If things had turned out as planned, the way Manchester City have played so far this season might have been very different.
For a second consecutive summer, Bernardo Silva did not get the move away from the Etihad Stadium that he wanted.
After a pandemic-hit 2020 transfer market scuppered any chance of City receiving a suitable offer for their Portuguese star, Bernardo accepted that he would stay put for another year.
Come the end of 2020/21, a season that saw Bernardo win a third Premier League winners medal and reach a first Champions League final, he still wanted to leave. He was reportedly unsettled in Manchester, happy with his role in the team but wanting to move closer to home.
As we all know, he didn’t leave, and he now heads into the 186th Manchester derby as City’s stand-out performer this season. His tireless work as a number eight is crucial to City’s possession-based approach, and when City lose the ball, he presses like few players can.
“I’m feeling happy right now”, he told Sky Sports ahead of Saturday’s game. “I love the club, I’ve always loved the club. I feel the love from the fans, from the staff and from my team-mates and that was never the question.”
That will be music to City fans’ ears. Ever since his majestic skills and fighting spirit dragged City through a relentless title battle with Liverpool in 2019, he has been a fan-favourite in east Manchester.
When he walks out onto the Old Trafford pitch to face Manchester United on Saturday, he will line up against another Portuguese fan-favourite.
Bernardo knows Cristiano Ronaldo well, having played together for Portugal for years. Had City got their way in the transfer window, he would be their Portuguese attacker, not Bernardo.
Sometimes in football, things end up working out for the best. As the anti-Ronaldo, Bernardo is proof of that.
We all know about the pressing. Bernardo does it, Ronaldo doesn’t. When City press, as seen against Chelsea and Liverpool, Bernardo forms part of a group of heat-seeking missiles, unable to stop until the objective is reached.
Given that City were open to letting him go in the summer, the fact that he has started 13 of a possible 14 Premier League and Champions League games this season is an indicator of his importance.
Bernardo is a team player, a fighter for every ball and the last person who would try and claim personal credit for a collective triumph.
Ronaldo is the opposite. Most of the time he is a passenger for United, the spearhead of an attack that cannot press effectively because of their talisman’s lack of running, and a player whose last-minute arrival forced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to tear up any tactical plans he had formed over pre-season.
Yes, Ronaldo has brought goals to United, but they have been almost exclusively of the last-minute variety. Ronaldo’s niche is his ability to bail United out of situations partially caused by his presence in the first place.
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In every sense of the word, Ronaldo is an individual. He plays for the team, but mostly himself. He is the protagonist, United results are all about him, while on the other side of the city Bernardo goes about his work in the self-sacrificial way Guardiola demands.
Pep may have been willing to re-shape City’s style for Ronaldo, so desperate he was to bring in an elite striker after a deal for Harry Kane never materialised, but most City fans are pretty glad it never came to that.
If Bernardo performs at Old Trafford like he has done this season, then City will have a good chance of over-running United’s midfield and earning an important win. In doing so, he would represent the triumph of the collective over the individual.
Bernardo is the anti-Ronaldo and that suits City and Guardiola perfectly.
Should City be pleased they kept Bernardo and didn’t sign Ronaldo? Follow City Is Ours writer Alex Brothertonon Twitter to join the conversation and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.