When Javier Rabanal Hernandez is asked how you get the best out of Fabio Silva, his answer is revealing.

“It’s about connection. Fabio is not a No.9 who creates a chance from nothing,” he emphasises.

“At PSV it was Xavi Simons who provided that. Fabio needs someone who has a good connection with him, to provide passes and combine around the penalty box.”

Hernandez knows what he’s talking about. The Spaniard, now working with Independiente del Valle in Ecuador, was Ruud van Nistelrooy’s first-team coach at PSV Eindhoven last season - five months of which were spent working with the 21-year-old Portuguese forward.

Silva, currently on loan at Ibrox from Wolverhampton Wanderers, has endured a mixed four months in Glasgow since signing on the eve of 2024. With classy touches and turns at the start and, since being moved wide left to accommodate injuries in Philippe Clement’s squad, below-par performances and more than a shade of criticism as his team’s form slumped in April.

Can Rangers see the best of the young talent before his spell at Ibrox ends? The Rangers Review sat down with Hernandez to find out more.

Expectation is not new to Fabio Silva. The £35 million move from Porto to Wolves which brought him to England in 2020 has been followed with multiple loan deals and the natural pressure that follows a weighty price tag. After initially settling in well at Anderlecht during the 2022/23 campaign the striker’s time in Belgium was cut short and a deal was agreed to send him to Eindhoven until the summer. It was an ultimately successful period, culminating in Silva scoring the winning penalty against Ajax in the KNVB Cup Final.

“He arrived in the winter market following some changes in the club, especially after Cody Gakpo signed for Liverpool,” Hernandez says.

“Fabio joined alongside Thorgan Hazard. He came to find minutes as he was not playing much after starting well in Belgium.

“I had several conversations with him [about the pressure of the price tag]. As a staff, we saw clips of his time in Porto and it was a really short period from his debut to his transfer to Wolves.

“Fabio felt like the situation had come too early, but it is what it is. He accepted a move to the Premier League and I don’t think he feels too much pressure playing. Fabio is a free soul when playing on the pitch, not a typical player feeling the pressure and thinking about external things. When the ball is rolling he’s always enjoying it.”

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Rangers’ Head of Recruitment Nils Koppen played a key role in identifying the possibility of securing Silva's services for six months before starting his role at Ibrox officially in January. The attacker offered Clement depth at No.9 but also versatility across the front line. The Belgian manager’s conversations with Silva were said to be a deciding factor by sources close to the move.

“He understands the story. We had a lot of talks before he came about football, about how I see players playing,” Clement commented in early January on the move.

So, following a bright start, why has the last month been a difficult one for Silva?

When asked by the Rangers Review in La Manga this January about his best position, Silva stated: “I am not a ‘really really No.9’ because I don’t like to be static in the box, I like to move and change positions with other players. I don’t like to stay in the box only and be ‘No, No.9’. I like to change positions, have connections with players, play one-twos and move deep. I am a dynamic player and I like to change my position during the game.”

Many have claimed Silva is ‘not a No.9’ but the parameter of that statement focuses too heavily on binary positions, not flexible roles. It’s fair to say, for example, that Silva is not an out-and-out goalscorer. By his own admission, the forward wants to play as the central attacker in a team with room to move and freedom to combine with others. That’s the environment that should show the best of Silva’s game. And that’s not a luxury often afforded in recent weeks.

“First of all, his personality means he loves to move freely up front,” Hernandez adds on the topic.

“If you have to choose a position for Fabio, the No.9 gives him more freedom to move than when playing as a winger. Now, wingers do a lot of defensive work, a lot of one-on-one work. It suits Fabio better to start in the No.9 position.

“Fabio is more comfortable pressing as a No.9 than moving from the wing when he has to cover the pocket and control the full-back. It’s better if Fabio can provoke the press starting in the centre. In possession to see his best form, let him move freely in the attack.”

When Silva signed off for international duty in March he had four goals in seven starts. As shown in the pass map below charting Scottish Premiership matches during that spell, the forward was receiving in central areas as he competed with Cyriel Dessers.

Since a good spell with the Portugeasue Under-21 squad, however, the goals have dried up. Silva started in his side’s next four league games from the left which included only a solitary league win. As shown below, the attacker was getting the ball in wider and deeper areas.

The numbers confirm what Hernandez suggests. Silva spent time playing off the left at PSV and was Rangers' best performer from that flank away in Benfica. During a Scottish Cup win away at Hibs, he scored a fantastic strike cutting in to fire low beyond David Marshall.

However, his role in recent weeks has been different. Often more obviously part of the midfield than the attack, confined to defensive duties and suffering alongside his teammates at a loss of overall structure stopping Rangers’ dominance in possession.

If able to move narrow, combine with others and become a second No.9 from the left, Silva can still flourish. If locked wide and isolated, the circumstances don't favour his attributes.

It’s interesting that when asked how to get the best of Silva, Hernandez discusses other players. To unlock the Portuguese forward’s potential relies on others. But why?

“It’s about connection. Fabio is not a No.9 who creates a chance from nothing,” he emphasises.

“At PSV it was Xavi Simons who provided that. Fabio needs someone who has a good connection with him, to provide passes and combine around the penalty box.

“This connection is what gives the superiority - Fabio is more able to make it into the last 16 metres and convert a goal if this is the case.

“He can be effective in transition but the ball has to come from someone else in the second third of the field or around the last 16 metres. Fabio needs teammates to do this, like his connection with Xavi Simons. From there, he can play one or two touch - that is Fabio at his best, that is the football he enjoys the most in training. A socio-affective connection is vital.”

What Hernandez is alluding to is fundamental - a player’s environment. Silva is not an explosive dribbler in big spaces, but rather someone at his most effective working alongside others. With link-up play providing the superiority and yards to make a difference, rather than individual take-ons or pace.

Hernandez cites a goal to demonstrate the point he’s making.

“Fabio scored a goal against Excelsior from a pass Xavi Simons made with the outside of his boot in the final third," he explains.

“Fabio was perfect at this moment, attacking the 16 with one touch to score. I have this goal in my mind because it is top, top level. Fabio can reach that in the future with the right teammates around him."

The strike is a perfect example of the type of superiority referenced by Hernandez. It’s the connection that makes this goal possible.

Silva, like any player, holds ultimate responsibility for his performance. Clement has been forced to place round pegs in square holes all season and in recent games, Silva has been an example of just that. A glaring miss in the Scottish Cup semi-final last weekend felt indicative of the forward's last month, but Silva's poor run of form in April is hardly a sole case in the Rangers squad.

Rangers have played their best football under Clement with pacey wingers on each side to provide a balance. If the Belgian had his way, he’d likely start Silva or Dessers with Todd Cantwell behind him to provide connection, Abdallah Sima offering runs in behind and Oscar Cortes providing balance from the other flank. The luxury of choice has often been taken out of his hands this season, however.

“Fabio has experience around him at Rangers and is playing for a dominant team,” Hernandez adds.

“He needs experience to develop, you need to remember he is still very, very young and had a quick launch to his career.

“It would be good for him and his career to be somewhere for more than six months. To achieve solidity and not jump from club to club. Fabio is really talented and deserves long-term confidence from a coach. I am sure when he stays at a club for a long time he will show the player he is and can be."

Like the rest of his teammates, Fabio Silva’s legacy at Ibrox will be defined by six matches - the question is, will Rangers see the best of him in that time?