Bernardo Silva: “Real Madrid are never dead and buried.”

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Diario AS, Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva discussed life under Pep Guardiola, the Champions League clash with Real Madrid and his time at Benfica and Monaco.

How are you coping with the lockdown? You must be desperate to get back playing?

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.

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 head coach 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. That gave me the opportunity to be at City now with Pep, and it’s been magnificent up to now.

Just 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: Anthony Martial, Yannick Carrasco and Kylian Mbappé all breaking through together.

Kylian 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. 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, everyone knows that now and he’s going to do amazing things in football.

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 League 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. The truth is I got it spot on because everyone at City – the staff, the players and the fans – welcomed me and I’m really happy here.

You’ve been playing in the Premier League for three seasons and are one of the best in the league. How have Guardiola and City helped you become one of the best 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 Santiago 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-based football that Spain and Barcelona were successful with for years has evolved and now it looks like a more physical game with faster shifts in the play is taking over.

Teams have to adapt to what every game needs, but there are different styles. For example, in England, Liverpool’s style and City’s style are very different, and both very effective. There’s no perfect system. You have to make the most of the players you have, and both Jurgen 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.

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 tie when the lockdown 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.

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 the competition, so we can’t think we’ve already beaten them. Real Madrid are never dead and buried.

Would you prefer to be marked by Marcelo or Ferland Mendy?

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.

How has Rodri adapted to life at City and the Premier League?

He’s adapted really quickly. With Pep and the other Spanish speakers at the club 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 (Silva’s home town in Gran Canaria)

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 to be able to play alongside him. He’s one of the best midfielders of the last 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 Agüero like? He’s now a ‘youtuber’ and ‘gamer’.

Kun is goals. There’s nothing more to say about him. He hits the ball 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 the top scorer in City’s history and I think he’s close to the record in the Premier League. If he carries on like this he’ll get there.

You played alongside Thomas Lemar at Monaco, why do you think he’s struggled at Atlético Madrid?

He’s a great footballer. It was a joy to play with him because he’s technically great, a hard worker and a good lad. I was delighted for him when he signed for Atlético. He’ll soon return to top form.

What do you think about João Félix?

I’ve trained with him a lot with the Portugal national side 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, João is worth 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. We’re very fortunate to play football every day. Doing it with a smile is the perfect way. I try and have fun every day. I think when people are happy everything is easier.

Do you have any tattoos?

Just one, here on my forearm: Benfica’s motto: ‘E pluribus Unum’

Do you want to retire at Benfica?

Yes. I never played in the first team and one day I want to.

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