Could Bernardo Silva win the Ballon d'Or?
This year’s Ballon d’Or is widely regarded as a straightforward three-horse race, with one of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Virgil van Dijk expected to secure the biggest individual prize football has to offer.
But could the little magician that is Bernardo Silva swoop in and steal the crown from right under the noses of the leading candidates? We take a look at the season he’s had for club and country and weight up why he could be the man that deserves it most.
First and foremost, let’s look at the trophies that his Manchester City side have picked up this season. In addition to winning the biggest prize in English football by pipping Liverpool to the Premier League title with an incredible 98 points over 38 games, he also helped City to both FA Cup and League Cup glory, playing his part in Manchester City becoming the first ever English team to do the domestic treble - or quadruple, if you count the Community Shield, which City also won back in August.
Compare that to his rivals for the crown, and you see that his trophy count at club level is the same as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Virgil van Dijk combined, with Ronaldo picking up just one club trophy this season with Juventus - the Serie A title - Lionel Messi picking up just one club trophy this season with Barcelona - La Liga - and Van Dijk lifting just one trophy with Liverpool - the Champions League.
Bernardo has 3 club-level trophies in his cabinet this season, while his nearest competitors for the Ballon d’Or have just one apiece.
But ultimately the Ballon d’Or is, of course, an individual accolade, awarded not to the best team, but rather the best player, of the year. So as good as your team may have performed, your impact needs to go above and beyond to earn the biggest individual prize in football.
Therefore, to then emphasise just how important Bernardo Silva was to his club in their outstanding exploits this season under Pep Guardiola, the Portuguese midfielder was actually ultimately voted the Manchester City Player of the Season. A spectacular achievement considering the phenomenal talent Manchester City have in their squad such as Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and David Silva, to name but a few.
So not only have we established that Bernardo Silva had a tremendous season in terms of tangible success, but he was actually also considered the very best performer in what was the most successful team in Europe trophy-wise in 2019 and, in the minds of many across the continent, what is also considered the very best team in the continent too.
Indeed, in a season where manager Pep Guardiola was happy to chop and change his team almost every week, Bernardo Silva was almost permanently retained, playing a scarcely believable 51 matches for Manchester City alone this campaign - 36 of those in the league, while a further 8 were in the Champions League as Manchester City advanced to the quarter final.
Across all competitions, Bernardo then bagged himself 13 goals and 14 assists, a brilliant return for the 24-year old who showed his versatility throughout the season, being utilised in central midfield, attacking midfield and on the wing at different points during the campaign.
That said, when you do compare Bernardo’s numbers to those of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, as illustrated in the graph above, you can see how far behind Bernardo actually is in terms of his direct contribution to goals for his team. While he has been directly involved in 27 goals for City this season, Ronaldo has been involved in 41, while Lionel Messi has directly contributed to a staggering 73. 73!
It is therefore no surprise that Lionel Messi is by far considered the front-runner for the award because, while Barcelona’s season was less than impressive overall, his individually was one of the best in his entire career based on his sheer impact in the opposition box.
But statistics can sometimes only tell you so much, and to compare the goalscoring of Messi with that of Bernardo is, in many ways, somewhat counterproductive. While the likes of Messi and Ronaldo are the key focal points in their respective side’s attacking game and are both out-and-out goal machines, Bernardo’s game is generally very different. While Ronaldo was frequently used up front and Messi also utilised in that centre forward/second striker role many times this season, they were both used further forwards much more frequently than Bernardo, who often played as deep as central midfield for Manchester City this campaign.
It’s therefore not particularly fair to compare their goalscoring record. After all, while Bernardo Silva *only* contributed directly to 27 goals this season, his Manchester City teammate Sergio Aguero directly contributed to 42 goals in four fewer games overall - yet it was the Portuguese midfielder that was elected City’s player of the season, showing that football’s not, perhaps contrary to popular belief, all about goalscoring. Otherwise Van Dijk would be out of the running entirely.
It was a similar story last season; while Lionel Messi contributed to an incredible 63 goals for Barcelona last campaign and Ronaldo 52 for Real Madrid, it was actually Luka Modric who ended up lifting the Ballon d’Or - and his goalscoring record was, completely unsurprisingly and perfectly reasonably, far below that of Ronaldo and Messi, getting just 2 goals and 8 assists for Real Madrid last year.
This is no slight on Luka Modric, and before you quite rightly point out that he is a central midfielder and is therefore naturally going to have a far poorer record than both of Ronaldo and Messi, that’s exactly the point. Bernardo, like Modric albeit to a lesser extent, was utilised in a much different role to both Messi and Ronaldo - he wasn’t really anticipated or asked to be the goalscorer for Manchester City, but rather the hard-working midfielder that helped create and instigate attacks. The fact he got as many goals and assists as he did is actually testament to his ability.
Modric, whether he was your personal winner or not, was a worthy choice for the Ballon d’Or last year; while he may not get the plaudits of out-and-out scorers like Messi and Ronaldo, he carried out his role in the team to perfection, instrumental to Real Madrid’s Champions League victory and Croatia’s impressive World Cup run. Bernardo has done the same for Manchester City and Portugal this season too.
Indeed, as incredible as his endeavour for Manchester City has been this past year, if you needed just that final push to consider him a genuine contender to not only make the podium but beat everyone else to lift the Ballon d’Or, look no further than his exploits for Portugal.
Sure, the Nations League is by no means on the same level as the World Cup or the European Championship. But it was the only international trophy available to European nations this season and, of 12 possible winners, Portugal were the ones that came out victorious in the inaugural event, with a great deal of that success owed to Bernardo Silva.
While Ronaldo was left out of the group stage of the tournament, Bernardo was there, playing 3 of the four group games - only missing the dead-rubber clash with Poland in the fourth and final round with Portugal having already secured 1st place in the table - before then putting in a spectacular showing in both the semi-final and final against Switzerland and The Netherlands respectively, with his energy and trickery constantly on show as he chipped in with two crucial assists on his way to earning the Nations League player of the tournament.
It therefore brought his total accolades, both on a team and individual level, to an insurmountable total of 7, having won The English Premier League, The FA Cup, The League Cup, The Manchester City Player of the Season, The UEFA Nations League and The UEFA Nations League Player of the Season in the space of just nine months - plus the Community Shield too, if you count that.
As such, could Bernardo Silva really win the Ballon d’Or this season? He could, undoubtedly. There’s a real case to be made for him to do just that. But will he? Only time will tell. After all, if Messi wins the Copa America with Argentina come the 7th July, he’s surely wrapped up the Ballon d’Or and nobody will realistically come close. If he falls short of leading his country to international glory, however, Bernardo Silva is surely as deserving of the prestigious honour as any other player on the shortlist.