World-class Man City star Bernardo Silva the future of Portugal

first_imgInspecting the Portugal squad at training the day before their opening UEFA Nations League finals match, a semi-final against outsiders Switzerland, you could see at least three generations of talent, past; present and future.The last of those to emerge from the dressing room was the first to emerge on the world stage. Captain, top scorer, national icon and the man Portugal’s hopes have been pinned on for a decade and a half, Cristiano Ronaldo.Slipping out onto the Estadio do Bessa field before him, the home of Boavista in Porto’s western district, was Joao Felix. The Benfica prospect looks, in the flesh, even younger than he does on the television. His boyish face frames a mouth full of braces, and belies the preternatural talent contained in his legs and in his head. Article continues below Editors’ Picks ‘There is no creativity’ – Can Solskjaer get Man Utd scoring freely again? ‘Everyone legged it on to the pitch!’ – How Foden went from Man City superfan to future superstar Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? And the first to step into the boxy, claustrophobic ground, with its chessboard seating on all four sides, was the Manchester City playmaker Bernardo Silva. Here in Portugal he once carried the nickname “Bubblegum” for the way the ball stuck to his first touch.Watching him mess about with Goncalo Guedes before training started was to be given the impression that balls move with different gravity when they come into his orbit. He leans forward to chest a ball and controls so delicately that you feel if someone threw an egg at him he’d trap it the same way and keep its shell intact.The Portugal players all come out of the tunnel in dribs and drabs and take their place in the warm-up; a couple of kick-ups and then a volley across an ever-expanding group. They take it in turns to batter the ball at Bernardo, in the hope that he’ll drop it and they’ll have something to giggle about. Not a chance.They drill it hard, they drill it high, they drill it at his chest and at his shins and every time they do so he brings it under his command. You are left with an impression of a man who treats the football like a well-trained dog.Later when the rondo exercises start, Joao Felix will aim a playful kick at his elder team-mate, whose unquenchable competitive desire took him into a sliding tackle at the feet of the 19-year-old.Bernardo Silva Manchester CityPortugal are as they ever were, well-stocked with players of both established and emerging class. But Ronaldo remains the only one of this trio with a medal to his name at international level.This is a Portugal group now in the final stages of moving on from Euro 2016 success. Ronaldo, of course, remains irreproachable. But other attacking players likes Ricardo Quaresma and Nani have taken their leave.Bernardo was still at Monaco in 2016 but a hamstring injury in one of the last games of the season condemned him to a summer away from the national team, delaying his breakout to a wider audience. He was beginning to make a name for himself in the colours of the Seleccao but Portugal not only survived but thrived without him.Now, three years on and with a World Cup under his belt, Bernardo is ready. His form in the intervening years has been imperious and he can be regarded as one of the very best playmakers in the world.”Of course, the season with City gives me the confidence and inspiration to try to do my best for the national team,” the 25-year-old said on Tuesday. “That’s what I’m going to try to do, finish the season in the best way, with a title for our national team.”He has reeled off three consecutive league titles – one for Monaco and two under Pep Guardiola at City – and added the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup to his collection this season for good measure. The honour of Player of the Season was also bestowed upon Bernardo, no mean feat in a team which swept all before them on the domestic front.“Maybe this season he’s been [number] one or two of the best players in the Premier League,” Guardiola said in February. “Portugal is fortunate to have him. I love him, it’s simple like that.”Bernardo was the man for the big occasion, contributing a man of the match performance in the January clash against Liverpool which ultimately played a huge part in deciding the fate of the Premier League title. He scored in the vital derby win against Manchester United at Old Trafford as the season drew in.His effect has been such that Guardiola is already describing him as a more important player for his country than Ronaldo. “He can do absolutely everything,” said Pep. “He’s one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen in my career as a manager or a player.”The difference is that Ronaldo has delivered that elusive trophy for the national team, while Bernardo has had to bide his time. But the Nations League gives him the chance to show his country that there will be life beyond CR7 as he moves into his peak years. And Joao Felix, wherever he goes, won’t be far behind.last_img

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