It has now been a decade that Manchester City have spent in the Arabian desert sun.
Abu Dhabi’s money has allowed them the best of everything: the best training facilities, the best coach in Pep Guardiola and now simply the best team in England, surely on course to become the first team to retain the Premier League title in a decade.
And in David Silva, City have been able to call on someone who has probably been the best player Premier League of that decade.
City fans do righteous indignation better than just about any other group of supporters, with the debate over their ownership currently receiving most of their attention, but they are right to suggest that Silva’s genius does not receive the wider appreciation it probably deserves.
And it seems curious to say that about someone who has won a World Cup, two European Championships and three Premier League titles.
Since 2010, the extravagance of Silva’s skills have been a gift to English football. In an era where athleticism now supersedes creativity, Silva’s magic lights up matches in that unassuming, undemonstrative fashion of his.
He has the ability and depth of vision that would succeed in any era and what the likes of Brian Clough and John Giles referred to as “moral courage” back in the 1970s.
Silva pairs the bravery of a lion with the agility to make sure he is rarely kicked out of a match.
On Sunday, as Manchester United were put to the sword by a City team who won with plenty of gears to move into, the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic in midfield were left grasping for air.
Guardiola is a leading member of the fan club. “He’s one of the best players I’ve trained, I’ve had a lot at Barca and Bayern, but he’s on that list. I love players who make a step forward in the bad moments and say ‘OK I’m here guys’.”
The slight, quiet Canary Islander’s match-winning contribution to Sunday’s derby is what has come to be expected. His excellence is routine.
Perhaps that is why he does not receive those wider plaudits. United have been one of his favourite opponents, going back to his being the architect of the 6-1 victory in October 2011 that announced the Mancunian tide had turned.
On Sunday, he and namesake Bernardo Silva together combined to put United to the sword, combining for the first goal that was finished by the elder Silva drilling in after the younger had played the ball back from the touchline.
David, 32 compared to Bernardo’s 24, is scoring goals this season at a rate that he has rarely hit during his eight years in Manchester, notching seven from 15 matches and three in three. Kevin de Bruyne’s injuries have barely been noticed.
This is an era where goals define a player, with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s feats warping expectations of what a world star might produce.
Silva’s rate at City is around one in five, though for Spain, for whom he often played further forward until his international retirement in August, he scored 35 times in 125 matches, a slightly better return.
Goalscoring forward players had dominated individual awards until Luka Modric was named as 2018’s best player by both FIFA and UEFA. In England, the PFA award has gone to a forward for each of the ten years save for N’Golo Kante winning as a midfielder in 2017.
The City conspiracists will also point out that Sergio Aguero, the best striker of the era, has not received any such recognition in England, and Silva has been allowed to drop through the cracks, too.
In the three seasons that City have won the Premier League the PFA awards has gone to Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie in 2011-12, Luis Suarez in 2013-14 and Mohamed Salah in 2017-18.
Perhaps now, though, we are seeing the true best of Silva.
Guardiola’s employment of him and De Bruyne either side of Fernandinho in a three-man midfield from the start of last season seemed suicidal in the orthodoxy of English football yet dropping deeper allowed them to become even more dominant than when exploding off the flanks.
With Bernardo Silva stepping in for De Bruyne, as has been necessary this season, then David Silva’s influence has grown yet further.
For Spain, he rarely got to fulfil the central positions, with Xavi and Andres Iniesta fixtures alongside Sergio Busquets, but at City, he receives a higher calling he is made to measure for.
City is a club whose identity and practices have come heavy such scrutiny of late, but Sunday reminded of what they have got right, the football. And Silva’s status as an all-time Premier League great is inarguable.