It’s the summer of 2010 and Manchester City’s then-CEO Garry Cook is anxiously waiting for confirmations on two of the club’s key pieces of transfer business. Cook, a figure of fun outside the club, was spearheading a less aggressive raft of improvements than had been seen in previous windows. His comments that Kaka had “bottled it” in backing out of a move to Manchester had not gone down well in Milan, while make-no-apologies approaches for the likes of Carlos Tevez, Joleon Lescott and Emmanuel Adebayor had upset many at their respective clubs.
But by 2010, City weren’t splashing the cash quite so brashly. They were, of course, still spending big, though they were doing it in a less abrasive way – and Cook was sweating on getting two names over the line.
Legend has it that, in order to convince Yaya Toure to put pen to paper, he’d told the Ivorian’s representatives that they had already secured the services of the much-talked-about David Silva from Valencia. At the same time, he’d informed the Spaniard’s people that they had completed the signing of Toure from Barcelona, as a means to get Silva to sign on the dotted line. The trouble was, both were still yet to agree to moves.
How much of that story is true and how much is legend is up for debate. What isn’t, though, is the change that those two players brought about in East Manchester and how, with the combined £48m outlay, City set themselves up well for the next decade. Plenty baulked at those transfer fees, but honestly – who’s laughing now?
It was Community Shield weekend in August 2007 when Silva made his first appearance at the City of Manchester Stadium. Back then, there was rarely an opportunity for City to be in the Community Shield, so the club arranged its own budget version and invited clubs from across Europe to play in their final pre-season friendly, The Thomas Cook Trophy (it began life as The Thomas Cook Cup, but nobody could say that so they quietly changed the name).
The focus was on the new City manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, and the raft of summer signings he’d made in a mad 10-minute shopping spree. It was lost in the occasion that Silva ran the show for Valencia and scored the only goal of the game in the 10th minute. City would make an initial approach to bring him and team-mate David Villa to Eastlands two years later, but Valencia were asking for an astronomical amount of money for the double transfer.
Between then and the time City did snap him up in 2010, Silva had already become a European Championship and World Cup winner with Spain, as well as having won the Copa del Rey with Valencia. He later admitted that, on the morning of his medical in Manchester, because of the post-World Cup celebrations, he felt “f*cking rough”.
That summer, he’d almost moved to Real Madrid for a similar fee – but they backed out of the deal, citing concerns about his character according to reports in Spain at the time. Given what City fans know about him from the last ten years, the suggestion that he’s a party animal, which was Madrid’s worry, is as absurd as it is unfounded.
He was a slow starter with Roberto Mancini’s team, finding life in the Premier League a little tough. A City fan who had watched him semi-regularly in Spain described him as “a slight fella” who may get knocked around.
It’s difficult to think that that was ever the case, especially given the sweet baby-faced terror that he can be. One of the beauties of watching him in this Manchester City team is the knowledge that beneath the majestically skilful exterior is a man who is totally unafraid of putting a situation right when he or a teammate has been wronged.
That, of course, is just a minor part of his game. The Silva we know and love was beginning to settle into his new surroundings as the autumn drifted towards winter in 2010. He opened the scoring at Red Bull Salzburg in City’s 2-0 win there, as he glided into space by the penalty spot and slotted home as the ball broke loose.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that he did it with his right foot. For all of his excellent technique, Silva had an incredible reluctance to do things on his weaker side, often preferring instead to take the more awkward route back onto his left. But it’s probably not a disadvantage to have to manoeuvre the ball to your stronger foot when your stronger foot is capable of witchcraft, is it?
Four weeks after that goal in Austria, he scored one that hinted that City had bought a gem. Blackpool may lack the splendour of the sort of seaside holiday destinations that Silva was used to in his home country, but as the wind battered Bloomfield Road, his introduction to the match in the 65th minute turned the tide. In stoppage time, he left a defender in a heap on the floor and another attempting to block thin air, shimmying twice to fake a shot, before curling the ball into the far corner of the net, leaving goalkeeper Matt Gilks standing.
🗣| David Silva on his Iconic goal vs Blackpool:
“It was very good because this goal gave me a lot of confidence. It made me feel more relaxed and proved I was adapting to the style of play here.”
— City Chief (@City_Chief) July 24, 2020
It probably remains his best goal in a City shirt even a decade later, though a long-range effort at Hull will run it close. That was a day he again showed his ability to control a match, as City won 2-0 despite playing with ten men for 80 minutes after Vincent Kompany’s early red card.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition with Silva’s clear ability on the pitch and the recognition he gets away from it. Even with the gushing praise he’s had in more recent years, it still doesn’t feel like it’s done him credit. Given that his contributions to City’s brilliance, especially under Pep Guardiola, are so difficult to quantify, he’s been left in this void of everybody seeing how good he is but being totally unable to explain why.
🎙️ NEW #MCFC PODCAST:
— Blue Moon Podcast (@BlueMoonPodcast) July 24, 2020
He doesn’t score the most goals. He doesn’t provide the most assists. He doesn’t do the dirty work and dig in when the going gets tough. He’s not a box-to-box midfield general. He’s an attacking midfielder who has no pace, is awkwardly one-footed, and can’t shoot from range – but he’s still the best player on the pitch.
All of that, combined with how unfashionable City have been during his time in England, adds up to very few individual accolades for a man who is now being talked about (and rightly so) as one of the best ever Premier League players, if not the best ever. Despite that, his sum total of individual honours adds up to a single Player of the Month award for September 2011 and two appearances in the PFA Team of the Year (2012 and 2018).
For context, Harry Kane – whose breakthrough season at Tottenham came in Silva’s fifth year at City – has bagged the award six times, with four PFA Team of the Year appearances. It’s easier to acknowledge quality when there are hard-and-fast numbers attached.
Silva is a player who can only be understood and admired in context. He’s the ultimate anti-YouTube player. People watch great goals with great assists, they don’t watch highlights reels of somebody drifting into pockets of space, nor clips of almighty displays of vision, awareness and passing ability.
Speaking to the Blue Moon Podcast some years ago now, Shaun Wright-Phillips explained the joy of seeing Silva up close and personal, both in practises and on matchdays: “When he first came, he would just do stuff in training and in games and I would think: ‘I can see that, but I don’t think I can do it.’
“He sees it and does it without thinking about it. It’s just like a magic trick. So, I said to him, “I’m either going to call you The Wizard or Merlin.” And he just started laughing at me, so the name has just stuck since then.”
What goes further to Silva’s credit is his performance levels when things were not all carefree and easy. It’s one thing to run the show in a title-winning team while life isn’t asking you difficult questions, but to do it while enduring a deeply stressful time off the pitch as well deserves nothing short of admiration.
In December 2017, news filtered through ahead of City’s home match with Tottenham that Silva wasn’t in the match-day squad – though no reason was given for his absence. No injury had been announced and fans were concerned at how the team would perform without him. When Kevin De Bruyne scored on 70 minutes, he sought out one of the TV cameras to hold out the numbers two and one on his fingers. With his goal making it 2-0, there was no chance it was the score and every chance it was Silva’s squad number.
Silva missed four games in that Christmas period for what City described only as ‘personal reasons’.
Afterwards, the details began to emerge. Silva had been at home in Spain, with his partner Yessica and their new-born son Mateo. He had been born three months premature and was fighting for his life in intensive care. All that time, Silva was travelling between Valencia and Manchester, barely training and, by his own admission, not sleeping and not eating.
And you wouldn’t have known from his performances on the pitch. He would be one of five City players who made the PFA Team of the Year that season, as the team earned an unprecedented 100 points in the Premier League.
The curtain has drawn to a close on his time in Premier League. It’s devastating that he could not be afforded the same send-off as other club legends, like Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany – but there is a small part of every City fan that must wonder if it’s fitting that a player who so often was ignored for individual recognition and a player that came across as both incredibly humble and painfully shy should get to quietly drift off into the sunset without a fuss.
He has as many games left as his team can manage in this Champions League mini-tournament, so with every passing second of every match the clock ticks down on an illustrious City career.
Don’t be sad that it’s over. Be glad that you got to see it in the first place.