Bernardo deal is huge for City – they couldn’t afford to lose his footballing intelligence

Bernardo Silva’s new Manchester City contract until 2026 is a massive coup for the club, for many reasons.

Think about City’s late-window decision making regarding which midfielder — and which position — to sign and imagine how much more pressing the situation would have been had Bernardo left.

The treble winners have endured an uncertain summer on the transfer front and just when they thought they had found a belated solution in Lucas Paqueta, the move broke down due to a betting investigation.

They had already lost Ilkay Gundogan (who went on to join Barcelona) and seen top target Declan Rice move to Arsenal early in the summer and that only reinforced their determination to keep Bernardo at all costs. They simply could not lose another top player in that position at a time when they were looking to recruit new options as well. Given Riyad Mahrez’s departure, they simply could not afford to lose a player in his position, either, and Bernardo ticks both of those boxes.

Rice chose Arsenal (Visionhaus/Getty Images)

City are ready to sign Jeremy Doku from Rennes for €65million and are exploring a move for Wolves’ Matheus Nunes. They also have an interest in Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze, but they have still not quite decided upon what they are going to do. Nunes and Eze are different types of player and that highlights City’s predicament: they might need a more attacking player like Eze to help replace De Bruyne, or they might go for a deeper-lying midfielder like Nunes.

For a few days now they have been weighing up what might happen with Cole Palmer and Kalvin Phillips and where the squad might need an extra body, and they are very concerned about numbers.

Saturday’s victory highlighted that: their bench consisted of Stefan Ortega, Rico Lewis, Sergio Gomez, Nathan Ake, Maximo Perrone, James McAtee, Oscar Bobb, Phillips and Palmer. Imagine how stretched they would have been without Kyle Walker on the pitch, who they fought tooth and nail to keep after he had decided to join Bayern Munich. He has decided to stay after all and is expected to sign a new contract, and the value of that will surely be obvious throughout the season.

Bernardo did not feature at the weekend due to illness but he will be back soon because City fought hard to keep him, too.

Over a month ago Guardiola had said City’s transfer window is “a question of numbers — how many names you have in the squad”, and that remains the case, as does his other statement.

“We will see if we need wingers or players inside, we will see what happens with loan players, which players stay here or not. A few things are going to happen.”

Then, City needed to work out who was going to leave and who could arrive and Bernardo was central to their thinking; after Rice elected to join Arsenal, the plan was to use Bernardo as an attacking midfielder, but with Mahrez leaving the possibility increased that he could be used as a winger instead.

Not only is he a wonderfully gifted footballer who understands exactly what Guardiola wants, but he is versatile, too. It would have been, on a football level, devastating for City to lose both Gundogan and Bernardo in the same summer for that reason alone, with so much football intelligence walking out the door.

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Gundogan left for Barcelona (Adria Puig/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

They did not want to lose either Mahrez or Bernardo but when it became clear the Algerian was likely to go (he eventually joined Al Ahli) they essentially decided they had to do all they could to keep the Portuguese.

Fortunately for City, they had an inkling since before pre-season started in the middle of July that Bernardo would be open to signing a new contract. Considering he had been open to leaving this summer, as he has been in the past three summers, it is a huge development.

He had hoped to join Barcelona in 2020, 2021 and 2022 but nothing concrete ever materialised and each time he has stayed and given everything at City. He has not been desperate to leave the club at all costs but would, ideally, like a similar lifestyle to that which he grew up with in Portugal.

Paris Saint-Germain had made an offer last summer and there was belief in France he was their top target this window, but City never got that impression. Bernardo did receive an eye-watering offer from Al Hilal worth around £75million per year, but that did not tempt him. That demonstrates he was not desperate to leave City — considering that works out at around £1.4m per week — but to get him to sign a new contract is a major improvement on recent summers.

There is, however, talk of a buy-out clause worth around £45m. City are not commenting on that but, if true, it would make sense. Signing a new contract without a clause in it would essentially shut the door on something Bernardo has wanted for at least three years and is likely to want again.

For City — given their determination to get him to stay — it is a sensible thing to offer: it guarantees them one extra year of his services right now, which could essentially be the goal in itself, but there is also the hope he does indeed stay for longer, something that had not been the case in previous summers.

If he does want to leave in 12 months, which would be no great shock, at least there is a figure that the buying club will have to pay. Everybody knows where they stand and Bernardo can commit his immediate future but still keep his options open.

It cannot be said it is an especially high transfer fee and in reality he should be worth double that, but City did not really have the leverage here simply because they needed him to stay so much.

But much like any release clause in Erling Haaland’s first City contract, it only becomes relevant if the player actually wants to leave. City have always — well, until this summer — said that a player can go if they no longer want to be at the club and all a clause would do is remove any doubt about the fee — everything is in black and white.

Considering top European sides have barely completed a transfer above £45m since the pandemic it is not quite as low as meets the eye, either.

Anyway, that is for City to worry about next summer. The most important thing, given everything else going on, was to keep Bernardo at the Etihad Stadium. They have done that (which everybody at City would have signed for at the start of the summer), and there is the hope of even more.

If he does decide to leave next summer, clause or not, and somebody brings the right offer, then who could begrudge him that?

For now, City can look forward to one more year of Bernardo, wherever he may be needed on the pitch. And that is the most important thing.

(Top photo: Manchester City FC)

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