'He's a joy, I love him': Bernardo fuels City's title triumph
Bernardo Silva emerged as the understated driving force behind Manchester City's Premier League title triumph after the Portugal playmaker finally won over Pep Guardiola.
While the two major player of the year awards in England went to his City teammate Raheem Sterling and Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk, Bernardo has delivered a sublime season that deserves its own recognition.
In a campaign during which City were without the injured Kevin De Bruyne for long periods while David Silva only occasionally reached peak form, it was Bernardo who provided their creative impetus time and again.
It is a remarkable transformation for the diminutive 24-year-old, who has gone from a fringe player last season to one of the first names on the teamsheet for City boss Guardiola.
Bernardo started only 15 Premier League games in his first season as he struggled to convince the manager that he was ready for the physically demanding nature of English football.
But, from the moment he starred in the Community Shield win over Chelsea in August, he has become an essential member of City's midfield, going on to start 31 of their 38 league matches.
On the surface, Bernardo is an undemonstrative character who shuns the egotistical outbursts that some of his Premier League peers use to steal the spotlight.
But that quiet personality hides a fiercely competitive streak that sees him demand the ball in even the toughest circumstances.
Combine that fearless attitude with his innate football intelligence and it is easy to see why he has convinced Guardiola to make him one of his most trusted players.
"He is the biggest star already. He has everything, he's a lovely person," Guardiola said. "Maybe this season he's been one or two of the best players in the Premier League."
Bernardo rewarded Guardiola's faith, flourishing when the pressure was highest in the thrilling final weeks of one of the all-time great title races.
He was City's catalyst in their crucial 2-0 win at Manchester United last month, breaking a hard-fought stalemate with a decisive burst from midfield capped by a typically precise finish.
It was a similar story in Monday's nerve-jangling victory against Leicester as Bernardo drove City forward in a blur of clever movement and sleight of foot from his position on the right flank.
- 'Lucky to have him' -
Bernardo has thrived with the extra responsibility placed on him by Guardiola.
"These are the moments every player wants to live. I think all of us work very hard to try and play as much as possible," he said.
"We know it's not easy because the squad has fantastic players, but we just push each other and try to get better.
"The atmosphere in the dressing room is just fantastic."
Bernardo's value to City is increased by his versatility as Guardiola has used him in roles as varied as wing-back and 'false nine', as well as in his more favoured midfield berth.
"I think as a No 10 behind the striker is his natural game but as a winger he can move inside, stay wide, he can play in all positions," Guardiola said.
"He knows when he doesn't play good. But he's nearly always an eight or a nine rating.
"You cannot play every single game every three days at the top level but he runs and runs."
Guardiola says Silva's personality has been as influential as his play, with the former Monaco player's genial nature such a good fit in the City dressing room.
Never was his popularity more clear than when Bernardo was mobbed by his teammates after racing away to celebrate that vital strike at Old Trafford.
"Look at how he celebrates the goals with his teammates -- he's a joy," Guardiola said.
"He's the guy who's the most beloved in our team. I'm an incredibly lucky guy to have him in my hands.
"He enjoys every training session and game. I love him, it's simple like that."
? 2019 AFP