There are football players who earn the fans’ eternal devotion simply through the beauty of their game, like David Silva.
There are those who become legends and heroes through their commitment and victims for the cause of the shirt, like Vincent Kompany.
And there are some who enjoy a cult following among a club’s fan base, simply because they buy into that club’s personality, identify with those followers, and those with him, like Mike Doyle or Pablo Zabaleta.
Very occasionally, a footballer comes across all three fields, and Manchester City have one right now, in the form of Bernardo Silva.
The social media response after the Manchester derby victory said it all, with Twitter bursting with messages in the style of “Just when you thought you could not love Bernardo Silva anymore …”
Bernardo understands that, and he showed it in the run-up to the match, when Pep Guardiola downplayed the importance of the showdown with the Blues’ oldest rivals.
Bernardo stopped for a Doyle-style “I hate United” rant, which would be unacceptable at such a sensitive age.
But in stark contrast to Guardiola’s announcement that he should stay “cold” and focused on the match, Bernardo was hot.
“For us, when we play against Manchester United or Liverpool, it has a special taste to beat them,” he said.
That’s what fans want to hear, but that’s not why he said it. He said it because he lives it.
Fans expect the players wearing their jersey to run their blood to the water for the cause in a derby. Bernardo does that in every game he plays, setting a phenomenal level of work, but associating it with world-class footballing skills.
He chased, teased, annoyed, persuaded and challenged red shirts from the first minute to the last at Old Trafford, less than 72 hours after doing exactly the same against Bruges in the Champions League.
To cover it all, he refused to give up on Joao Cancelo’s rather hopeful angled ball into the box, right after the tired first 45 minutes, while running after it, as United defenders suspected it was about to go out of play. , and then risked a hoarding with what appeared to be a meaningless stretch of his right leg. He got his reward for such optimism when his thrust shot bounced off of a startled David De Gea and sat down in the corner.
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Just to complete the moment, Bernardo sprinted off to the far corner, as far away from his own fans as possible to get on the Old Trafford track, and performed a knee slip before getting up with his arms up and staring. down the gallbladder. and hatred falls out of the stands.
It was the same part of the pitch where Doyle, who always led the United battle around derbies, had celebrated a goal in a famous City victory in 1970, and then given the V for the victory sign to an outraged Stretford End. Doyle would have endorsed Bernardo’s daring rudeness.
To cover it all up and send social media to madness, Bernardo reacted to the unfair abuse handed out by desperate United fans as the Blues players went back to their coach after the match with a laugh and a scolded response.
The rest of the team had diligently ignored the abuse from a distance, but not Bernardo. He reacted like a fan and the fans loved it.
Bernardo has history at Old Trafford and it just keeps growing.
He scored a beauty at Stretford End in the Carabao Cup semi-final in 2020, and the year before he broke the deadlock in a tense battle to keep the Blues on course for the title.
Great memories, but all the Blues who were to the derby in 2018 have fond memories of the City players who played keep-ball in the corner as they led 2-1 and the match went into extra time.
The Reds players were outraged, Ashley Young took a hit against Raheem Sterling, while City fans – overlooking the stands – could barely hold back their joy.
It reached a new height when City finally broke out of the corner, Bernardo moved menacingly into the penalty area with the ball at his feet, only to make a U-turn, despite being unchallenged, and ran back into the corner for to continue to rattle. the ball in the shins of the furious Young and Co ..
It was a master class in rudeness, and after years of being mocked and scolded at Old Trafford, this was a payback for the inconsolable United fans.
It’s not just United – he also holds back some of his chutzpah for Liverpool. His refusal to applaud Jurgen Klopp’s team at the Etihad Stadium court after securing the Premier League title in 2020 has rightly been condemned as bad sportsmanship.
But as he stood there preferring to grab his cup of coffee rather than give up to clap, the fans loved it. It was not the right thing to do, but it was spot-on for the fans.
And when City won the title back this year, Bernardo posted a picture on social media of himself with the trophy in front of a coffee machine on the training ground. It may have been just coincidence, but City fans like to think it was deliberate, and Bernardo has enough of the cheeky chappie by him that it has been entirely on purpose.
On top of all that, he is a simply brilliant football player and he is now back at the level he was without a doubt City’s best player when they won the title in 2018-19.
The fact that he has wanted to leave the club, and return to be with family and friends in Spain or Portugal, but has twice been thwarted by the lack of a realistic offer on his talents, simply makes his attitude even more commendable .
He does not want to leave for ambitions, or because he has fallen out with the manager or the players – the love from him in that locker room is palpable, and he has repeatedly expressed his appreciation for the support he receives from teammates and supporters.
But swallowing his disappointment, gathering his personal feelings and going out, battle after battle to fight, and finesse, and scoring and creating, is unique.
One has to hope that he can solve his personal problems and stay – if he does, the statue outside Etihad is as good as secured.