JOHANNESBURG - Toni Silva wants to make Mamelodi Sundowns his home in his bid to end a nomadic career which has seen him travel the length and breadth of Europe without ever really settling anywhere.
The 24-year-old from Guinea-Bissau started his career in Portugal with Benfica’s Under-19s and then went to the Liverpool juniors, but failed to graduate to the first team. This resulted in him being sent out on loan to Northampton in the fourth tier of English football in 2011/12, and then Barnsley in the second tier (19 minutes of play!) and Dagenham and Redbridge (4 games) in the fourth tier.
Stints in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece followed after that, and they also didn’t last that long. The three-year contract Silva signed with Sundowns would be the longest time he has spent with one team should he see the contract through.
The three years he spent at Liverpool were dominated by loan spells in lower leagues and thus can't really be counted.
“I have been moving around,” Silva said with a chuckle. “But playing in different countries and different leagues has made me get a wide range of experience. I have learnt something from everywhere I have been and that's what happens when you have been all over.
"You grow as a person and have a worldly insight from the different cultures and different conditions that you have faced. Moving around helped me deal with everything that’s been thrown in my direction. Now I am here at Sundowns. I am happy to be here and I hope to stay here for a long time.”
Silva will start his chapter at Sundowns in June as a replacement for Khama Billiat who is set to leave at the end of this season. Silva is a skilful winger and a good finisher. Tebogo Langerman already knows him well.
The Bafana Bafana leftback was twisted and turned by Silva in a friendly match against Guinea-Bissau in Durban that Bafana won 3-1 last year. Silva could also be registered in the Caf Champions League squad as the Brazilians still have three more vacant spots.
“Winning the Champions League is my biggest target with the club,” Silva said. “I know the club’s history and I am coming here to add a chapter and win trophies. I signed for Sundowns because they have been following me for the last two years.
"They tried to bring me here last season but they couldn’t because the team I was with (APO Levadiakos), was asking for a lot of money. Now that I am a free player, I decided to come here.”
Silva has big boots to fill in replacing Billiat, who has been instrumental in the Brazilians’ league triumph. The Zimbabwean forward gave it his all even though it was clear from January that he would be leaving Sundowns at the end of the season, showing great professionalism.
Percy Tau is also on the radar of a number of European clubs, which means he could also join Billiat on the way out of Chloorkop. That’s why Sundowns have been proactive in their search for new talent.
“All I have to do to fit in here is give it my best and fight to play,” Silva said. “It won’t be easy. I watched two of the their games and they are a good team with good players. I even spoke with the coach and the staff, telling them that I like the football the team plays.”