Adios El Mago! Silva leaves as Man City's greatest ever player

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After a decade of success, the Spain midfielder departs the Etihad Stadium with more medals than anyone in the club's history

There are two places where David Silva feels happiest - on his home island of Gran Canaria, and on the football pitch.

Manchester City fans rightly feel blessed that for a decade he swapped the sunshine paradise for the rain and gloom of north west England

But, after 10 glorious years, El Mago has performed his final trick in a City shirt.

Silva leaves the club as the most successful player in City's history having won four Premier League titles, two FA Cups, five League Cups and three Community Shields. For many, he leaves as the greatest player to ever represent the Premier League outfit.

City’s ambitious project has the end-goal of becoming best club in the world, and throughout a period of huge success, Silva has remained a constant - leading that mission from the front with a quiet brilliance.

There has been no brashness or big talk from the little Spaniard. Silva turned up at the Etihad Stadium, ran the game almost every week, and then headed home with the minimum of fuss.

“I have tried to do my best,” Silva told DAZN with typical humility. “I have good statistics, but there is also the spirit we have had in the team. Thank God for the good spirit because if not, I would not have been here 10 years. 

“When it is such a hungry project, if you are not doing well, they will bring new people and you will be out.

"Being here for 10 years is not easy. I'm proud. Being in another country, and in a competitive league, the player who has played the most games here, I'm proud."

For those that have watched Silva regularly, his ability is clear. He has balletic balance, a delicate touch, incredible vision and an ability to appreciate what is happening in the game and dictate the rhythm.

He is also a fighter with the courage to take responsibility and lead from the front in either big matches or tight games against defensive opponents.

“He's undoubtedly one of the best players in Manchester City's history, if not the best, and one of the best midfielders that the Premier League has ever seen,” City legend Paul Dickov tells  Goal .

“How he handles himself on and off the pitch, he's the ultimate professional and nothing short of world class in what he does.”

Silva's qualities are not always quantifiable despite statistics that back up his influence.

He has laid on 94 assists and created 797 chances in his time in the Premier League - more than any other player since 2010.

Yet, somewhat strangely, he has only made two PFA Teams of the Season and won just the solitary Player of the Month award.

If there is any criticism that can be aimed at him, it is that he has not had a defining moment that is associated with great players.

City’s legends of recent years have all had theirs.

Yaya Toure scored a number of memorable goals in cup finals. Sergio Aguero netted his unforgettable 94th-minute title-winner in 2012. Vincent Kompany stood up to score vital winning goals against Manchester United and Leicester City to set up title successes in 2012 and 2019 respectively. Even goalkeeper Joe Hart had landmark performances, most notably with his heroics in defeat to Barcelona in 2015.

Brilliant as all those players are, none have lasted as long as Silva at the very top, with the 34-year-old having made more appearances than any City player in the last 40 years.

"It's the longevity of him and the amount of times he's done it over the years,” Dickov adds. “There's been some fantastic, foreign world-class players, but to do it consistently for the amount of time he's been at the club is special. When he plays he's generally the best player, or not far off it. 

“I just love watching him and speaking to the players who have played with him or are with him now, the quality they've got and they speak so highly of him. Not just what he does on match days, but in training and how he is as a human being just says it all.”

Silva’s brilliance has been built on an ability to deliver a sustained level of influence in each of his 436 appearances for City.

"We have won many titles in these 10 years, and the way we have played, the truth is my time has been very positive,” the man himself said. “For me, we were perfect.

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"When I arrived, I didn't think I would be here for such a long time. Besides football, trophies, everything, I will remember the love of the people, which is the most important thing.”

The road to the Etihad 

It was the summer of 2010 that City finally secured Silva's signature.

He arrived at Manchester Airport with a hangover having spent the previous 24 hours celebrating his country’s first and only World Cup triumph in South Africa.

After twice sneaking in via their Fair Play ranking, City had just qualified for Europe by virtue of their on-field performance for the first time in 32 years and were ready to kick on under the investment of new owner Sheikh Mansour.

The club had been transformed from an under-performing lower mid-table outfit to top-four challengers in a relatively short time. Next the mission was to win silverware and battle the dominance of Manchester United, much to the annoyance of Sir Alex Ferguson and his irritation with the “noisy neighbours”.

Ferguson had looked at taking Silva to Old Trafford himself, but decided he was a luxury player - a typical number 10 that would not carry out his defensive duties. 

It was a terrible misjudgment.

Silva is as tough as they come. Despite his size, he is a fighter, with former Spain boss Luis Aragones once saying that Silva had "the biggest balls" of any one in his squad.

After playing over-age football in his early schooldays, he had the painful experience of leaving his Canarian fishing village, Arguineguin, in tears as a 14-year-old to further his career at Valencia.

His mother eventually joined him on the Spanish mainland, but it was a mentally tough experience.

Making good progress with Los Che and Spain's youth teams, he was then sent on loan to Segunda Division club Eibar, who had a reputation for a more brutal, simple playing style. Silva did not shirk the challenge.

“He learned to get stuck in during training sessions,” his former coach, Jose Luis Mendilibar, recalled. “And I think he was one of the hardest, or a bit of a b*stard, when he trained.”

After another successful season-long loan with Celta Vigo and having established himself at Mestella, plenty of big clubs were interested.

As well as United, Real Madrid were close to completing a move but, when Jose Mourinho took charge, the Portuguese pulled the plug. 

Then-Valencia manager Unai Emery even tipped off Pep Guardiola at Barcelona when it was clear Silva was going to leave, but the Catalan insisted that the Blaugrana could not afford him.

Still, getting him to the Etihad was not simple. City were on the verge of signing Silva and Toure, but neither would complete a move until the other had. Eventually, the club got both deals over the line, and Silva has never looked back. 

Away from the intense scrutiny that would have come with moves to either of the Spanish giants, Silva found his perfect home and was able to become a quiet superstar for his country, making 125 appearances - sixth in Spain’s all-time list - scoring 35 goals and recording 28 assists, the latter of which leaves him behind only Cesc Fabregas in La Roja history. 

"It is one of my best decisions of my career because I have really enjoyed it,” Silva said. “Both myself and my family have enjoyed it a lot."

Agueroooooo!!!!! 

There had been some worrying signs that Ferguson’s prediction might prove to be correct in Silva’s very earliest days in England.

Slight playmakers had never really succeeded in England, with United and Arsenal’s success in the early 21st century built on speed and power rather than short, sharp passing that had taken Guardiiola’s Barcelona to a superior level in Spain and on the continent.

On his debut at White Hart Lane, Silva was easily brushed aside by Tottenham's physicality, and there were premature fears that he was too small for the English game. 

With pundits regularly mistakenly calling him David Villa after his former Valencia team-mate who left for Barca in the same summer, there was a concern he could be an expensive flop. 

It was a freezing cold afternoon three months into the season that turned everything around.

With City struggling against newly-promoted Blackpool, Silva came off the bench to set up Carlos Tevez for the opening goal before scoring a sublime late strike himself - selling two outrageous dummies before curling an effort into the bottom corner.

Confidence and his influence grew, and in the following May City ended their 35-year wait for silverware when they lifted the FA Cup.

Something, though, was missing if City were going to challenge for a Premier League title.

In August 2011, it arrived when Sergio Aguero joined from Atletico Madrid. Silva and Aguero struck up an instant telepathy, although curiously it was the Argentine who set his new team-mate up to score on his debut in a 4-0 rout of Swansea.

David Silva

Nine years later, the pair are the second-most prolific assist-goal combination in the history of the Premier League with 21, just three behind Chelsea’s Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.

“We have played together for a long time,” Silva said. “That there has been that connection is good because it means that we have scored many goals, which in the end is good for the team."

That season also provided possibly Silva’s most iconic moment in a blue shirt: a delicate control and volley into the path of Edin Dzeko as City routed United at 6-1 Old Trafford.

Of course, City needed the infamous Aguero moment in the final seconds of the season to secure a first ever title. Silva was just two yards from Aguero as he fired past QPR goalkeeper Paddy Kenny and was the first to catch up with him as he wheeled away in ecstasy.

"Well, it was a crazy game,” he recalled. “We started winning, then they came back and in the end we scored two goals in the last minutes. 

“It will be for history. Sometimes football does justice. We did a good season that time and we won it in the last minutes. 

“When you are in the game, you are so involved that you do not think. People think that we think of everything but no. We are so involved that you do not even see the people. 

“You see the ball, the movements of your team-mates, and I thought of that moment that we had to do our best.”

Silva joined in the celebrations that went on into the very early hours of the morning as the players were joined by celebrity City fans including boxer Ricky Hatton and rock star Liam Gallagher.

Following a bleary-eyed bus parade through the city, Silva headed to the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. His summer would get even better when he scored the opening goal in the final, a 4-0 victory over Italy.

A quiet authority

The League Cup final of 2016 marked a high point of a largely disappointing season. Guardiola had been announced as Manuel Pellegrini’s successor at the beginning of February and City’s league challenge petered out.

The Chilean coach, however, did collect his third trophy in three years when City beat Liverpool at Wembley Stadium after a penalty shootout.

While the City players celebrated in the dressing room deep in the bowels of the stadium, Silva asked his Spanish team-mate Manu Garcia if he had been given a winners’ medal. 

The academy youngster had played in two matches on the way to the final but had not made the 18-man squad for the final.

“I said 'no' and he immediately took his off and gave it to me. So that was amazing,” Garcia revealed.

Silva has always made emerging talent feel settled in the imposing first-team environment at City, with a number of the club's young guns having grown up idolising the midfield superstar.

Whether it was Garcia, fellow Spaniard Brahim Diaz or Manchester-born duo Phil Foden and Tommy Doyle, Silva has welcomed them as equals while also illustrated the standards required to make it in the professional game.

His coaches admit that he is never late for training and looks after his body with extra yoga sessions while carefully protecting an ankle problem that has dogged him for years.

It also stands out for senior players in the squad and is why, when Guardiola polled the players on who should captain the club following the departure of Kompany, Silva was selected.

He may not be the loudest or most outspoken publicly, but privately and in the dressing room Silva is effective at getting his message across, leading by example with hard work and belief.

“Some people are leaders shouting and speaking a lot and others have their own way, giving the example,” Guardiola said. 

Kevin De Bruyne, his likely successor as captain, said: "David is very low key but when he speaks everybody listens. I think everybody has his own type of leadership and I think he is somebody who tries to control it in the game and maybe do it in a more silent way.”

Of course, one of the downsides of being an introvert who is made captain is that you are forced to take centre stage for the glory moments. Kompany revelled in being the club's figurehead, but Silva was far less comfortable.

After the 2020 Carabao Cup victory, he had to be cajoled into receiving the trophy, with some of his team-mates enjoying his embarrassment and unease. 

“He has one thing, which is the biggest dream of every footballer, that is the respect from his colleagues, from his team-mates, from his rivals, from his former managers and rival managers too. He has earned it,” Guardiola said. 

“I think this is the biggest dream of every sportsman, getting the recognition from the ones like you, not from the other people that don’t really know.

“There are a lot of people who have a big recognition outside there, but inside the dressing room have no recognition from their team-mates. David is just the opposite. I think this is the best legacy.”

The Guardiola years

While Silva shone under Roberto Mancini and Pellegrini, it was Guardiola that took City and the little maestro to another level.

The Catalan oversaw City become the superior team in England with the kind of dominant football had never been seen in the Premier League before. City won the title with a record 100 points in the 2017-18 season, and Silva was at the forefront.

Guardiola takes risk with a high line and just one holding midfielder behind Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, who in turn operate in free roles just behind a front-three but with the task of winning the ball back.

Those close to him say Silva was given a new energy by a more advanced attacking role while the urgency to win the ball back played into his undersold tenacity.

“Now I had more contact with the ball than when I played as winger,” he said. “I have found myself very comfortable, really. 

“[Guardiola] improved the team in every way, from the goalkeeper to the forwards, which made the team grow.”

Away from the pitch, the Spanish compatriots share a special bond after coming through a desperate situation with humanity and understanding.

Silva's 'Centurions' season was shattered in early December when his son Matteo was born extremely prematurely in Valencia and was left fighting for his life.

David Silva

Guardiola’s immediate response was to allow his player to choose what he wanted to do, to come and go between Manchester and Spain as much as he wanted.

He missed a game against Spurs, and when De Bruyne scored the second goal, the Belgian sought out a TV camera and made the numbers two and one with his fingers to show the dressing room’s love for their absent team-mate.

Before kick-off, Guardiola had delivered a resounding message in his pre-match team talk while the seriousness of the situation was kept secret from the public.

“Today you have to win for one reason. We have to win for David Silva and his girlfriend Jessica. He’s f*cking suffering,” he told his players. 

“When you go out there, you enjoy, enjoy it for him. And if you go out there and we suffer, suffer for him. And remember the situation. Today I want to win for David Silva and his girlfriend and his family. Is that clear?”

The City boss knew that Silva could get away from the pain and anxiety on the pitch, and incredibly he played 18 times between Matteo’s birth and the day he was allowed home from hospital in May.

All the time he was commuting between the countries, getting his escape on the pitch and checking his phone for updates as soon as he returned to the dressing room.

With the title wrapped up he missed the final game of the season and the parade celebrations on a glorious May day in Manchester.

But while more than 100,000 fans took the streets to thank their heroes for an unforgettable campaign, it was Silva who starred again with a short video filmed on his mobile phone and shown on giant screens.

“I want to say thank you to the fans, my team-mates, the staff, club and especially to the manager for understanding my situation,” he said while cradling his son. “You are a top human being.”

The final farewell

Between Spain and City, Silva has won every medal available. All expect one - the Champions League

Silva's final kick for the club was chasing the missing piece in the jigsaw for what would have been the perfect finish had he signed off in Lisbon by lifting the trophy.

It did not happen. His City career petered out in a six-minute cameo in a dismal 3-1 defeat to French side Lyon.

He once admitted that he dreamt of winning the European competition, but other than a 2016 semi-final when Pellegrini’s defensive tactics failed to seriously threaten Real Madrid, he has never come close as he or the club would have wanted. 

That dream remains unfulfilled, and he nows heads off on a new adventure with Real Sociedad. It is to his credit that he has opted for a top European league, with his desire to win silverware still burning. 

The Covid-19 outbreak has, however, robbed him of the emotional send-off he would have got in his final appearance at the Etihad Stadium. 

City fans even tried to arrange a guard of honour for the City team bus ahead of the Champions League clash with Real Madrid in August, but it was shut down by police for safety reasons. 

DeBruynequote

"It's a shame that David won't be able to say goodbye and for the fans to show their appreciation of him and say thank you for the time spent here because he's been phenomenal and a phenomenal person as well," Dickov says.

"They never forget and they want to give players the best send-off they can. It's just a shame that it won't be after he's played an actual game."

In some ways, it was the ideal send-off for the shy and reticent Silva as he disappears with the minimum of fuss.

For his final Premier League appearance, Silva was substituted in the 85th minute of the 5-0 victory over Norwich City and was hugged by his team-mate before he left the pitch, clapping all four corners of the empty ground in the process.

Back in the changing room, Silva received a call from chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, who thanked him for his services to the club.

Like Kompany before him, it has been confirmed that a statue will be built of Silva outside the Etihad to commemorate his achievements with City, while he will return to the stadium to say a proper farewell once fans are allowed back inside.

When he does return, it will be to a very different club to the one he first arrived at 10 years ago, with Silva's impact key.

"You cannot put a finger on his career in England, and I think he is one of the best players in the Premier League who has come from outside [England]. That says it all," team-mate De Bruyne said.

“When someone can break past the club lines and achieve recognition from the supporters of other teams at a global level, that’s when a legend is born and that is what you are David," Aguero wrote in a forward to a book about his time at the club.

"Signing anybody with his way of playing and his quality is very difficult, especially replacing his competitiveness, not only his quality," Guardiola told DAZN .

Silva, quite simply, will be irreplaceable.

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