MANCHESTER, England — The new Premier League season is up and running and Manchester City have already put down a marker as they look to lift the title for the fifth time in six years. While rivals Liverpool stumbled on the opening day against newly-promoted Fulham, Pep Guardiola’s champions earned a 2-0 win at West Ham courtesy of two goals from summer signing Erling Haaland.
City again look like the team to beat in England while they are also keen to bounce back from their heart-breaking Champions League exit to Real Madrid in May and win Europe’s top club competition for the first time in the club’s history. Bernardo Silva has been key to City’s success since his arrival at the Etihad Stadium in 2017, but with three weeks to go before the transfer deadline, there is speculation he could be tempted by a move to Barcelona.
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In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN at the launch of the adidas X speedportal boot he’ll wear this season, the Portugal midfielder discusses his future, last season’s Champions League disappointment and why he thinks City players still don’t get enough credit.
(Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
ESPN: The new season is underway and you had a great start at West Ham on Sunday?
Bernardo Silva: We feel better and better, day by day. Of course, when you come back from holidays, you don’t feel as good as when you’re in the middle of the season, but the team is growing and getting better and we know we have a tough season ahead of us.
Rob Dawson feels Manchester City would find it very difficult to replace Bernardo Silva should he leave the club before the transfer deadline.
ESPN: Do you feel refreshed after the summer break and ready to go again?
Yeah, it was a good break. It feels like sometimes, when you’re in the middle of the season, you need a few days to get back to your normal levels of energy… so these holidays were really nice for me, for my family, for my friends, but now it’s back to work. Usually the breaks are a bit shorter than this summer, and it felt really good to finally have some good holidays where I could travel and be with the people that I love. It was nice.
ESPN: You’ve won so much already at Man City, including four Premier League titles. How do you maintain that hunger to win more?
We know that in the last five years, we won four titles, but we’re a team that wants to look back in 20 or 30 years and wants to be remembered as one of the best in the history of the Premier League. Winning four times in five years is great, but if we can win five in six years, it’s even better. We’ve had some new signings over the past few years, the energy is good and we’re still hungry for more.
ESPN: Do you feel that this team has already achieved enough to be considered one of the best the Premier League has ever seen?
I think so, yes, but you always want more, especially when you have the types of players that are hungry for more titles. When you’re competitive, you don’t want to lose and you feel bad when you do it, so you just want to give all your best every year to try to achieve as much as possible.
ESPN: How big a role does Pep Guardiola play in driving that relentless competitiveness?
He doesn’t allow you to have a day off. That’s the standard that we have at Man City, and that’s why the level has been so high over the past five seasons. Having a manager that demands so much from you puts you on high alert knowing that if you don’t give 100%, you’re not going to play. Everyone knows that if you want to play, you have to give your best and to show it on the pitch.
ESPN: How do you cope with that level of demand from your manager?
Sometimes it’s very tiring and stressful, I won’t deny it. But [that’s football] at the highest level. If you want to play for a big club like Man City and a club that fights for all the titles, you’re going to have this. It’s not just Man City — I believe that in Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, you’re going to have this competitiveness around the dressing room because the squad is great and you know if you don’t give your best, you have a guy next to you who is just as good as you and is going to take your place.
ESPN: There have been some significant changes to the squad this summer, especially with the arrival of Erling Haaland. Does it feel like there’s a fresh energy at the club?
When you have new signings, you never know what’s coming. From the weeks we’ve had with the new players, they are really nice guys, and it looks like they have a hard-working mindset. But it’s new. The team is different and they’re going to have to adapt, and things are going to be different for all of us. Hopefully better, but we’ll see. We’ll try to do our best to maintain the level.
ESPN: Are you expecting another battle with Liverpool this season?
It’s unpredictable, honestly. Of course, looking at what has happened over the past four or five seasons, you always look at City and Liverpool and you think that they’re going to be the two favourites, but look at the team Chelsea is building. Tottenham is getting much better, Arsenal is getting better, Man United have got a new manager and some new signings — I think personally, they are going to be better as well. It’s getting more and more competitive every year.
Of course, City and Liverpool have been on top for the last few years so you’re going to expect a bit more from them but you never know in the Premier League. There are six teams that can fight for everything.
ESPN: Is the Premier League the toughest league you’ve ever experienced?
It’s not a new thing for any one of us that the Premier League is so competitive. In the past 20 years, six different teams have won the league. That shows the level you need to be at in this country and you know that if you have a few weeks off, you’re not going to win the league. We know that and we know that teams are investing a lot of money as well and they’ll only get better, so we need to keep our standards very high.
ESPN: This season also gives Man City another chance to finally win the Champions League. How is the club approaching that challenge?
The levels of disappointment in that competition over the past few years have been quite high. It’s a big goal for the club, for the players, because all of us, we have never won that competition, but we’ve won everything else. We’re going to try again knowing that it’s a special competition, a tough one, and you need to be always on high alert because if you drop your concentration levels for a few minutes, you’re gone.
That’s what happened against Tottenham a few years ago and that’s what happened last season against Madrid away. We have to improve on that.
ESPN: You mentioned the disappointment against Real Madrid last season, when City conceded three late goals to be eliminated in the semifinal. Have you been able to put that behind you now?
You’re never completely over it. I remember playing against Tottenham [in 2019] — that game was completely crazy. We won the league that season and won four trophies overall — we also won the Carabao Cup, the FA Cup and the Community Shield — but at the end of the season, it still felt like something was wrong because of that game.
Last season it was the same. Knowing that we were better than Madrid in both games, knowing that over 180 minutes, we were better than them — or probably 175 minutes — and we were still going out? It was tough. Those are the moments. For example, at the other end you have the game against Aston Villa on the last day of the Premier League. It’s the complete opposite. The game and the title were gone, but in five minutes we turned it around and won the Premier League.
These are the moments you want to live in football, the high emotions. Sometimes you’re up here and sometimes you’re down there. These are the memories you will remember.
ESPN: What was that Aston Villa game like, when you came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and win the Premier League title on the last day of the season?
It was crazy. Honestly, it was completely crazy. When we conceded the second goal, the disappointment on the bench and on the pitch… we could feel it in the stands as well, it was huge. But from the moment we scored the first goal, the amount of energy and belief that the fans put into us, it just felt like we were going to turn it around and luckily, we did it.
Like I said, sometimes in football we have these crazy moments where you’re controlling the game and you’re out of the Champions League against Madrid and then a game that we were playing really bad and probably we didn’t deserve to win, in 10 minutes we turn it around and win the Premier League. Football is like this.
ESPN: At the trophy parade you joked that one of the keys to turning around against Villa was keeping Jack Grealish on the bench…
Jack is a nice guy: he’s a good friend of mine and we joke around a lot. We had a few drinks that day because we were celebrating, well deserved drinks, and we were just having fun.
ESPN: It seems like you’ve built up a friendship with Jack during his time at City?
He’s a good guy. The dressing room is really good here at Man City. I’ve had some bad dressing rooms in the past and this feels good, to work with nice guys, to work with people who are nice to each other and who try to push their teammates to do as well as possible. It’s always easy to go to work when you have nice people around.
ESPN: You’re 27 now. Do you feel like one of the leaders in the dressing room?
I’m getting older and I know all the guys, they’re big friends of mine. Of course, being there for five years changes the amount of impact you have on the dressing room than if you’ve been at the club for six months. Definitely being there for a long time, I know everyone at the club, all the staff, and it feels really good.
ESPN: Lots of foreign players have said how tough they found it being in England during the coronavirus pandemic. Do you feel happier in Manchester now that restrictions have been lifted?
I’m much better. Much better, honestly. It was tough because for us foreign players because when we had a day off, I used to go to Portugal or to travel to visit friends and family but for one-and-a-half years, nearly two years, we couldn’t do that. It was tough for me and for my girlfriend, Ines, but now it’s back to normal and it’s much better.
ESPN: There has been a lot of speculation about you, this summer and last summer, how do you view your future?
I’ve always said that I’m happy here, but I have no idea what’s going to happen. We’ll see, honestly. My relationship with the club is very honest. I’ve been open with them and they know what I want. If I stay, I’m very happy, and I will always respect this club and give all my best. If not, it’s football and we’ll just see what happens.
ESPN: Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus were both granted moves this summer, to Chelsea and Arsenal respectively. Would you expect the same response from the club if and when you decide it’s time to leave?
It’s a big club, and they don’t want players who are not happy at the club. They always say to all of us that if you’re not happy, you can go. Of course, they are in business and they want the right amount of money for letting us go, but personally it’s a relationship with the club that is very respectful. They have always been honest with me and I have always been honest with them.
As I said, I will always respect my relationship with Man City, with the fans, with the staff, with my teammates, so whatever happens happens and for sure, it will happen in a very respectful way.
ESPN: Do you feel you’re finally getting credit for your performances over the past few seasons?
From Man City fans, definitely. I feel a lot of support, and they show a lot of appreciation for what I do. From outside, it’s difficult. I’m not complaining here, but I feel like other clubs get a lot more credit than Man City for doing less. For example, when I was at Benfica — a huge club in Portugal with more fans, more everything — you do something nice, and they make it look like it’s great. Here at Man City, you do something great and they make it look like it’s just good.
Again, I’m not complaining, but playing in the Premier League and winning four titles in five years and checking the Premier League team of the year every year and knowing that we’re never the team that has the most players. We don’t have the best manager, we don’t have the best players, but we still win four Premier Leagues in five years? It just doesn’t make sense. It probably shows that Man City players don’t get as much credit as they should.
For me, it doesn’t matter honestly. I’m happy with the titles that we have and with the memories that in the last five years, we won four times. Of course, we don’t get the credit that we deserve.
ESPN: What are you expecting this season, particularly with a break in the middle for the World Cup in Qatar?
It’s going to be a tough season and very different from all the others because we have the World Cup in the middle. It’s kind of weird. It looks like we’re going to have two Premier Leagues: one before and one after. We’re not going to win anything in these months [before the World Cup], but we can lose it all so our job now is to make sure we don’t lose it and are able to fight for all of it in the last six months of the season.
ESPN: Portugal have got a great squad. Can you win the World Cup?
We are going to try it. We know it’s very, very tough because you have Germany, Argentina, Brazil, France, Spain, Holland, England. We are going to be up there, and we know we have great players, but we’re one of like 10 favourites. It’s not like the Premier League where you have two or three teams, maybe four or five, competing; in the World Cup, it’s more unpredictable. Out of 10 teams, you cannot know who is going to do better.