The European Under-21 Championship often paves a golden path for one or two youngsters to latch on to, riding it to the very top of the game. This summer's edition turned out two stunning individuals in William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva, both of Portugal, and the latter could be primed for a career-defining season.
Silva featured sporadically for Monaco in 2014-15, but with the French outfit's summer sale renewed for a second successive season, Leonardo Jardim seems likely to ask him to step into a more prominent role. There's a hole in central midfield following Geoffrey Kondogbia's €40 million move to Internazionale, and Silva can pick up the reins without adjustment.
He was only secured permanently from Benfica as recently as January for £12 million, continuing the Portuguese outfit's recent tradition of selling their academy jewels to bigger fish at an absurdly early stage. His Ligue 1 appearances were limited, but the talent was so obvious that Monaco pulled the trigger—a wise decision.
Silva will hope to carry his sparkling under-21 form into the 2015-16 campaign, leading Les Monegasques' Ligue 1 title challenge despite the financial (input) disparity between themselves and Paris Saint-Germain. He'll be pulling the strings in a Champions League midfield within months, so get to know a rising star here and now.
Silva is slight. As in, Diego Buonanotte slight. Unlike Jack Grealish, who we profiled in-depth here, the Portuguese playmaker is actually as weak as he looks. At 5'8" and with a spindly frame, he's not winning any headers or any marginally physical duels.
But that's not a problem for a continental playmaker. Those clever enough with their feet and body can surpass that "disadvantage"—just ask his namesake David Silva.
Silva is a better athlete than his somatotype suggests, possessing surprising stamina, a remarkable tenacity to his moves and impressive top-end speed. He's far from a classical No. 10, bestowed with technical gifts but shorn of mobility and pace; he's the complete package, rolled into one.
He's mastered playing in the No. 10 space, utilising great agility and balance to weave between challenges and poke himself through holes. He's also able out wide as a straight winger—an ability lost on those so at home inside.
2. Technique, First Touch, Passing
Silva's technique is sublime, his touch ridiculous; think of the weaving ball control of some of the great dribblers in the game's history, and you have this young Portuguese's primary attribute in a nutshell.
Perhaps the most marvellous part of his game is that he can control any ball. Where some players excel at controlling passes directed at them face-on but struggle bringing it down over their head, or vice versa, Silva does both with equal brilliance.
It's one of the main reasons he looks at home either in a central No. 10 position or on either flank; some No. 10s playing wide clearly look out of place, but Silva could convince a first-time viewer he's a natural wide man, such is his comfort on the sidelines.
His first touch tries to set him in a position to move forward; his agility allows him to poke passes into space and skip around onrushing markers, making foes look genuinely humiliated at times.
Spreading passes from central to flanks, finding overload runs, threading through balls...Silva has every pass on the palette ready and available for use. The first touch opens up his options immediately, and his wondrous stroke of the sphere does the rest.
3. Ball Retention
Silva's technique and touch allow him to embark upon mazy, weaving dribbles and hold the ball for long periods. All told, it's rare that the Portuguese is ever dispossessed; he ran rings around his colleagues at the European Under-21 Championship without really ever losing the ball.
At 20 years of age, he is still at times guilty of dribbling for dribbling's sake. So obsessed he can be with not losing the ball, he can waste energy by moving sideways or backward without making any true progress. Of course it's better than losing possession, but it's hardly progress either.
Most of the time, though, his moves are well thought through; he spots space and makes a dart for it, squeezing through slim gaps and manipulating the ball with expert precision. He can beat two, three or four players with one feint; he'll leave a cluster grasping at thin air in seconds if there's even half a yard to hit.
The ability to attract groups of markers and still retain the ball opens up space for others, and his spread passing is of a high calibre. Once he beats his man (or men) he looks to pass early rather than prolong the dribble, switching passes left and right or playing strikers in following good runs to split the centre-backs.
Watching him at the under-21 tournament was educational, as Portugal played a curious 4-4-2 diamond with no true No. 9s. They selected two wingers up front instead, and both made unconventional runs and movements that a playmaker would perhaps not expect.
Silva, though, continued to act as the heartbeat of the team, popping accurate passes into the overloading full-backs' runs or finding his forwards with accurate, slotted balls. If the pass isn't on, he ducks sideways and dribbles until he finds one; if it is, he releases quickly. Truth be told, his football IQ and decision-making process, at 20 years of age, is off the charts.
4. Pressing Ability
A perhaps underrated facet of Silva's game is his pressing ability; a terrier-like mantra exists within his little frame, capable of dispossessing or at least flustering an opponent on the ball.
Many with his technical skill set wouldn't bother to track back, knowing their dainty feet are enough to secure them a future at a high level in the game, but Silva works and works—perhaps a natural attribute, perhaps a "prove-it" mindset. Either way, it's highly effective.
As stated above, he has a surprisingly high level of stamina and can maintain a press for well above five seconds; he'll drop back in if he can't find the ball but makes every effort, snapping and kicking at his opponents' legs in the most irritating fashion possible.
He's developed a neat habit of poking a leg through an opponent's legs to prod the ball into space, then dart around his marker, latch on to it and start dribbling forward. It combines his tenacity, stamina and pressing with his majestic technical ability, making for a killer counter-attacking cocktail.
|Bernardo Silva, Defensive Statistics (2014-15)|
|Tackles (pg)||Tackles (Total)||INTs (pg)||INTs (total)|
|Ligue 1 (32 apps)||1.8||58||1||33|
|Under-21s (5 apps)||1||5||1.2||6|
His statistics in the tackling arena aren't eye-opening, but for a technical-based No. 10 of such a build, these numbers are admirable and combative to say the least.
At 20 years of age, rising playmakers often have the creative assets akin to those at the top but lack a killer instinct in the final third. They service the runs rather than make the runs, and when the ball falls into a dangerous area it's them playing the pass, not receiving it.
But Silva is the exception to the rule in this instance; he's already developed a rather impressive sense of opportunism in the final third, likely owing to his ridiculously high football IQ. He knows where to be, when to be there, and his goal return, as a result, is quite exceptional all told.
When playing centrally, he's been able to burst forward into goalscoring positions, and over the course of two years with the Portuguese under-21 team, he sussed how to find ripe pockets in an unorthodox system, netting five.
For Monaco, he's seared down the wings, using that top-end speed, to create chances and fire acute-angled shots at goal, or he's found opportunities on goal via his pressing and tenacity. He's netted a few one-on-ones after robbing the last defender, and he's set up a few more doing the same.
6. In Front of Goal
As with his passing, the type of goals Silva can score sit on a wide, varied palette. He's also able to bear the brunt of goalscoring responsibility, netting four in seven games for Portugal to qualify for the under-21s this summer and netting nine from 25 2014-15 starts in Ligue 1, per WhoScored.com.
The fact that he's still growing as a player yet making such a defining impact in front of goal is a huge plus for Monaco and Jardim; it's not often you see a 20-year-old who isn't a naturalised forward able to take on that task.
A surprising number of his goals come as tap-ins; he's a "right place, right time" sort of player already and is very happy to enter the box as the late runner or third man, sweeping up the pieces. His long shot is OK—not brilliant, but hardly poor—and his acute-angle finishes, particularly on his left side, are excellent.
Crucially, he doesn't shoot unless there's a reasonable chance he can score. His statistics aren't inflated due to him taking 10 shots per game and one going in. He managed just 34 from 32 Ligue 1 games in 2014-15, just over one shot per game—showing a clinical edge to his driving runs and intelligent positioning.
Silva is an unravelling secret now; the French know him, the Portuguese adore him and the rest of the world is perhaps just waking up to his talent. The European Under-21 Championship did a lot for his reputation, with many seeing him for the first time and marvelling at all of the traits we've discussed.
|Bernardo Silva Creative Statistics, 2014-15|
|Goals||Assists||Pass Success %||Key Passes (pg)||Dribbles (pg)|
With Kondogbia gone from Monaco's midfield, it's perhaps time for Silva to become a 38-game starter—fitness permitting—and play more often from a central role. Although he's very capable outside and has the attributes to succeed, it sometimes feels as though Jardim takes advantage of his versatility.
A bit of pace and pizzazz could be a welcome permanent addition to Les Monegasques' central setup, and although Silva offers a distinctly different approach to the bullish, powerful Kondogbia, Joao Moutinho will link well with his countryman and perhaps even raise his own game in the process (it'd be about time).
In terms of projections, Silva is likely already worth €30 million in today's market and could succeed in any situation. A pretty playmaker with added speed, tenacity and penalty-box instincts will go for big bucks even at this age.
Monaco don't sell cheap, so he won't leave cheap when he goes. Purchasing him for a mere £12 million January was a ridiculous bargain that Benfica, the selling club, should be embarrassed about; they've let a soon-to-be world-class talent slip away for relative peanuts.