Rafa Silva: The 'Portuguese Eden Hazard' interesting the Premier League big boys
- Born: May 17, 1993
- Place of birth: Forte de Casa, Portugal
- Height: 5ft 7in
- Position: Midfielder
- Current club: Braga (125 apps, 26 goals)
- International: Portugal (9 caps, 0 goals)
The 60-second story
Rafa Silva only played a single minute at Euro 2016, entering the field just before the final whistle in Portugal's goalless draw with Austria in Group F. His contibution to his country's ultimate success was virtually non-existent, with other young Portuguese talents outshining him in France - from Bayern Munich's new star Renato Sanches to Manchester United target Joao Mario, Borussia Dortmund left-back Raphael Guerreiro and Barcelona playmaker Andre Gomes.
And yet, that fact is not a slight on Silva's talent: many Selecao fans believe the 23-year-old Braga man is the most exciting of Portugal's latest crop of young talent. Fernando Santos' side's triumph at the Euros was based on solidity and efficieny, and Silva didn't really fit in with such a strategy.
His performances at club level are proof of why he's coveted by a number of top sides, though, with Tottenham the latest outfit to be linked with the 5ft 7in maestro's signature, following earlier reported interest from the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.
Why you need to know him
His silky skills were immediately appreciated by the Arcebispos' fans
Sporting Lisbon's Alcochete academy is one of the best in the world. Countless stars have passed through its doors, including Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and multiple members of Portugal's current squad, but even Sporting can occasionally get it wrong. The case of Silva is perhaps the best example in that regard: the Braga midfielder attended trials with the capital club as a child but was discarded after failing to impress.
Sporting have lived to regret that decision, with Silva going on to establish himself as one of the brightest talents in Portuguese football. After learning his trade at tiny Alverca instead, Silva joined Feirense at the age of 18 and became a key player in the 2012/13 campaign, scoring nine goals. assuming responsibility as the his side's creative hub and even earning comparisons with Eden Hazard.
All the top clubs in the country sent scouts to watch his progress on a weekly basis, while Sporting tried to make up for their earlier error by bringing Silva to Lisbon. The youngster had other plans, however: he was convinced by Jesualdo Ferreira to join Braga, where he was certain to take centre stage in Jesualdo Ferreira's starting line-up.
It proved to be a wise decision by both club and player: Silva's development accelerated, while Braga secured one of the best deals in their history, paying only €500,000 for an outstanding talent. His silky skills were immediately appreciated by the Arcebispos' fans, and Silva's debut season in the top flight was so impressive that Paulo Bento included him in his squad for the 2014 World Cup.
Ferreira was fired in February 2014 and Silva went through four different coaches in three years at Braga, but his progress continued nonetheless. Each manager rated the Portuguese very highly and built the team around him; last season, for instance, Silva scored three goals and four assists in the Europa League as Paulo Fonseca's charges reached the quarter-finals.
Porto tried to sign him in the winter transfer window, but Braga held firm. They were rewarded with the Portuguese Cup in the spring - beating Porto in the final - and will be sad to see their star man go if he does depart before the end of the month as expected.
Working under different coaches has made Silva extremely flexible: he can easily fit into 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formations, and can be used in different positions within any of them
Silva's a versatile playmaker who's comfortable on either wing and in a central role. His ball control is exquisite, his dribbling at speed is stunning, his passing range is excellent and he has a very decent shot as well. Quick-thinking and unselfish, he can create something out of nothing and is very difficult to mark.
Working under different coaches has made Silva extremely flexible: he can easily fit into 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 formations, and can be used in different positions within any of them.
Another important quality is Silva's character. His rapid rise hasn't changed him as a person – he's still a humble boy who loves to smile and is very close to his family and childhood friends. Silva's feet remain firmly on the ground.
Silva's still far from a complete player, and remains inexperienced at the top level. He's slightly built, too, which could be a problem in the Premier League, and there's plenty of room for improvement in his defensive work rate.
"There's something of [Benfica great Fernando] Chalana about him," said Paulo Nunes, Silva's mentor at Alverca. "Chalana wasn't physically impressive, but he wasn't afraid of anything."
Did you know...
During his time at Feirense, Silva made a bet with his chain-smoking father that he would have to knock the habit if the midfielder scored a certain amount of goals. When the required number was reached, Silva immediately enterted the stands and took a packet of cigarettes out of his dad's hand.
What happens next
Leicester were reportedly interested in Silva but Tottenham now look in pole position to sign him, although Porto continue to sniff around. Braga may have to sell the midfielder for less than his €20 million release clause due to the fact his contract expires next summer, but they will try and hold out for as high a fee as possible. Given Silva's potential, though, any deal struck this summer is likely to be a bargain.