Bernardo Silva hit the big time when Manchester City agreed a £45million fee for him – and now someone had better break the news to Dimitar Berbatov.
Back in September 2014, Portuguese playmaker Silva had quit Benfica and was looking to make his name at Monaco where Berbatov ruled the roost.
The former Manchester United man was the big fish in the Principality and it took just 90 minutes before Silva learned that message the hard way.
Making his first start in a 1-0 victory over Guingamp, the midfielder, then 19, was given the fright of his life in the dressing room afterwards.
He said: “We beat Guingamp on my first start for Monaco and in the last minute I could have crossed the ball to Berbatov – and I didn’t. I think he was unmarked. I just didn’t see him.
“We got back to the dressing room and I was very happy – until Berbatov came in. He kicked the rubbish bin and then started shouting at me. Me, a kid of 19, with a figure from world football. He turned to me to say, ‘Who do you think you are? Do you think you’re Maradona or Zidane?’
“It was a difficult start there, but because I had my Portuguese friends Joao Moutinho and Ricardo Carvalho there, it was easy to turn things around.”
Silva has had to overcome issues with his size to make the grade. It wasn’t until his final year in the youth ranks that he began to develop physically – and he has not looked back since.
His first coach at Benfica, Helena Costa, said: “Bernardo must have been seven when he arrived at the club. He enrolled at the football school and I remember we had to observe all the kids to choose the ones who would join the squad.
“It was a process of two weeks and it was the last day. We thought we wouldn’t find anyone else. But I remember seeing a small kid dribbling past everyone with his left foot.
“Bernardo stayed with us and, from that day, he had to adapt. He was very short, he had to suffer a lot to learn to compensate for it, to avoid being bashed, thinking ahead of all the others. He grew up with kids who, in some cases, were nearly twice his size.
“Above all, it was impossible not to see his natural talent. It’s something he was born with. I’m happy to see him at this level. He grew in the aspects he needed, but kept his talent.
“It’s true to say that his parents were important because they always shared his passion, but in a healthy way, without pressuring him. He’s a balanced person, very intelligent.”
Striker Pepa, who came through the Benfica youth ranks with Silva, said: “What most catches the attention is the joy with which he plays football.
“He is a street footballer, with the ball always close, with tremendous passion for the game. It seems as if the ball is part of his body.
“I played with him for five years. He developed a lot. At the time, Bernardo was the smallest one, he didn’t win any balls, didn’t jump, was afraid of physical challenges.
“Among us, he was ‘Big Head’. He had a head which was big for his body, and even without jumping, he liked to use his head. I remember in head tennis that happened a lot.
“He can play in any position, from midfield and further forward. He developed strategies to compensate for the physical aspect and got used to reacting milliseconds before the others. He’s exceptional.
“He breathes football, lives for the game and adores what he does. He’ll continue to develop. He allies incredible talent to above-average intelligence. I give him 20 out of 20 for intelligence on the pitch.”