David Silva: The family man and footballer balancing his priorities to help Manchester City
"David is a guy with a lot of technical skills and this league is so complicated because of the physicality and the weather conditions but he survives; he’s been one of the best players in England for a long time now." - Pep Guardiola
It's hard to justify how 'one of the best players in England' has only been selected in the PFA Team of the Year just once in his career - when Manchester City won their first Premier League title in 2011/12. 6 goals and a remarkable 15 assists had seen to that.
And yet, now aged 32, David Silva refuses to be out of the limelight with admirably consistent performances every season. Not that he craves it, mind you. The limelight simply has no choice but to bathe him in its warm glow.
No matter how many players come and go at the Etihad, Silva refuses to be pushed to the back seat. The Spaniard may not have played as many games as the regulars this season (due to personal reasons) but he still has 8 goals and 9 assists in the league - more than Mesut Ozil, Cesc Fabregas, and Dele Alli.
Kevin De Bruyne will most likely walk away with the Player of the Year trophy this season with Manchester City on the cusp of winning their third Premier League title in seven seasons; what with 7 goals and 14 assists.
But there is no question that Silva still pulls the strings of this side in midfield. Gone are the long locks, replaced by a bald head easily visible to anyone watching the game unfold. And yet, defenders have a tough time picking his quiet runs into dangerous positions before it is too late.
Silva has adapted to De Bruyne's arrival and continued to deliver
At a time when everyone fretted over how Arsenal would play two no.10s in Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan together in the same team, Guardiola had been doing it all season with Silva and De Bruyne.
Most sides are built around the most creative player on the pitch and everyone thought Guardiola would be faced with the tough choice of benching one of Silva or De Bruyne. Instead, he deployed them both - even without a pure defensive midfielder to play behind them - and it worked.
Their constant movement ensured City always maintained possession (highest in the league with more than 66%). Their positioning deterred counter-attacks when they lost the ball. And City's high line only restricted space in midfield, allowing both midfielders to press their opponents in tight spaces - either to win the ball back of force a mistake.
"Normally this kind of play you think is not huge competitor, or not a fighter, doesn't help the team defensively, but David is a good example that in modern football you have play in both sides [of the game]." - Guardiola
Watch the two players off the ball and you constantly see them switch positions to get the best out of any situation. If De Bruyne advances, Silva drops deep. If one drifts wide the other moves to the centre. Their tactics revolve around finding space to receive a pass and then initiating an attack.
Although De Bruyne is tasked with the high-risk-high-reward passes, Silva is more than happy to control the tempo of the game and pick his passes. And his latest brace on a cold night in Stoke only showed he can still make those midfield runs into the box and score under pressure.
City are a few results away from sealing the league title. However, the last thing on Silva's mind right now is a Premier League medal.
Family comes first - always
At the turn of the year, Silva missed a few games for Manchester City and, at the time, the club only cited personal reasons for his absence from the matchday squad.
The seriousness of the matter only came to light when Silva posted on Twitter that his newborn son Mateo was born prematurely and fighting for his life. De Bruyne had even dedicated his goal against Tottenham to Silva and his son, holding up his hands to form the number '21' - Silva's jersey number.
When the question of his absence was put forth to Guardiola, the manager immediately responded by saying Silva could take as much time off as he needed.
"He’s free to stay or leave... Family is the most important thing in life. It doesn’t matter if we drop a lot of points because he is not here. I will never push him." - Guardiola
Silva was given time off so he could take care of his family in Valencia. With his son's life at stake, his Catalan manager allowed him to take all the time he needed before getting back but Silva still trained alone even when he was in Valencia.
The time off and the personal problems may have affected any other player's form but it seemed to reinvigorate Silva. In his last four games - including the League Cup final - Silva has four goals and an assist, playing the full 90 minutes in three fixtures and 87 minutes in the fourth.
Ask him how he can still carry on in such a rich vein of form despite the troubles that plague him off the pitch, he tells us that football helps him forget.
“I think when I play football I forget everything, it's good for me to play. I know in my private life it is not a very happy moment, but my son is fighting. I am very happy because he is getting stronger, getting better, so it is ok." - David Silva
Cementing his legacy at Manchester City
It has been nearly a decade since Silva first shined at Valencia. El Chino as he was called back in Spain, Silva was a man who refused to back down even when the going got tough for the diminutive midfielder.
Real Madrid had rejected him as a kid. Barcelona had tried to sign him when he became a professional. And yet it was Manchester City who eventually got their man as they looked to build a squad capable of upsetting the established hierarchy of the Premier League table.
Now, with one hand on a third league title, City have the chance to win the trophy when they face their arch rivals - Manchester United. A win in the Manchester derby at the Etihad on 7 April could potentially see the league leaders lift the title with an insurmountable points gap.
It was Silva who orchestrated the power shift in Manchester all those years ago when City demolished United 6-1 at Old Trafford. If results do go City's way, Silva will have the opportunity to stamp his authority on the rivalry and hopefully have a tale to tell his dear son Mateo when he grows up.