In one sense, at least, the dog has something in common with his master. At home, away from the professional demands of being a footballer with the champions of England, Bernardo likes to save on energy too. “Every time I leave a training session or a game and go home, I try to forget football,” he admits. “I try to not watch many games at home. I spend time with my family and my friends; with my girlfriend and my dog.”
Rather than watch football, he likes to cook – “I’m a good cook but I only make simple, easy and healthy dishes,” he says – and during the first Covid-19 lockdown, he took up a fresh hobby in learning the piano, though he has let that slip of late. “I don’t know why but I stopped and I need to start playing again because I’ve forgotten almost all of it!
“Before Covid-19 I’d try to travel,” he goes on. “If I had a day or two off, I’d go to London or hop on a plane and go to someplace close, like Paris or somewhere similar. Now, unfortunately, I can’t do that because we can’t travel, but I try to distract myself and take advantage of everything outside of football.”
If this all suggests an openness, a curiosity about life, the perception would not be misplaced. City insiders say the very same about the Bernardo they see here each day: a bright and chatty 27-year-old with a gift for languages and a love of a joke, who cuts across the different groups that naturally form in a large multinational squad of footballers.
It is not the sole reason why he is one of the most respected players at City. There is his contribution on the field too, where he is similarly intelligent and versatile. This is a player who spent much of his first three years in Manchester playing as an inverted winger, a left-footed forward stepping in from the right.
At times last season, he took on the role of a false nine during the prolonged absences of the now departed Sergio Agüero. This year, with record-signing Jack Grealish added to City’s wide attacking options, Bernardo has stepped back into midfield, operating in a No8 position from which he moves forward with Kevin De Bruyne to form an attacking quintet whenever City advance. A notable exception was the September league win at Chelsea, when he played as a holding midfielder alongside Rodri – albeit still finding the energy to make penetrating runs upfield.
“When I go home, I try to forget about Football. I try to distract myself and take advantage of everything outside the Game”
“Obviously, every player has different characteristics and I play better in some positions than others,” he says of his flexibility at City. “On the one hand, it’s good to be able to play in many positions. On the other hand, it’s very difficult because you lose your [usual] routines. When you have the routine of playing in the same position every week, it gets easier and you end up performing better. But, of course, I believe that a player who understands the different phases of the game can play in various positions – in any position.” And does he have a favourite? He offers a diplomatic response. “I prefer not to say it but I do, of course.”
Some argue that his current midfield role is his best because he seldom gives the ball away – a trait he shares with City’s original Silva, David, now immortalised in the form of a statue outside the club’s ground. If Phil Foden was once considered the Spanish Silva’s heir apparent, the young Englishman is now blossoming higher up the pitch, leaving Bernardo to stitch passing patterns further back.
For the record, Bernardo feels David Silva was “underappreciated” – even with that statue – because “nowadays people, unfortunately, look a lot at goals and assists instead of looking at the game”. As for Bernardo himself, whose future at City had a question mark beside it not so long ago (amid suggestions he was seeking a return to southern Europe), he is more appreciated now than ever.
Turning back the clock to where it all began for Bernardo and the Sky Blues, David Silva was on the opposing side when he first played at the City of Manchester Stadium almost five years ago. Then, Bernardo was in the red and white of Monaco for a storming Champions League round of 16 first-leg tie in February 2017. “A bit of a crazy game” is how he describes a contest in which Monaco led 2-1 and 3-2 before eventually succumbing 5-3. “It was a match that created a desire in me to play in the Premier League, to play in England and, at the end of the season, City asked me if I wanted to come here. I think it was an easy answer because in that match I got a taste of the atmosphere, the way football is experienced in England.”