It’s just over a week after the final whistle of the Premier League season was blown, and Manchester City are already making notable movements in the transfer market. In the space of 48 hours, the club announced the impending departures of Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Jesus Navas and Willy Caballero; a combined 25 years of Manchester City experience, all released unsparingly.
As if that wasn’t enough of an indication that Guardiola means business this summer, the club has since announced the £43m signing of Portuguese playmaker, Bernardo Silva, from AS Monaco on a five-year deal. Silva had been linked to the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United in recent times, but City have been proactive towards acquiring his signature and have announced him as their first official signing of the window; a week before it formally opens.
To showcase the player we’ll all be watching next season, and to explore possible transfer motives, I’ve identified what I believe to be the three key reasons behind Pep moving to sign Bernardo.
If you were asked to select the Manchester City players that have thrived the most so far under Guardiola’s management, a large majority would opt for David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho. These players all share a distinguishing trait above their teammates, Intelligence. If you focus on the footballers that Guardiola has improved the most in his career, the players that have thrived and he’s most enjoyed working with, a recurring theme is their cleverness. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Lahm, Thiago, Alonso, Silva and De Bruyne.
In Bernardo, Pep will be introduced to his latest clever footballer, as the young attacker uses his mind above all else to influence football matches. He’s the type of playmaker that is always one step ahead of most other players on the pitch; he’s first to see a clear picture and is able to utilise his technique to make that vision become a reality. This can be viewed below as the video is an analysis of a few scenarios in which Bernardo is clearly one step ahead of the opposition.
— Distance Covered (@DistanceCovered) May 27, 2017
Guardiola already has an abundance of creative talent at his disposal, and Bernardo will add to those options harmoniously. Pep currently has Jesus and Aguero to occupy his striker roles, and mostly De Bruyne and Silva to operate as his playmakers or ‘false no.8s’. Largely where Bernardo will be able to provide instant competition is on the right flank, as Raheem Sterling has merely had the departing Jesus Navas to compete with this season. Bernardo played on Sterling’s right-wing for the majority of Monaco’s title-winning season, and chipped in with eight goals and nine assists. His end-product and composure in the final-third is vastly superior to Sterling’s, but their creative contribution will differ. Sterling’s prime attacking weapon is his pace and acceleration, whereas Bernardo’s is his vision, awareness and technique, so Pep effectively now has two varying right-wing options to use depending on the opponent.
Whether Bernardo is deployed in a wide area or as a central playmaker; he will always find ways to create, as demonstrated in the video below. He completed 70 take-ons, created 60 chances and had 60 shots in Ligue 1 in the season that has just concluded, signalling that he’s a heavily involved player when it comes to the final-third.
His retired compatriot, Deco, was quoted as saying:
“He has a lot of quality. He is a good player. He takes risks. That’s why I like him. He can be the No.10 of the national team for years.”
In my opinion, Bernardo Silva is a top class creator, and doesn’t get the recognition throughout Europe that some of the other more well-known stars receive. He’s a wonderfully gifted footballer, with exceptional playmaking abilities that combine with an ease and composure on the ball. In my opinion, this player is going to be a gift to the league as a whole, and not just to City fans.
— Distance Covered (@DistanceCovered) May 27, 2017
Moulding Bernardo into Silva
Initially, after critically watching Bernardo’s game at Monaco, he plays a completely different role than Silva does for City. Bernardo plays as a conventional wide threat, a winger who occasionally sits narrower to allow a full-back to overlap. His dribbling ability is superior to Silva’s, and he’s a more capable crosser of the ball, so he’s suited to the role he’s played over the past season. David Silva at City, is required by Guardiola to effectively operate as a false no.8; playing as a central midfielder without the ball and as a no.10 when in possession. This role means he often plays deeper than Bernardo at Monaco, and has more of a central dictatorial role whilst maintaining a creative input.
However, the similarities between the two players become apparent when focusing on their individual styles of play and their main strengths. They have the same calmness and close control on the ball, and combine that composure with the vision to thread the ball often through the eye of a needle. Both Silva and Bernardo have that in-game intelligence, naturally demonstrating their cleverness by regularly making good decisions and rarely losing the ball despite operating largely in a congested final-third.
My belief regarding the motive behind the transfer is that Bernardo has been signed to provide initial competition as well as an alternative option to Raheem Sterling on the right flank, with view to him eventually being Silva’s long-term successor. Guardiola has a history of player positional switches; Lahm to central midfield, Javi to centre-back, Messi to a false-nine. Bernardo has the style of play, composure and footballing intelligence to make the same switch Silva has made over the course of his career, as he arrived from Valencia in 2010 as a winger. When Manchester City signed David Silva, he was 24 and had showcased his inventive potential in La Liga; Bernardo is just 22 and has a potentially higher ceiling if he develops as well as expected. He’s slightly taller than Silva at 5′ 8″ compared to David’s 5′ 6″, so hypothetically he’s better physically equipped for a move to England than David was in 2010.
If Pep manages to mould and educate Bernardo aptly, City will solve an aspect of their long-standing issue of replacing their title-winning spine of Hart-Kompany-Yaya-Silva-Aguero.
To summarise, City are getting a superbly talented playmaker in Bernardo Silva; an attack-minded player who’ll provide Guardiola with a creative composure on the right flank, which often can’t be said for Raheem Sterling. As well as providing an option on the right, Bernardo ultimately has the intellectual capability to be retrained as a central playmaker, and Guardiola is the master of educating players positionally. If Pep can have the same influence positionally on Bernardo as he had on the likes of Phillip Lahm, Messi and Javi Martinez, then Manchester City will have an ideal candidate to replace David Silva long-term.