Porto's Fabio Silva: The 17-Year-Old '€125M Striker' Destined for Big Things

Marcus AlvesFeatured Columnist IDecember 4, 2019

PORTO, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 27: Fabio Silva of FC Porto celebrates after scoring his team's third goal during the Liga Nos match berween FC Porto and FC Famalicao at Estadio do Dragao on October 27, 2019 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

A few weeks before the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo was unsurprisingly the main topic of conversation as pundits talked football on Portuguese news channel SIC Noticias.

While discussing his position on the pitch, Sporting CP legend Manuel Fernandes, who was working at the time as the club's scouting director, threw another name into the conversation out of the blue.

"When Ronaldo was 17, he played as a centre-forward for Sporting's youth teams. I saw him doing things that I'm now seeing a boy from FC Porto do, Fabio Silva. He will be a hell of a 'crack,'" Fernandes said.

"In a short time, he will be an extraordinary striker."

Watching at home was Jorge Silva, a former defender, who couldn't believe his 15-year-old son had just been compared to the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Jorge rushed Fabio into the living room, rewound the show and asked him to listen to what Fernandes had said. Both of them were stunned.

It was the highest praise the 17-year-old had received, but the accolades have kept coming, and more people are learning his name all the time.

Some may have expected Fabio to get a bit cocky and lose track after such a public declaration, but the exact opposite has happened.

Surprisingly mature for his age, he was scintillating at U19 level last season. Despite facing much older players, Fabio scored 33 goals in 39 matches, leading Porto to the UEFA Youth League and Portugal's U19 Championship titles last term.

FC Porto @FCPorto

🔵⚪ FC Porto e Fábio Silva renovam até 2022 👉 16 anos ⚽ 39 jogos e 33 golos em 2018/19 (Sub-19) 🏆 Campeão Sub-19 2018/19 🏆 Vencedor UEFA Youth League 2018/19 #FCPorto https://t.co/qTeIH7uO4H

This season, Fabio has been smashing one record after another since breaking into the first-team squad. Still only 17, the No. 49 has become Porto's youngest-ever starter and goalscorer in a competitive fixture, surpassing Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves, among others.

In total, he has already netted three times in just 362 minutes over 11 games with the senior side.

His rise has made him the poster child for a youth generation regarded at the Estadio do Dragao as their most promising for a long time. As well as Fabio, the likes of Romario Baro, Diogo Leite, Tomas Esteves and Diogo Costa have all had an increased role in the first-team squad this campaign.

Fabio was recently named Porto's breakout star of the year during the club's annual gala, but that was hardly the biggest announcement concerning him that night.

In his traditional speech, Porto president Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa delivered the news that fans had been waiting for: Fabio had agreed to a new deal.

It would later emerge that the fresh contract raised his buyout clause from €25 million to €125 million, making it the highest ever in Portuguese football.

Apart from scaring away Juventus, Atletico Madrid and other big guns who had been circling him, it has also beaten the previous Portuguese buyout record held by Joao Felix, Florentino Luis and Gedson Fernandes, who all had or have €120 million clauses at Benfica (Atletico actually agreed a €126 million fee for Joao Felix so they could pay in instalments).

"More than highlighting that Fabio might be different from other players, his new release clause represents something of a strategic change by Porto," Sergio Pires, a reporter for MaisFutebol who covers the Dragons, explains to Bleacher Report.

"In my opinion, there are two reasons behind it: Porto's financial situation getting worse this season [especially after crashing out of the UEFA Champions League during the qualifiers] and also their new crop of youngsters being, indeed, more talented than previous ones.

"But beyond all that, Fabio is something else too—you don't see a 17-year-old bursting into Porto's first-team squad every day. If you rewind a few years, you will struggle to find other cases like that. Ruben Neves stands out between them. Besides him, going back a bit further, we also have Sergio Oliveira [who is still at the club]."

Raising Fabio's clause to nine figures shows how truly special Porto think he is, but nudging the value above anything that can be found at Benfica is also significant.

After reading countless stories last season about how Porto had let Felix escape to their fierce rivals from Lisbon, Pinto da Costa needed to fight back.

And in Fabio, he found the perfect answer to all the criticism—because the teenage prodigy was once on the books of Benfica.

Fabio did start his career at Porto but moved to Benfica in 2015, following his elder brother, Jorge Silva (now with Lazio), to Lisbon.

However, while Porto lost Joao Felix for good, Fabio was successfully rescued by the northern giants in 2017, refusing offers from Liverpool and Manchester City along the way, as per MaisFutebol. 

"It has been written a hundred times that Joao Felix moved from Porto to Benfica, but perhaps this is the first time people will hear that our vendetta came from Benfica," Pinto da Costa revealed in an interview with O Jogo earlier this year.

Naturally, given their age and backgrounds, Fabio and Felix are going to be compared, but on the pitch, they are completely different players.

Many feel that instead of battling for a place against each other in the national team, they might instead get a chance to share the same pitch in the near future.

Felix already plays alongside Ronaldo and Bernardo Silva in the senior squad, while Fabio still features for the U19 side.

In October, Fabio put his skills on display and took only 45 minutes to net a perfect hat-trick (right-foot, left-foot and header) in a 4-1 friendly win over Italy. He was born to score goals.

"I would say that Fabio and Felix are complementary players, not similar ones. Felix is clearly a second striker, finding space between the lines. Fabio, on the other hand, can develop into a centre-forward, a target man, a killer inside the box," Luis Cristovao, a football pundit for Eleven Sports, SIC Noticias and Antena 1, tells B/R.

"For that reason, considering their playing styles, I think they can combine very well in the years to come."

FC Porto's Portuguese forward Fabio Silva gestures during the Portuguese league football match  Boavista FC against FC Porto at the Bessa stadium in Porto on November 10, on 2019. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite being only 17, Fabio has had his qualities widely known for some time, drawing attention from Europe's elite since a tender age.

He now faces the challenge of living up to the hype that has surrounded him and was placed on his shoulders long before his emergence this season.

However, bumping up Fabio's buyout clause has just increased the scrutiny.

When starting against Vitoria de Setubal last month, he was described as the "€125 million boy" during RTP's broadcasting of the Portuguese Cup clash. This is just the beginning for him.

Tomas da Cunha, a football pundit for Eleven Sports and TSF, thinks the hype is justified. "Fabio is the sort of centre-forward with very unusual attributes for Portuguese football, which can drive him to the top," he tells B/R.

"He scores goals in every possible way and style, giving you the impression that he is always in the right spot.

"Inside the box, he can deceive his markers with his twists and turns, and he finishes with an out-of-this-world efficiency.

"He has also got the skills to play outside the box and link up too, but what distinguishes him from other forwards is his coolness in finishing. He does every move naturally. We're before a generational talent here."

Ahead of this season, there were some concerns about how much playing time he would get under manager Sergio Conceicao's guidance of Porto's first team.

A former winger with Lazio and Inter Milan, Conceicao is not particularly known for working with young and unpolished players, being sometimes criticised for his rough attitude and conservative choices. He hasn't changed much but at least seems to be relying more on Porto's graduates this campaign.

Regularly asked about Fabio in his press conferences, Conceicao insists he feels no extra pressure to play Fabio given his new release clause.

"We are talking about a player who has the quality to establish himself at Porto in the foreseeable future. That's what we aim and work for. But never saying that he's our boy. There are no boys here, but players, professionals, men in the dressing room who have to fight every day for a place," he explained.

Even though he's yet to get his driving license, Fabio can expect the hype to ramp up even more in the coming months.

That's because Portuguese superagent Jorge Mendes was brought into his entourage during the new contract talks and will now handle any potential future transfer.

Luis Vieira/Associated Press

Last summer, Mendes brokered the €126 million deal for Felix to move from Benfica to Atletico de Madrid. Among his clients are also Juventus superstar Ronaldo, Manchester City trio Bernardo Silva, Ederson Moraes and Joao Cancelo, Liverpool midfielder Fabinho and Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho.

Fabio's current contract runs until 2022, but as part of the conversations, he's expected to extend it once he turns 18 in July.

He has the support of every section of the Estadio do Dragao to continue shining.

"In a way, Porto's fans have demanded the team to back these young players and give them more minutes. Some have been playing more often, others less, but we can safely attest that there is now an effort from the club to show more confidence in them," Pires says.

"We can sense a great enthusiasm in the stands."

In the medium-to-long term, Fabio can even become a solution for Portugal's lack of world-class strikers and compete with Milan's hot prospect Rafael Leao to lead the line for many years.

"I have no doubt that, with the alternatives we've got these days, the national team has a bright future ahead of it," Cristovao concludes.

Cristiano Ronaldo might be on the brink of scoring his 100th goal for Portugal, but if Fabio fulfills his potential, it might well be him that is the centre of discussions on Portuguese TV football shows when the next World Cup comes around.


Follow Marcus on Twitter: @_marcus_alves