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26th Jun 2019

David Silva is the greatest player the Premier League has ever seen

Kyle Picknell

We have only one year left of El Mago, cherish every single moment

Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. So the Daft Punk song goes. That was the meat and potatoes philosophy of the time, the defining mantra of the Premier League years where physicality and aggression and masculinity were the dominant forces of the time, where craft and guile and cunning were left to the rare foreign imports that slowly turned the tide and shifted the opinion of the all-knowing British football fan. Maybe there was another way. Maybe “getting the fuck at them” wasn’t the be all and end all.

Maybe you could be softer, slower and weaker, and that wouldn’t matter if you had a first touch like a leaf in the breeze dropping into the long grass and moved as a smooth, rounded stone does, skip-gliding across the face of the water, barely even moving at all.

David Silva wasn’t the first lithe playmaker to teleport into the Barclays, get called ‘too lightweight’ for a short while before gradually taking over, dismantling the huff and puff freneticism of the traditional English style into something else entirely, moulding the red molten steel of the game into their own deliberate-tempo, give-and-go siege-against-the-castle defences. But he has been the most cruelly effective.

Before it was simply a case of parking up a trebuchet filled with rocks and firing them at the walls, but modern defences, typically entrenched in two deep banks of a four and a five, aren’t split open by the blunt force trauma of a target man, early crossing and an optimistic, happy-go-lucky attitude.

They need some finesse, an incognito lock-picker between the lines, a player to receive the ball in the most impossible spaces and move it forward at an equally impossible angle, a slow-moving vortex of light to draw everything toward it. And fling everything away again.

Nobody has done this on our shores better than David Silva, who has silently always been the most magnificent player to ever grace the Premier League.

The 11 major honours here and 125 Spain caps, in the midst of the most talented generation of midfielders ever assembled by a national side, speak for themselves. As does a World Cup medal and two European Championships. Despite this, there seems to be something obvious lacking about David Silva’s pedigree when held up against the players typically regarded as the Premier League’s best ever.

Utter his name in the same breath as Bergkamp and Henry, Shearer and Cantona, Scholes and Keane and Vieira and Zola and people will react as though you’ve just told them they have sauce dribbling down their chin. No, no, to the left a bit. Yeah still there. Ok, you’ve got it. You’re fine. All gone.

Why is that? Let me be blunt: he more than belongs amongst those names. In truth, he is better than all of them ever were.

Maybe it’s to due to the fondness people hold for the past, but in particular that eminently graspable period only ten to twenty years ago. It is long enough ago to feel distant but not long enough ago for it to dim in the memory. It is still bright and clear in the mind’s eye, Henry in that dazzling red and white O2 Arsenal shirt bringing Highbury to its feet, Cantona nonchalantly erecting his greyish white Umbro collar, leisurely turning around like the best assembled Bakewell tart on a rotating cake stand.

This is the power of nostalgia: it both creates a sudden fondness and urge to venture back to a specific time and place but it also satiates it, too, with a longing that is warm and fuzzy enough to make you feel something like how you felt back then. Nostalgia is an infliction but also its own intravenous drip, the cause and the cure. David Silva doesn’t yet have that on his side. I fear for the other all-timers once he does.

There are other reasons, of course. The numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping for an attacking midfielder – he has only reached double figures for goals in one Premier League season – and, for entirely different reasons, he will likely never go down as Manchester City’s greatest ever. Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero were both more decisive in the big moments, Vincent Kompany arguably meant more in terms of the grand architecture of the club.

But none of the above should stop him from being considered the best player the Premier League has seen on purely footballing terms. And Silva is precisely the kind of footballer people will reminisce about long after he is gone. His legacy and the longing for him will only grow. There will be talk of all the things he could do that nobody else could, doe-eyed monologues about that instant side-foot control and volley caressed into the path of Edin Dzeko against Manchester United, a pass so staggeringly delicate, both in terms of imagination and execution, that it doesn’t even resemble a footballing movement or action. It’s lightyears away. It’s a curling stone being brushed between the barely perceptible cracks and divots of the ice.

That’s what he was more than anything else: football, differently. That’s how he will be remembered.

For now, we have a year left, another season of everything he has given us for the previous nine. A deeper aesthetic and tactical understanding of football, maybe, but then again not everybody is looking for that. Certainly a sea change in the form of all his quiet, devastating moments of unhurried brilliance, all the little runs, shimmies and pauses that built up over the course of a spell of possession, a single game, a season, and now a decade. The inevitable slow pressure cooker of one-twos and slide rule passes and intelligent, instinctive attacking build-up that eventually lead to a goal. Or a title. Or a lasting, semi-eternal state of awe.

The smooth, rounded stone has one more lightspeed jolt across the face of the water, and it will be gone. Time will pass, the yearning for it will swell and ache, and you will feel more strongly about it than you ever did. Above all else, you will remember it. How it felt in your hand. How it moved. How it made you feel. How it reminded you of a player you used to love watching more than anyone else.