As Premier League clubs scramble to complete deals ahead of Tuesday night’s deadline, it’s unlikely that any will raise as many eyebrows as Fabio Silva’s.
When he was signed by Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2020, he had played just 24 senior matches, scoring three goals. No surprise really considering he had only turned 18 two months previous.
However, when the fee was confirmed in the region of £35million, it quickly became apparent this wasn’t the typical ‘signing for the future’. Wolves smashed their transfer record to land the teenager, with chairman Jeff Shi labelling him the best forward of his age in Europe.
“Our recruitment team have been watching Fabio since he played for Portugal under-16s and they feel he has always been the best number nine coming through his age group anywhere in Europe,” Shi explained.
“Fabio has the potential to be a generational talent and for us to see him develop under Nuno is very exciting. He is the type of player our fans will love.”
The plan was clear for Wolves, Silva was arriving to learn from Raul Jimenez and eventually replace the talismanic Mexican. Nevertheless, it was a risky ploy in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and in the aftermath of allowing Diogo Jota to join Liverpool.
Despite his career still being in its infancy, there was still an expectation and a requirement for him to deliver when called upon. But even the best laid plans can go up in smoke and Wolves’ did as soon as Jimenez suffered a career-altering head injury in November of the same year.
No longer the deputy to Jimenez, Silva was needed to be the top dog and was often tasked with ploughing a lone furrow for a side that had already reached their peak under Nuno Espirito Santo. In total, he played 37 matches that season and while he was certainly not the least of their problems, there were understandable growing pains.
There was a hope that being thrown into the fire would speed up his development, but at times it looked as if it was doing the opposite. The following campaign – the first under Bruno Lage – he played 26 times and failed to score a single goal.
It was then that the decision was made to allow him out on loan. He would join Anderlecht at the start of the 2022/23 season, but not before penning an extension at Molineux which will see him tied to the club until 2026.
The first half of the campaign wasn’t a bad one for Silva. 11 goals in 32 matches represented a solid return for a player still finding his feet in the game. But with the Belgian giants no longer the force they once were, Wolves decided to pull the plug on his deal and instead send him to PSV Eindhoven.
After selling Cody Gakpo to Liverpool, PSV needed some extra attacking firepower and director Marcel Brands moved quickly to get a deal over the line. And Silva himself admits that the chance to work with Manchester United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy was too good to turn down.
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“The manager was one of the best strikers in the world,” Silva explained. “I am young and now I get a chance to work with him. I’m also a striker, so I’m happy to learn a lot from him. Great things even. I’m here to listen.
“I saw him play against my father. And he scored, so that wasn’t really that good. But everyone knows him, his qualities and the goals he scored. I am a young striker and as a twenty-year-old I get the chance to work with him. That is fantastic, unique and something special.”
And what a player to learn from. In his five seasons in the Premier League Van Nistelrooy wreaked havoc, scoring 95 times in just 150 top-flight matches. He was the archetypal No.9 and exactly the type of player his parent club are so sorely lacking.
The next few months promise to be pivotal for Silva as he hones his craft under a player who knows exactly what it takes to thrive in the English top division. As the Wolves forward himself stated, it’s a unique opportunity that he has to grab.
And those who are quick to write off the Portuguese youth international may yet be left to eat their words. Wolves insist he remains in their plans for the future and after all, a certain Harry Kane played only six times in his aged 20 season and it all worked out just fine for him.