MANCHESTER: Bernardo Silva was a fitting catalyst for Manchester City’s majestic march into the Champions League final as one of Pep Guardiola’s trusted lieutenants stole the spotlight on a defining night for his manager.
Prior to City’s 4-0 rout of Real Madrid in Wednesday’s semifinal second leg, the tie was billed as the stage on which Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne would underline their immense star power.
Haaland’s record-breaking goal spree and De Bruyne’s peerless passing have fueled City’s surge toward a remarkable treble in recent weeks.
But it was the understated Silva who stole the spotlight on a cathartic evening for a club desperate to rewrite their tortured Champions League history.
The Portugal midfielder bagged two clinical goals and produced a sublime individual performance as City vanquished the Champions League holders with a 4-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium.
Silva’s masterclass ensured City avenged a heartbreaking loss to Real in last year’s Champions League semifinals, when the Spaniards scored twice in the final moments of the second leg before winning in extra-time.
Real went on to lift the trophy, but City ended their reign in ruthless style and are now within touching distance of winning the Champions League for the first time.
City face Inter Milan in the final in Istanbul on June 10, and Silva will surely be at the heart of what Guardiola hopes is the final leg of their treble charge.
Guardiola’s men can clinch the Premier League title with a victory against Chelsea on Sunday, or by taking three points in either of their following two matches.
That would be a fifth title in six season for City, who also face Manchester United in the FA Cup final on June 3.
But it is the Champions League that has been City’s holy grail since Guardiola’s appointment in 2016.
Guardiola has won the Champions League twice as a manager with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.
Yet he had appeared cursed at times in the competition after City endured a series of painful exits.
Thanks to Silva, City can look forward to the second Champions League final in their history after losing the 2021 showpiece against Chelsea.
The 28-year-old has played 52 matches this season, featuring in all but four games with seven goals and seven assists.
Guardiola has so much trust in Silva’s diligence and footballing intelligence that he even played him as a fullback with license to move into midfield on occasions this season.
Silva has saved his best moments for the Champions League, starring with a goalscoring display in their 3-0 quarterfinal first leg win over Bayern Munich earlier this season.
Silva’s diminutive frame belies a tenacious personality that fuels his non-stop movement from the right wing and ability to close down opponents’ passing lanes.
Those priceless qualities have their foundations in Silva’s fight to break into the Benfica team in 2013 when their manager Jorge Jesus felt he was too small to make it in the professional game.
“I believe that it doesn’t matter which position you play, in football everyone attacks and everyone defends,” Silva said earlier this season.
“Even if you’re a striker or a winger or an offensive midfielder you need to do your work properly to help the team defensively.
“I’ve worked a lot on that in my career, in my academy at Benfica. My managers when I was younger, they demanded a lot from me defensively so I am built this way.”
Repeatedly linked with a move to Barcelona in recent years, Silva will have endeared himself to his admirers in Catalonia even more after putting the knife into their bitter rivals Real.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta once claimed he had an agreement to sign Silva that fell through two years before he joined City from Monaco in 2017.
Barca’s loss has been City’s gain, but they look set to return with another offer in the close-season.
Guardiola will be loath to lose Silva after the latest display of his potent package of inspiration and perspiration.