The winner of the epic shootout between Cristiano Ronaldo and Virgil Van Dijk turned out to be Bernardo Silva.
Portugal’s hat-trick hero versus the Dutch colossus was the obvious battle to frame the UEFA Nations League final, yet as the host nation celebrated their victory on Sunday night it was Manchester City’s magician that was crowned as the best player.
Bernardo was overlooked for individual honours in the Premier League in favour of Raheem Sterling and Van Dijk, even if his manager Pep Guardiola disagreed.
But after playing such an integral role in the Blues winning three trophies this year, he stood out in a tournament brimming with the best players of the past, present, and future to add a solo honour to yet another team prize.
If he maintains this level for the rest of the year, it is hard to imagine the 24-year-old failing to break new ground in the Ballon D’Or for City, who are not used to recognition in the respected award.
Previous winners including George Weah and Denis Law have gone on to play for them but did not earn the prize while at the club, and the closest any Blue has got since the Sheikh Mansour takeover is Kevin De Bruyne’s 9th-placed finish last year.
He may have been closer to the summit had he not been injured for the final four months of the year but the fact remains that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, United and Leicester have all had more recognition than City have in the last decade.
Even if Bernardo does not win the big prize – Lionel Messi and Ronaldo have maintained their ridiculous standards, while Alisson and Van Dijk have momentum from their Champions League win – it would be an oversight for him not to be in the conversation.
In his very first game of 2019 he set a new season best in the Premier League (knocking his effort against Spurs into second) after covering an enormous 13.7km in the win over Liverpool, a game that on paper potentially denied Jurgen Klopp’s side the title, an unbeaten campaign, and a century of points.
Further significant contributions in the title race came against Fulham and Spurs, and it was after his opening goal at Old Trafford in April that Guardiola declared: “It’s not just [against United], it’s not just his goal, it’s all the season, it was a masterclass, a masterpiece every single game.”
You wonder, too, how much his absence from the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final contributed to City’s only defeat in the final four months of the season.
After his latest star turn in one of the biggest international tournaments of the year, Bernardo is set up to challenge for the Ballon D’Or like no City player has in recent years.