Standing on the site of an old farm in Teresinhas on the outskirts of central Lisbon, Colegio Valsassina is not the sort of school you would expect to rear one of the finest footballers in Europe.
The light pink walls and sturdy iron gates are manned by a thick-set security guard, who offers a friendly welcome before letting you through to the crisp, white main building and a sweeping tree-lined path that ducks down to the gymnasium and a football pitch bearing the name of the institution’s most famous former pupil.
Children aged from three in kindergarten through to the eldest at 17 attend Colegio Valsassina at a monthly cost of around €600. It is the sort of setting one would imagine produces the doctors, lawyers and politicians of tomorrow.
Bernardo Silva, who is set to line up as Portugal bid to win the inaugural Nations League crown against Netherlands in Porto on Sunday, does not exactly have the archetypal rags-to-riches football story.
“He was a regular boy, a common teenager with a lot of passion for football,” Maria da Luz, a humanities teacher and Silva’s co-ordinator for three years, told Omnisport. “It was always the main thing of his life.
“His objective was always football. His academic idea – football! He didn’t plan anything else. His parents, yes they did plan but he didn’t.”
As the young Bernardo dreamed of the career his time at Benfica’s youth academy would begin to make a reality, his parents – Paulo Henrique, an engineer, and Maria Joao, who teaches at a nearby school – were determined for him to have an excellent education to fall back on.
Travelling back to Porto after a great trip to Lisbon to chat with Maria da Luz and Liliana Moreira at Colegio Valsassina about their former pupil @BernardoCSilva
Piece to follow over the weekend for @OmnisportNews
— Dom Farrell (@DomFarrell1986) June 7, 2019
“His parents were very co-operative with school and were very demanding of Bernardo,” Da Luz explained. “They wanted him to be a good student and a good person, wanted him well-formed and shaped intellectually.
“At the academy of Benfica they discovered his talent for football. That’s why he was stimulated. It was such a passion.
“But here, as his parents wanted, it was classes and not football. It was very difficult because of all the time he had to spend.
“Here he always attended all the classes. Then, after the classes he had to practice, train and everything.”
Where he was a dutiful student between 2004 and 2011, the 24-year-old is now a hero for today’s attendees. Children playing on the football field he inaugurated alongside Portugal rugby union cap centurion and fellow alumni Vasco Uva were keen to shout their appreciation.
As one boy put it, Silva is a “mundial” – a global star. Portugal is well-versed in producing such players.
But in their deft playmaker, who has won league titles in each of the past three seasons at Monaco and then Manchester City, they have a different kind of superstar.
— Bernardo Silva (@BernardoCSilva) May 7, 2018
“He isn’t like Ronaldo,” said Liliana Moreira, the co-ordinator of languages who has worked at Colegio Valsassina for 42 years. “I like Ronaldo very much, but he is a show off. Bernardo, no.
“Of course his car is wonderful – I don’t know what his car is – but it is the same Bernardo as the boy we have known.”
Despite claiming not to know “anything” about football, Moreira made sure to mention Silva was voted player of the season by City fans after a 2018-19 campaign where they won every domestic honour in English football.
Fluent in four languages, he is evidently a vital part of the glue that holds Pep Guardiola’s trophy hoarding dressing room together.
Whether it is being the subject of Benjamin Mendy’s pranks and the object of his affections, singing Queen in John Stones’ car or celebrating team-mates’ goals with unfettered joy, the midfielder – who Da Luz repeatedly described as a “kind boy” – is clearly very well liked and vital to morale. Perhaps Guardiola owes Moreira’s department a thank-you.
“It was something that was genuine with him,” she said. “This relationship at school, with his younger mates was very good. He liked to speak with all of them and was always very kind.
“He didn’t have any problems with them and that is why he is so well with his colleagues at the moment.
“Three or four of his friends from the school used to go to Monaco when he was at Monaco. They travelled there and were with him. Now they all travel to England to be with him.”
Far from taking himself away to a gated mansion, Silva lives centrally in Manchester and has immersed himself in the city and its culture. This chimes with Colegio Valsassina’s focus upon the “global individual” and commitment to encouraging the arts and a humanistic element among its pupils.
“This school has this concern of joining the sports life with the academic life. None of them are superior,” Da Luz said. “They are on the same level.
“Parents want their children to be formed and shaped in this way – the physical aspect, the intellectual aspect and the human aspect.”
When City won the Premier League with a 100-point haul and projected images of each player at notable locations in their hometowns, Colegio Valsassina was illuminated with an image of Silva, who still pops in to visit when he returns to Portugal.
Of course, he has more pressing matters to contend with as Estadio do Dragao this weekend. Should Silva lift another piece of silverware on home soil, it would clearly be a huge source of pride to the whole school, which is in the midst of 120th anniversary celebrations.
“It would be something great for him. We are very proud. Quietly, but we are very proud,” Da Luz said.
“We, the adults, quietly,” Moreira added. “But the teenagers I don’t know!”
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