A season-ticket holder can go home after watching David Silva for 90 minutes and rest assured they got their money’s worth.
Which is why the prospect of the Spaniard, whose contract ends this summer, playing his last ever game for Man City in an empty stadium is tinged with tragedy. If behind-closed-doors games are deemed unfeasible – nothing is certain at this stage – it would mean El Mago’s final outing for the club he’s represented for ten seasons was the FA Cup game at a half-empty Hillsborough.
Both outcomes are unsatisfactory for a player of who has earned legendary status before retirement.
If Vincent Kompany was the drummer who kept City in time, and Sergio Aguero the lead singer so often in the spotlight, Silva is the bassist playing understated grooves to which you bob your head and tap your feet.
It is an insult to diminish the Spaniard to stats, so often the way to a false representation of such players. But that’s not to say his numbers aren’t impressive. In 301 Premier League appearances, he’s scored 57 goals and provided 90 assists. That means he’s close to a goal involvement every other league game for City — in this regard, he is statistically more productive than Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
The next thing fans of the future will check when researching Silva is his honours. They’ll scroll down to the bottom of his Wikipedia profile and see four Premier League titles, two FA Cups, five League Cups and some Community Shields as garnish. A stately haul but one that fails to do justice.
For a serial winner (let’s not forget his hat-trick of international trophies from 2008 – 2012) he is best considered aesthetically, a joy for joy’s sake. Something that can’t be conveyed through Wikipedia, Transfermarkt or even YouTube. To comprehend the extent of his genius, you have to immerse yourself in the full experience.
I once attended Selhurst Park as Crystal Palace hosted City in an FA Cup game. Since I don’t support either club, I wasn’t particularly invested in the routine win for the visitors. So I decided to focus solely on Silva for a third of the game, something I had always wanted to try at a live game.
Watching only Silva allowed me to gauge his manipulation of space, his anticipation, the frequency with which he is noting the positions of both his team-mates and opponents. When he exchanges five-yard passes with the left-back, he does so to draw a man another yard up the pitch so that when he gets the ball back three passes later, there is space to play the winger in behind.
When people talk about playmakers dictating games, this is what they mean.
He’ll take a first touch that allows him to slip past his man and you recognise it as something that deserves appreciation, but your distracted by the rest of the move – perhaps even a goal – and so you forget how it started.
Some of Silva’s greatest moments in a City shirt wouldn’t have made Match of the Day’s highlights package, they wouldn’t have been replayed on Sky Sports. They are, however, embedded in your subconscious. So when Silva next receives the ball, you experience a Pavlovian response of satisfaction. The ball just looks better at his feet, it shimmers.
In recent years, people have been keen to slot Silva at a specific standing among all the midfielders in Premier League history; a fool’s pursuit. Silva’s whole shtick is that he defies categorisation by operating outside tangibles, by delighting in the game’s subtleties. In an age when fans, fuelled by social media, are desperate to rank everything and ascertain that Player A is better than Player B because of Reason X, Silva is mockingly impalpable.
You can campaign for him to be recognised as one of the greatest midfielders to ever grace English soil. Or you could argue he is more no than a good player in a successful team. Either way, you’d be missing the point.
Silva is not just a playmaker of wizardry.
He was 30 years old when Pep Guardiola was appointed at Eastlands. With nothing to prove, few would have complained had he slipped into a subsidiary role, overseeing the development of younger players and acting as a touchpoint for new signings. Instead, he adapted to Guardiola’s demands and harnessed the competitive streak that had always underpinned his effortless style.
Much has been made about City’s tactical fouls in recent years and while Fernandinho mastered the art swiftly, Silva’s added nastiness should not be underestimated. He’s even seemed to complain to referees more often. This reinvention enhanced his whole game. 2017/18 was arguably his best season in a City shirt.
The modern stats revolution has sought to quantify the incorporeal nature of creative midfielders. Expected assists, chance creation, line-breaking pass volume; they all seek to commit playmaking to spreadsheets. While such numbers flatter Silva and go some way to revealing his secrets, they still don’t get to the crux of him. That’s because his pursuit is an artistic endeavour. One could no more explain his brilliance with a graph than one could describe the Mona Lisa to a blind man.
So while Silva may be denied the ceremonial send-off he deserves at Man City. It would almost be fitting if he were to slip away and leave us wondering what it was we actually witnessed. An exit befitting a magician.