The 2018/19 season will not be fondly remembered by Porto fans. The club finished two points behind rivals Benfica in the race for the Primeira Liga title, lost in the finals of the Taça de Liga and Taça de Portugal to Sporting and were eliminated in the Champions League quarter-finals by Liverpool.
A campaign that could’ve been heralded for years to come ended in dissatisfaction. There was criticism of Sérgio Conceição’s approach, with some feeling he favoured physical prowess over technique and skill.
Perhaps that was born out of frustration. Champions Benfica didn’t lack for combative physicality – the reintegration of defensive midfielder Andreas Samaris in January was key to their run to the title – but it was the youthful exuberance, creativity and ruthlessness of João Félix that ensured the Águias finished top.
The teenager finished his debut season in the Benfica first team with 20 goals in all competitions and 11 assists. He cemented his status as the golden boy of Portuguese football and joined Atlético Madrid this summer for £107million.
Yet Félix wasn’t made at Benfica, the club was merely his finishing school. His talents were instead honed and developed by Porto. The forward spent seven years with the Dragões but was released at 14 years old for being too slight.
Félix may prove to be a generational talent; a player who will go down in history as one of Portugal’s greatest. Porto will always regret their decision to let him leave but they have the comfort of knowing they possess a young forward of equal potential. And best of all, they managed to poach him away from Benfica.
Meet Fabio Silva.
Still just 16 years old, it’s a mark of Silva’s undoubted potential that he has been promoted to the senior squad this summer and signed a three-year contract with Porto at the start of June.
The striker, son of former Portugual international Jorge Silva, has featured for the first-team in pre-season and has got his name on the scoresheet. Something which will not have been a surprise to those who watched him for Porto’s Under-19s.
Silva struck 33 goals in 39 appearances for the club’s youth side last term and was integral to their victory in the UEFA Youth League. He scored in the final – a 3-1 win over Chelsea – and finished the European campaign with five goals and four assists in nine games.
Silva proved himself a cut above the majority of his contemporaries. He would outthink them without the ball and outmaneuver them with it. And when presented with an opportunity he very rarely missed.
He isn’t the finished article – given his age that isn’t a surprise – but he has the raw tools required to reach the top. Silva has even been compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s greatest ever player.
“When Cristiano Ronaldo was 17 years old, he was a striker for Sporting’s youth. I saw him do the same things that I’m now seeing from a kid in Porto’s youth, Fábio Silva. In a few years he will be an extraordinary forward.”
Such a statement could be easily dismissed as bombast from an overzealous Porto executive. Yet those words were not uttered by anyone associated with the Dragões. Instead, they came from Manuel Fernandes, scouting director at Sporting, one of Porto’s great rivals and the club that produced CR7.
Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo is a player Silva admires. “I like his approach; the passion he puts into the game and his desire to achieve new goals,” the youngster told O Jogo.
But Silva isn’t blinded by Ronaldo’s gravitas. He has also modeled his game on two of Europe’s other elite strikers: Inter’s Mauro Icard and Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani. “I always try to watch their movement, watch what they do on the pitch, and try to carry it into my game.”
Silva has clearly been influenced by his role models. In the penalty area, there is no obvious weakness; he can escape from the tightest of spaces, can finish instinctively with either foot, is proficient with his head, and is reliable from the penalty spot.
It’s the movement of Cavani, the predatory finishing of Icardi, and the quick feet and skill of Ronaldo all merged into one fearsome skillset.
Silva will turn 17 years old later this week and few players his age are ready for first-team football. If they are given an opportunity they can appear out of their depth and overawed by the physicality of the men’s game.
Don’t expect any such problems for Silva. He is a special talent. One which Porto will hope can emulate Félix and guide them to the Primeira Liga title this season.