Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

Man City fans have been treated to a whole glut of contract renewals recently, with talisman striker Sergio Agüero the latest to commit himself to the club until 2019, alongside attacking midfielder Samir Nasri and club captain Vincent Kompany; Serbian left-back Aleksandar Kolarov penned a new deal keeping him at City until 2018 earlier in the summer.

Rumours abound that City will announce next week the further contract extensions of keeper Joe Hart and in-form striker Edin Džeko. Together with the Yaya Touré cake-gate scandal finally being laid to rest (the Ivorian vowed to honour his contract last month), plus the acquisition of long-term targets Willy Cabellero, Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala, this summer has been a fruitful one for Blues boss Manuel Pellegrini and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain. There has been one contract extension that has caught the eye of City fans more than most, however, generating buzzes of optimism and excitement usually reserved for the arrival of new players. Whilst the fact that Agüero and Captain Fantastic Kompany have committed themselves to the club is of course incredibly important, there is one player in the current City team whom most fans consider to be one of the best ever to pull on a Sky Blue shirt. The fact that said player will still be at the Etihad in 2019, when he is 33; the fact that said player has committed himself and his mercurial, magician-like talents to City during the best years of his career, is daze-inducing to most Blues fans. Of all the players to declare their loyalty to the City cause this week, none might be more important or influential than City’s own Iberian wing wizard, David Silva. But just how much of an impact has the Canarian had since arriving in Manchester four years ago? And is Silva truly one of the greatest City players of all time?

The Spaniard’s first game at the Etihad was back in the days when City played at the plain old City of Manchester Stadium; his kit was decidedly orange, and it’s a fair bet that a high proportion of the paltry 25,000 crowd that day went home cursing his name. Why? Silva was playing against City, in 2007’s Thomas Cook Trophy, representing Spanish side Valencia, whom he signed for as a 14 year old. After loan spells at Celta de Vigo and SD Eibar, Silva made 163 appearances for Valencia’s first team, scoring 30 goals and making 33 (all stats courtesy of transfemarkt.co.uk). Following on from the Arguineguín-born play-maker’s excellent Euro 2008 campaign, which saw his country Spain proclaimed Champions thanks in part to his great efforts (1 goal and 1 assist in 5 games), Valencia rejected a bid from Manchester United for their highly-sought after midfielder. With Liverpool and Spurs also keen on signing the Spaniard, things could have been rather different for both City and Silva alike.

Fast forward to 2010, and there had been less a sea-change, more a full-scale revolution at City; then manager Sven-Göran Eriksson, now disgraced ex-chairman Thaksin Shinawatra and shirt sponsor Thomas Cook had all fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by the journalist’s dream that is Roberto Mancini, the now omnipresent Etihad Airways and a much more competent Sheikh Mansour. Silva, brought to the club during Mancini and (believe it or not) Garry Cook’s watch, was joined by a quintet of other new signings, including Touré, Kolarov and Mario Balotelli, players oozing the sort of class, finesse and potential as then unseen by City fans in the modern era. Immediately desirous of success with the Blues, particularly after a mixed-bag of a World Cup in South Africa – Spain won the tournament in 2010, but Silva played for only 66 minutes – City’s new signing lived up to his namesake and achieved silverware for City in his first season, shaking off claims he’d be too lightweight for English football by helping his side lift their first trophy for 35 years – 2010/11’s FA Cup – and gain qualification to the Champions League for the first time since its 1992 rebranding.

That year Silva played over 3,802 minutes of football for the Blues, starting 44 games in all competitions and appearing as a substitute a further 9 times. The Spaniard scored 4 goals in the League and 1 apiece in Europe and the FA Cup, plus made 14 assists in total, giving him a whoscored.com rating of 7.14 for the season. Things had really started to fall into place for City’s new fleet-of-foot creative specialist in the Blues’ tough away win against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road; though only on the pitch for 25 minutes of that October game, Silva still found time to set up Tevez for City’s opener, waltz through the Tangerines’ defence like Fred Astaire and score an exquisite injury-time winner for City himself. Other notable 2010/11 performances include Silva’s part in the 5-0 demolition of Sunderland at the Etihad, and his crucial assist against Reading in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, which secured the only goal of the game – and a Wembley showdown with United.

It was a match against City’s greatest rivals the following season which would really serve to show Blues fans just what a gem they had on their hands in the little play-maker from Gran Canaria. Having got off to an incredible start in 2011/12, linking up fantastically with new boy Agüero in City’s first game of the season, versus Swansea, plus producing an attacking display of such verve and tenacity against a hapless Wigan side that the whole Etihad was left drooling, Silva and the rest of the City team took the short trip to Old Trafford to face their neighbours in the first derby of the season. What occurred would have seemed like hyperbole to even the most ardent of City fans the night before; put simply, the Blues tore their bitter foes apart, and Silva was the fulcrum of such a display. From his inch-perfect pass that spliced United’s makeshift defence apart and allowed Dzeko to make it six, to his own superbly taken goal, nobody could get near Silva on the pitch, and the Spaniard’s performance really epitomised just how far City had come. Even greater feats were to follow from Silva and his colleagues that year; with a total of 8 goals and 21 assists in all competitions, including an astonishing 17 assists in the league, few players had a greater impact on City’s domestic triumph than the Spanish midfielder. Agüero’s mind-blowing stoppage time goal against QPR can rightly be regarded as THE most important City goal ever, but lest we forget, Džeko had scored a sublime and vital headed equaliser minutes earlier from a brilliant corner delivered by, you guessed it, Silva.

What brings a wry smile to this City fan’s face about that little fact is that, compared to the rest of his game, our Spanish wizard’s corners are usually atrocious. Still, great players deliver the goods when it matters most, and it seems churlish to complain after such a delivery and such a climax to the barmiest of seasons in 2011/12. One aim for the Blues the following campaign was to try and make an impact on Europe, given the Tevez-shaped shenanigans of the season before. Unfortunately, City crashed out of the 2012/13 Champions League at the group stage for the second season running. In 2011/12 the Blues had amassed a high group stage points total of 10 without getting through to the Round of 16. A year later, they suffered the ignominy of finishing with the lowest ever points tally by an English club – an embarrassing 3. If Silva had not been suffering from a hamstring injuring during the two matches with Ajax, the Blues may have at least qualified for the Europa League.

Overall, 2012/13 was a season of consistently creative displays from Silva, rather than the fantastic explosiveness of the season before. During a difficult time for the club, with Mancini’s tenure becoming more and more untenable, and City’s Title being relinquished rather too meekly, Silva helped his side reach an incredibly disappointing FA Cup Final (City lost 1-0 to Wigan), contributing 5 goals and 13 assists from a total of 3, 188 minutes across all competitions. 2013/14 started off in similar vein, with a rather subdued Silva being overshadowed somewhat by the excellent form of Nasri. The arrival of Pellegrini to East Manchester encouraged the team as a whole to nurture their more flamboyant, attacking sides, giving Silva increased competition as City’s main source of inspiration. Whilst Pellegrini’s ethos worked wonders, delighting fans as City raced towards 100 goals by January, Silva struggled with injury yet again, and by the time Kompany had got himself sent off 10 minutes into a crunch fixture against Hull at the KC Stadium, a week after City’s FA Cup and Champions League exits, it seemed as if both Silva and City’s seasons, once so full of promise, were unravelling.

What happened next was the key to City winning their second Title in three years, as Pellegrini said himself at City’s annual pre-season bash in Manchester this week. Showing hitherto unseen levels of leadership, determination and steel, Silva took the game against the Tigers by the scuff of the neck, curling a beaut of a left-footed shot into Hull’s goal in the 14th minute and never letting the game fall from City’s grasp. His pressing, verve and tenacity were incredible throughout, and it seemed only fitting that it was Silva’s assist which Džeko scored from to secure the three points for City. Once again, Silva terrorised Old Trafford in March’s Manchester Derby, which City won 3-0 at a canter, and the Spaniard scored a vital goal against Arsenal at the Emirates. His dogged second-half performance against an emotional Liverpool at Anfield almost wrested the game back in City’s favour, and it seems unsurprising that yet again Silva was absent for one of the worst games of City’s season, a dourly abject 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland, a result the Blues barely deserved.  Although no more goals or assists were to come his way, Silva’s good form for the remainder of the season helped inspire his teammates to the Title, adeptly aided by the excellent Touré, Kompany, Zabaleta and Džeko. Fighting his persistent ankle injury in order to participate in City’s title run-in, Silva could celebrate like it was 2012 on May 11th, 2014, after City’s composed victory against West Ham delivered them their fourth English Title to go with 2013/14’s League Cup. Whereas 2011/12 had all the unheralded joy of novelty and drama, City’s success this year was a class apart, thanks in many ways to Silva’s intricate passing, poise and vision.

Just where this player, and this team, could go next should be enough to send City fans into paroxysms of delight. Although his personal trophy cabinet is surely straining under the weight of success by now – add a Community Shield and a Copa del Rey, plus another European Championship to the silverware already mentioned – the most exciting thing of all is that there is still so much for Silva to aim for, still so many ways in which he can improve. Most obviously, the play-maker needs to work on his shooting this season. Silva is not employed as a goal-scorer by City, but the best midfielders score for fun anyway – just ask Touré and City new-boy Frank Lampard. In 184 appearances for the Blues, Silva has scored 27 goals and made 64, averaging a goal every 6.8 games – a standard that can surely be improved. Likewise, there is one glaring omission from the array of honours won by Silva, one stage on which he has yet to truly prove himself – that of Europe, and the Champions League. City really should be looking to reach the latter stages of the competition this year, and Silva could further etch himself into the history books if he helps take City where they have never been before; all the way to the top table of European football as equals, and victors. After a catastrophic World Cup campaign with Spain this year (the Champions crashed out at the Group Stage), Silva will be raring to prove to the Premier League and beyond just how world class he really is. Comparisons to the likes of Neil Young and Colin Bell are justified, but the one City legend Silva is truly reminiscent of is Georgi Kinkladze. Not since Kinky’s days have City fans been treated to seeing one of their own have such a telepathic understanding of the ball at his feet, and long may it continue. Thanks, David. Here’s to the next five years.                      

 

       

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