This article is an extract from the latest issue of Champions Journal which is available to purchase now.
Bernardo Silva is sitting at the edge of the indoor pitch at Manchester City’s training ground talking about John. The John in question, though, is not John Stones, his City team-mate. Rather, it is Bernardo’s pet dog. “John?” “John!” he affirms.The reason that this canine John has entered the conversation with Champions Journal is down to a detour we have taken into his life off the field. “My dog is a French Bulldog because we thought it was the best breed to have in an apartment,” he explains. “He sleeps a lot – he spends the whole day sleeping – so it’s easier. He doesn’t need to burn off a lot of energy.”
In one sense, at least, the dog has something in common with his master. At home, away from the professional demands of being a footballer with the champions of England, Bernardo likes to save on energy too. “Every time I leave a training session or a game and go home, I try to forget football,” he admits. “I try to not watch many games at home. I spend time with my family and my friends; with my girlfriend and my dog.”
Rather than watch football, he likes to cook – “I’m a good cook but I only make simple, easy and healthy dishes,” he says – and during the first Covid-19 lockdown, he took up a fresh hobby in learning the piano, though he has let that slip of late. “I don’t know why but I stopped and I need to start playing again because I’ve forgotten almost all of it!
“Before Covid-19 I’d try to travel,” he goes on. “If I had a day or two off, I’d go to London or hop on a plane and go to someplace close, like Paris or somewhere similar. Now, unfortunately, I can’t do that because we can’t travel, but I try to distract myself and take advantage of everything outside of football.”
If this all suggests an openness, a curiosity about life, the perception would not be misplaced. City insiders say the very same about the Bernardo they see here each day: a bright and chatty 27-year-old with a gift for languages and a love of a joke, who cuts across the different groups that naturally form in a large multinational squad of footballers.
It is not the sole reason why he is one of the most respected players at City. There is his contribution on the field too, where he is similarly intelligent and versatile. This is a player who spent much of his first three years in Manchester playing as an inverted winger, a left-footed forward stepping in from the right.
At times last season, he took on the role of a false nine during the prolonged absences of the now departed Sergio Agüero. This year, with record-signing Jack Grealish added to City’s wide attacking options, Bernardo has stepped back into midfield, operating in a No8 position from which he moves forward with Kevin De Bruyne to form an attacking quintet whenever City advance. A notable exception was the September league win at Chelsea, when he played as a holding midfielder alongside Rodri – albeit still finding the energy to make penetrating runs upfield.