Monaco's Bernardo Silva values magical (and final?) season at club

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/18/football/monaco-champions-league-ber
BYBy Christina Macfarlane and Motez Bishara, CNN
Updated 1031 GMT (1831 HKT) April 18, 2017

Story highlights

Silva, 22, in third season at MonacoDrawing attention from European giants

Monaco (CNN)Thanks to a unique blend of rugged experience infused with youthful exuberance, Monaco are flying high this season.

The French league leaders are battling Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarterfinals, hoping to replicate their lone final appearance back in 2004. But how long will the club known for its wily deals keep its assets in place? Though Colombian Radamel Falcao is stealing the headlines with his 22-goal season, his young teammate Bernardo Silva is enjoying a breakout season nearly as vital to the team's success. The 22-year-old Portuguese midfielder has recorded nine goals and eight assists in all competitions, but it's his composure in big moments -- capped by his extra-time equalizer against second-place PSG in January -- which has some of Europe's superpowers salivating. Read MoreSilva labels his 92nd minute long-distance strike as "the best goal, and the most special one," of his short career, which began at Benfica before a move to Monaco in 2014.READ: The fall and rise of Radamel FalcaoREAD: Why was Prince Albert Monaco's secret weapon? Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?It's a familiar sight for AS Monaco fans this season -- their club's star players celebrating goals. Hide Caption 1 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Monaco has scored 88 goals in Ligue 1 so far this season. After this weekend's matches in Europe's top five leagues, the French club is tied with Barcelona as for the most potent attacking team on the continent. Radamel Falcao, the club's top goalscorer this season with 25, has lead what's become one of Europe's most feared attacks.Hide Caption 2 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Falcao, who previously played for European clubs Manchester United, Chelsea, Porto and Atletico Madrid, has been supported up front by teenager Kylian Mbappe. The 18-year-old Mbappe, who has scored 12 goals in Ligue 1 this season, recently became the second-youngest player to play for France when he made his debut against Luxembourg in March.Hide Caption 3 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Defensive midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko, another member of the young, emerging talent at Monaco, also made his France debut against Luxembourg.Hide Caption 4 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Monaco's Stade Louis II is located in the idyllic French Riviera on the Mediterranean coast. As a commercial center, the city-state has come to attract a wealthy clientele. Hide Caption 5 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Prince Albert II, the reigning monarch of Monaco, is regularly seen in the stands during home games. Hide Caption 6 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Falcao and his wife Lorelei Taron met Prince Albert before signing for Monaco. "It was a unique meeting," the Colombian tells CNN Sport of the day he and his wife visited the Prince's Palace. "To see that backing not only from the people that managed the club but also the city made the balance tilt towards me signing for Monaco."Hide Caption 7 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Russian businessman Dimitri Rybolovlev bought a stake in Monaco's football team in December 2011. Now club president, his investment has helped bring high profile signings to the club such as Falcao and Portugal's Joao Moutinho. However, now the club's strategy is "to develop young players and let them go when the time is right," Monaco's chief executive officer Vadim Vasilyev told CNN Sport.Hide Caption 8 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Vasilyev (C) is pictured with Monaco players Djibril Sidibe, Corentin Jean (currently on loan at Toulouse), Benjamin Mendy, Morgan de Sanctis and Kamil Glik.Hide Caption 9 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Currently top of Ligue 1, if Les Rouges et Blancs were to be crowned the champions of France, they would break Paris Saint-Germain's run of four consecutive titles. Hide Caption 10 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Monaco has also enjoyed a fine run of form in the Champions League. A thrilling last-16 tie against Manchester City ended 6-6, with the French side going through on away goals. It was the sort of counter-attacking, high-scoring display that has come to define this side. Hide Caption 11 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Monaco now faces German side Borussia Dortmund in their first-leg quarterfinal on April 11. The second leg is at the Stade Louis II on April 19. Hide Caption 12 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Monaco reached the Champions League final in 2004 but were beaten 3-0 by Porto, then coached by Jose Mourinho.Hide Caption 13 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?Despite the high-octane performances and abundance of goals, Monaco usually doesn't attract big crowds at their home games. Last season saw an average attendance of 7,836, and a Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen (pictured) in September was watched by just 8,100 people. However the second-leg tie against Dortmund is a sell-out, with the club saying it could have sold 50,000 tickets.Hide Caption 14 of 15 Photos: Is this European football's most exciting side this season?But that doesn't seem to be bothering the players, who are flying high with club and country. Hide Caption 15 of 15

Silva's dream

Arriving in the glitzy principality known more for its super yachts and casinos was understandably a little bizarre for a teenager, though Silva adapted quickly. "It was a huge shock to arrive in this city that is completely different from Lisbon," Silva tells CNN in an exclusive interview. "And then to come from the Benfica youth team, and to play in the Champions League and the French league, it was a huge step."I was a little shocked in the beginning because I started to play with (Dimitar) Berbatov, with some amazing players, João Moutinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Anthony Martial ... but it was great."All of those names have commanded big transfer fees during their careers, and the way things are going Silva could be next in line.The creative ace has reportedly drawn interest from Real Madrid and Manchester United -- two frequent dealmakers with Monaco -- as well as Inter Milan for a price tag of roughly $87 million. Considering Monaco spent only $20 million on Silva after a six-month loan from Benfica ended in January 2015 -- and that he is represented by super agent Jorge Mendes, who brokered the blockbuster transfers of James Rodriguez to Real Madrid and Martial to Manchester United -- a deal could be reportedly in the making as early as this summer. "For now, I'm feeling very well here in Monaco," says Silva on the suggestions of a potential move."It's my third season in France, but of course all the players want to play in the best leagues. Spain and England are the best, and of course I dream one day to be there." READ: French club struggles to find fansREAD: Eight-goal thriller sets Champions League recordCan Monaco keep hold of Silva? Have your say on CNN Sport's Facebook page Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Showing support. Dortmund´s players wore T-shirts with 'Mucha Fuerza' (A lot of strength) and a picture of teammate Marc Bartra -- injured in the bomb attack on Dortmund's team bus -- on the front. Hide Caption 1 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Dortmund fans displayed a banner with a message to their Spanish defender, who underwent surgery on his injured arm and hand, which read "Get well Marc."Hide Caption 2 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Dortmund's famed 'yellow wall' -- Europe's largest free standing terrace which holds 25,000 fans -- was subdued in the first half as Dortmund struggled against Monaco in their Champions League first-leg tie. Hide Caption 3 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match What a miss! Monaco defender Fabinho screwed a penalty wide, squandering a chance to put Monaco ahead after 17 minutes, following a foul by Sokratis Papastathopoulos on Kylian Mbappe. Hide Caption 4 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match From bad to worse. Dortmund's Sven Bender scored an own goal, heading Andrea Raggi's cross into his own net, as the German side fell 2-0 behind in the first half.Hide Caption 5 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Eighteen-year-old striker Kylian Mbappe was Monaco's star man, becoming the youngest player to score two goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Hide Caption 6 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Shinji Kagawa scored late for Dortmund, giving the Germans hope heading into next week's return fixture in Monaco. Hide Caption 7 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Monaco fans -- praised for their show of support to Dortmund following Tuesday's attack -- celebrated after Mbappe scored his team's third goal -- a brilliant long-range strike into the top corner.Hide Caption 8 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Sokratis cut a dejected figure at fulltime after Dortmund suffered a first home defeat in 21 games. Hide Caption 9 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Dortmund's subdued start was understandable given that three explosive devices shattered windows and injured a player on the team bus as the German squad was en route to its home Champions League quarterfinal against AS Monaco Tuesday. Hide Caption 10 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match German authorities said earlier on Wednesday that they suspect "terrorist involvement" and were investigating a possible radical Islamist link.Hide Caption 11 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Spanish defender Bartra, 26, suffered injuries which required surgery. He posted on social media Wednesday thanking fans for their support and said: "I am doing much better."Hide Caption 12 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Following the announcement that Tuesday's match had been rescheduled to Wednesday, the away supporters began singing and waving flags in support of their rivals. Hide Caption 13 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Outside Dortmund's training ground Wednesday, four fans held a sign in support of their team which read "You'll Never Walk Alone" -- which is the title of the club's anthem. Hide Caption 14 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Policemen stood guard in front of a Monaco team bus Wednesday before the rescheduled Champions League encounter as security was tightened. Hide Caption 15 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Before the match, Dortmund said it would "not bend before terror" and hours before kickoff police sniffer dogs checked inside the stadium.Hide Caption 16 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match There was heavy police presence in the city and Dortmund's team coach was escorted by police as it arrived for the rescheduled match.Hide Caption 17 of 17

Monaco strategy

Buying low and selling high has been key to the strategy of Monaco -- majority owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2011 -- since the appointment of his chief executive officer Vadim Vasilyev four years ago.Given the club plays in a stadium that holds just 18,523 -- often struggling to fill half the seats with its ardent but tiny fan base -- Vasilyev has been open about the need to sell top assets for financial gain. The Martial deal reportedly netted the club over $41 million in 2015, while Rodriguez -- who spent just one season in Monaco -- was sold for a profit of $43 million a year earlier. "We understand with the limited revenues we have we cannot dream of being a Real Madrid or Barcelona or Chelsea one day," Vasilyev tells CNN. Jorge Mendes: The man behind soccer's 'craziest deals'"We don't need to sell players, but imagine a big club comes and shows interest in one of our players, say a Barcelona. A player would like to go there, it's normal, it's ambition, they all want to grow and play at the highest level," he explains. "If the moment is right, and the player wants to leave and the offer is right, we will always find an arrangement."Even Silva gives the Monaco top brass plaudits for what some fans could consider a frustrating business model: Letting go of top talent just before they blossom into the biggest stars in football."First, I think the directors at Monaco ... they work really well," he says, giving credit to Vasilyev for putting the club in a position to compete for its first League 1 title since 2000."The players they bought they helped us a lot to improve the way we play."It's a little bit mixed. Young players with some experienced ones. Like Falcao, like Danijel Subašić," adds Silva, referring to the club's Croatian goalkeeper. "It's good to have their experience to teach us and to help us become better each day."READ: Dortmund lose on emotional nightREAD: Sahin will 'never forget' bomb attackVisit cnn.com/football for more news and videos Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Showing support. Dortmund´s players wore T-shirts with 'Mucha Fuerza' (A lot of strength) and a picture of teammate Marc Bartra -- injured in the bomb attack on Dortmund's team bus -- on the front. Hide Caption 1 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Dortmund fans displayed a banner with a message to their Spanish defender, who underwent surgery on his injured arm and hand, which read "Get well Marc."Hide Caption 2 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Dortmund's famed 'yellow wall' -- Europe's largest free standing terrace which holds 25,000 fans -- was subdued in the first half as Dortmund struggled against Monaco in their Champions League first-leg tie. Hide Caption 3 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match What a miss! Monaco defender Fabinho screwed a penalty wide, squandering a chance to put Monaco ahead after 17 minutes, following a foul by Sokratis Papastathopoulos on Kylian Mbappe. Hide Caption 4 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match From bad to worse. Dortmund's Sven Bender scored an own goal, heading Andrea Raggi's cross into his own net, as the German side fell 2-0 behind in the first half.Hide Caption 5 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Eighteen-year-old striker Kylian Mbappe was Monaco's star man, becoming the youngest player to score two goals in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Hide Caption 6 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Shinji Kagawa scored late for Dortmund, giving the Germans hope heading into next week's return fixture in Monaco. Hide Caption 7 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Monaco fans -- praised for their show of support to Dortmund following Tuesday's attack -- celebrated after Mbappe scored his team's third goal -- a brilliant long-range strike into the top corner.Hide Caption 8 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Sokratis cut a dejected figure at fulltime after Dortmund suffered a first home defeat in 21 games. Hide Caption 9 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Dortmund's subdued start was understandable given that three explosive devices shattered windows and injured a player on the team bus as the German squad was en route to its home Champions League quarterfinal against AS Monaco Tuesday. Hide Caption 10 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match German authorities said earlier on Wednesday that they suspect "terrorist involvement" and were investigating a possible radical Islamist link.Hide Caption 11 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Spanish defender Bartra, 26, suffered injuries which required surgery. He posted on social media Wednesday thanking fans for their support and said: "I am doing much better."Hide Caption 12 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Following the announcement that Tuesday's match had been rescheduled to Wednesday, the away supporters began singing and waving flags in support of their rivals. Hide Caption 13 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Outside Dortmund's training ground Wednesday, four fans held a sign in support of their team which read "You'll Never Walk Alone" -- which is the title of the club's anthem. Hide Caption 14 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Policemen stood guard in front of a Monaco team bus Wednesday before the rescheduled Champions League encounter as security was tightened. Hide Caption 15 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match Before the match, Dortmund said it would "not bend before terror" and hours before kickoff police sniffer dogs checked inside the stadium.Hide Caption 16 of 17 Photos: Champions League: Monaco beat Dortmund in entertaining match There was heavy police presence in the city and Dortmund's team coach was escorted by police as it arrived for the rescheduled match.Hide Caption 17 of 17

"We can win everything, and we can lose everything"

Not only that, but the return of Falcao -- who struggled during recent loan spells at Manchester United and Chelsea -- has added a level of doggedness that Monaco lacked in the past, says Silva. "This season the atmosphere in the dressing room is amazing," elaborates Silva. "Because once you win, it's easier to have this feeling around your teammates. We are all very young, and we feel like playing together.

Very lucky to go behind the scenes at @AS_Monaco today - finding out the secrets to their success..! With CEO Vadim Vasilyev @cnnsport pic.twitter.com/EJCxJ2I6DR

— Christina Macfarlane (@chrissymacCNN) April 5, 2017 "It's really good, and we are enjoying it a lot." Still, Monaco's dream campaign could come to a screeching halt in the next six weeks if the team loses focus as it chases success in Ligue 1, the Champions League and the Coupe de France."We know that in this month and a half we will be playing (for) everything: We can win everything, and we can lose everything as well," says Silva. "It won't be easy, but I think we will do it," he says of holding on to the club's Ligue 1 lead. "And then Champions League, everybody knows it's a very difficult competition, but we'll try to go as far as possible." INTERACTIVE: Build your Ultimate PlayerIf what's left of this season transpires into Silva's final days on the French Riviera, he says his time there will not be forgotten."It was my first big experience on a big level, so I'll be forever grateful to Monaco."It was here that I learned most of the things that I know about football. To play with the big players with intensity, with strength. "I learned that it's not only the technique," he adds. "You have to be very, very strong, and be concentrated for the full 90 minutes."
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