinho, Kondogbia, Fabinho, Kurzawa, Ricardo Caravalho… And in my last season there I played alongside Lemar, Fabinho, Mendy, Bakayoko, Sidibé, Falcao and Mbappé, particularly, in the last six months, that was when he started to play more. He’s a different class of player, everyone knows that now and he’s going to do amazing things in football.
Silva’s move to City and playing under Pep
– What was it like signing for Manchester City?
– Since I was a boy I’d dreamt of playing in the best leagues and the Premier is one of them. I dreamt about it and after Monaco won the French title and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and with the amazing season we’d had, I thought it was a good time to leave and try something new and the truth is I got it spot on because everyone at the City – the staff, the players and the fans – welcomed me and I’m really happy here.
– You’ve been playing in the Premier for three seasons and are one of the best in the league. How have Guardiola and City helped you to grow into one of the most outstanding players in the world?
– Guardiola’s way of understanding football is different to the coaches I’d had before. When I joined I needed time to adapt, to understand what he wanted and I learnt so much. The best decision of my life was moving to City, to learn every day from Guardiola and all my teammates.
– At the Bernabéu in the Champions League you could see that City knew how to sit back with a 4-4-2, soak up pressure in defence and hit on the counter-attack. Has Guardiola perfected his system in England?
– I think he has. All the players and coaches are learning and improving. Under Pep we change our tactics and our way of playing for almost every game. We adapt to what each match requires. At the Bernabéu we knew how to soak up pressure and we did what we had to to get the win there, which is never easy.
– The possession football that Spain and Barcelona were successful with for years has evolved and now it seems a more physical game with faster shifts in the play, like the way Liverpool play, is taking over.
– Teams have to adapt to what every game needs, but there are different styles. Talking of England, Liverpool’s style and City’s style are very different, and both are very effective. There’s no perfect system. You have to make the most of the players you have, and both Klopp and Guardiola do that. I can’t tell you which is the better style because there’s no answer – but both do what they do so well.
The challenge of Real Madrid
– What do you remember of the Champions League last-16 match at the Bernabéu? It seems so long ago…
– In my life, since I started playing football, I’ve never gone three months without playing, because I’ve been lucky never to have had a serious injury. Three months without playing is something new for me. I can’t even remember the last game we played and I’m desperate to get back playing.
– What do you expect from the Champions League second-leg after the shutdown is over, do you think Real Madrid have a chance of coming back and going through?
– It’s all very open. When you play a side like Madrid nothing is ever certain. We’ve seen a lot of ties in the last few years get turned around. Look at Barça last year, beating Liverpool 3-0 and then losing 4-0. You never know. It’s a good result and we’re in a great position to go through to the quarter-finals. It’s a tough match and we’ll need to play well and maintain our concentration.
– What chance do City have of winning the Champions League this year? It’s the one thing left for Guardiola to do with City, to win the Champions League…
– In the last three years we’ve won everything in England, last season we won all four English titles, this year we’ve won the Super Cup and the League Cup, we’re still in the FA Cup and we want to win that, but the Champions League is the title the club, the players and Pep in England want to win. We know it’s a tough tournament, but we’ll fight for it.
– And you’re facing Madrid, the Kings of the European Cup. They’ve won 13.You can never write them off.
– Of course not! You can’t write any team off, far less Madrid who have won 13 European Cups. No one else has the experience Madrid’s players have in this competition, so we can’t think we’ve already beaten them.
– Would you prefer Marcelo or Mendy to mark you?
– They are different players. Marcelo is almost a winger, he’s always attacking; I can’t think of a better full-back than Marcelo. Mendy is more physical and younger. They are different and Zidane uses them differently in each game. It’s not for me to choose.
– Do you most prefer playing out on the right?
– I like playing in the middle and out on the right. When I’m on the wing I like being on the right because as I’m not so fast I can move inside. I like playing where the coach things is best for the team, because its good to have the option of playing in different positions – it gives the coach more options and it’s good for me too.
– You’re top of the rankings in winning the ball back in the last third of the pitch. That indicates you know how to press methodically after losing the ball and defend – you put in a shift defending.
– In football everyone has to defend and everyone has to attack. When it’s time to defend that’s everyone’s job, from front to back. I try to do my job, both attacking and defending.
– How has Rodri adapted to the Premier League?
– He’s adapted really quickly. With Pep and the folk who speak Spanish it’s easier. But he’s adapted really well and almost always plays. He’s a vital player for us. He’s really intelligent, hard-working and has a great mentality, which is the most important thing.
– How is your relationship with David Silva, the genius from Arguineguín (David Silva’s home town in Gran Canaría]
– David is a role model. He’s our captain. When I played for Monaco against City I swapped shirts with him and now we’re teammates. For me, it’s a pleasure playing with David. He’s one of the best midfielders of the past few years and has won almost everything. The World Cup and two European Championships with Spain, and with City everything except the Champions League.
– Has he got much football left in him?
– He’s got a lot of football left in him. With David’s style of play he can play as long as he wants. He’s really smart, he always makes the right choices and he’s physically in great shape. He can play for as long as he wants.
– What’s Kun like? He’s now a ‘youtuber’ and a ‘gamer’…
– Kun is goals. There’s nothing more to say about him. He hits it so hard. If you give him a bad ball, he hits it well. It’s so good to have a player who scores so easily. That’s why he’s player with most goals in City’s history and I think he’s close to the record for the Premier. If he carries on like this he’ll get there.
– You played alongside Lemar at Monaco, why do you think he’s struggled at Atlético Madrid?
– He’s a great footballer. It was joy to play with Lemar because he’s technically great and he’s a hard-worker. Having good players who work hard is great for a team. What’s more, he’s a good lad. I was really happy for him when he signed for Atlético because they are a great club. Sooner or later he’ll start playing as well as he can because he’s really good.
– What do you think about Joao Félix?
– I’ve trained with him a lot of times with the national side now and I haven’t seen that level of potential in many other players. Of course he needs to work and improve a lot of things. The price they paid for him is fair, Joao is worth it.
– Portugal have had some of the biggest stars of all time, such as Eusebio, Chalana…
– Chalana! He was my coach at Benfica. I never saw him play, but my father and my grandfather told me about him, but as well as being my coach and one of the best players ever for Portugal, Chalana is my friend. He’s a great guy.
– So Eusebio, Chalana, Futre, Rui Costa, Figo and now Cristiano Ronaldo are legendary figures for Portugal, do you see yourself in the future in that group of Portuguese football legends? Can you take over from Cristiano?
– Taking Cristiano’s place is impossible. Nobody is going to do that. I’m going to try and always keep improving so I can do the best I can for Portugal and my club – helping my country and team to win everything possible.
– Bernardo Silva is a role-model for kids who aren’t as physically imposing… like Xavi, Iniesta and Silva have been.
– When a player is good they can make it – small, big… every player has different qualities. Some are more technical, faster, slower, taller, shorter… but when there is quality and hard work, every player can dream of making it.
– You’re full of fun, and your jokes are part of you.
– In our profession we’re lucky to do something we really like doing. I love what I do. It’s so lucky being able to play football every day like I do. Doing it with a smile is perfect. I try and have fun every day. I think when people are happy everything is easier.
– You’ve been watching a lot of Netflix during lockdown, what series would you recommend?
– I’ve watched After Life. And now I want to see Last Dance, the documentary on Michael Jordan.
– And what book are you reading?
– I’m reading a book of poetry. I don’t read much, but now there’s not much to do, I’m reading Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. It’s really good.
– You speak four languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish and French.
– I do.
– And are you going to go back to study? You started university, doing International Relations…
– I don’t know. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do when I finish my career, but I’ll do something, no doubt about it.
– I read you’ve been cooking during lockdown. What have you cooked most?
– I’ve done a bit of everything. All really healthy. I’m a bit of a chef. I’ve cooked fish, meat, pulses, salads, pancakes… I’m an awesome chef (laughs).
– And you play the piano. What’s your favourite song to play?
– I’ve been playing a Brazilian number, Garota de Ipanema, and now I’m starting to play Imagine by John Lennon, I’m trying it, but it’s tough
– Have you got a Play Station? FIFA or Fortnite?
– I don’t have a Play Station at home, I don’t play. It’s not that I don’t like it, what happens is if I have it I spend hours on it and I prefer doing other stuff.
– That happens with social media, you get hooked.
– Yes, you spend so much time on the mobile, so much time in front of the television. I prefer not to have it, than to have it.
– Any tattoos?
– Just one, here on my forearm: Benfica’s motto: ‘E pluribus Unum’ (Out of many, one)
– Do you want to retire at Benfica?
– Yes. I never played in the first team and one day I want to.