Silly season has already begun in respect of Manchester United transfer rumours. The Red Devils still have one Premier League game to play, as well as the small matter of the Europa League final, but talk has already turned to who they will sign this summer.
Antoine Griezmann, Andrea Belotti, Romelu Lukaku, Kylian Mbappé, Gareth Bale, Marquinhos, Michael Keane, James Rodríguez — the list goes on. But the latest player linked with a big-money move to Old Trafford, Monaco's Bernardo Silva, from a stylistic point of view, makes more sense than any other.
The free-scoring Principality club have wrapped up their first Ligue 1 title since 1999-00 with a game to spare, rubber-stamping their status as the best team in France with a 2-0 win over Saint-Étienne on Wednesday night.
Before the game, Silva dropped a hint that his future lies away from the Stade Louis II.
“I am finishing my third season in Monaco, who gave me the opportunity to play at a higher level,” the 22-year-old told SIC.
“But of course, every player dreams of playing for the best teams and in the best divisions one day. I’m no exception.”
— The Gib Show ? (@Gibney_A) May 18, 2017
Shortly after Monaco's title-clinching victory, TV channel Canal+ reported that Silva is close to agreeing a switch to the red side of Manchester. The Portuguese playmaker's agent, Jorge Mendes, also represents José Mourinho, giving credence to the idea that the 22-year-old is a realistic target for United.
Silva's displays in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League this season have seen his value sky-rocket, and Monaco could fully expect to recoup €70-80million for the man they picked up from Benfica for €15.75million in January 2015 following a successful loan spell.
Bernardo Silva Is Everything Mourinho Wants Juan Mata To Be
There seems to be a distinct correlation between many of the transfer rumours involving the Old Trafford club at the moment: several of the players linked occupy very similar positions.
Many of United's reported targets are either No.10s or playmakers who start on the flank but like to cut inside; or, in most cases, some combination of both. The nature of media speculation means that not all of the players named really will be on the Red Devils' wishlist, but it does give the general feeling of the type of player they are looking for.
If Mourinho wants a versatile creator who can operate wide or centrally behind the frontline, he need look no further than Silva.
What's more, not only is the Monaco star a tremendously gifted attacker, he also works incredibly hard and never shirks his defensive duties. That, as much as any skill-based attribute, is what makes Silva the best option for Mourinho; that, coupled with his pace and athleticism, is what makes him everything the United boss wishes Juan Mata was.
That's not to say that Mata is in any way a bad player — he is one of the best attacking midfielders in the Premier League. But the Spaniard was jettisoned from Chelsea by Mourinho for his lack of athleticism and inability to offer as much without the ball as he does with it.
The former Valencia man has regained some of Mourinho's confidence with his performances this term, but there can be no doubt that the Portuguese tactician has his eye on more suitable alternatives.
Playing predominantly on the right side of midfield in Monaco's 4-4-2 system this season, Silva has been burdened with more defensive responsibility that ever before, but he has relished it.
Always willing to put in the hard miles, the Lisbon-born player energetically presses the opposition and makes no qualms of tracking back to support Djibril Sidibé or Almamy Touré at full-back, demonstrating the kind of work ethic that Mourinho prizes.
Silva has made more interceptions (0.9 to 0.6), more tackles (1.5 to 1.2), and more clearances (0.5 to 0.4) per 90 minutes than Mata this season.
If Mourinho plans to continue to play 4-2-3-1 next term, Silva and Mata could play together, with one on the right and the other as the No.10. However, if they are both competing for one spot, there's only one winner.
A Better Option Than James Rodríguez
For similar reasons, Silva would also be a better option than James Rodríguez for United. The Colombian star has been strongly linked with a switch from Real Madrid to Old Trafford recently, with reports in Spain and his native Colombia even suggesting that the player has already agreed personal terms with the 20-time champions of England.
Rodríguez has struggled to nail down a regular starting berth at the Santiago Bernabéu over the last couple of seasons, but he remains an incredibly talented attacker.
However, Silva, though perhaps of slighter build physically, is more dynamic than the former Porto man and much more diligent in his defensive duties.
Creatively, they are both among the best in Europe. But Silva, who was brought to Monaco to replace Rodríguez following his £63million move to Madrid in 2014, is the form player and would carry much more momentum with him were he to swap Ligue 1 for the Premier League.
Despite being in and out of the Madrid line-up, Rodríguez's attacking production remains impressive, equalling Silva's tally of eight goals scored and making more key passes per 90 minutes than than Portuguese (3.4 to 1.9).
But, again, the Monaco man's work-ethic sets him apart. And while Rodríguez would be leaving Madrid to prove his worth after a couple of disappointing campaigns, fighting to rediscover his best form, Silva, three years the Colombian's junior, is in the form of his life and will only get better.
The squad Mourinho currently has at his disposal does not lack for talent — United's sixth-place finish and lowest tally of wins in Premier League history, regardless of their Europa League campaign, has to be considered a failure on the new manager's part.
But for all of the options available to him when his squad is full fit, Mourinho has had to choose between graft and glamour, between work rate and creativity, in the attacking positions. When a defence needs unlocking, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata have been called upon; when positional discipline and defensive solidity is more important, in has come Jesse Lingard or Ashley Young.
With Silva, Mourinho would no longer have to compromise. He'd have a player capable of carrying out his instructions and sticking to his defensive tasks, while also adding the kind of fantasy and flair that the Old Trafford faithful have long admired yet been relatively starved of in recent years.