David Silva and the forgotten, human, side of our heroes
Why we should celebrate David Silva's spirit and strength as much as his skill
The weather outside is what it always is. Cold, windy, nothing like home. It's December, so the differences are even more pronounced... It's colder, windier, as unlike home as it could possibly be.
This December morning, though, you are a happy man.
You are doing something you love, something you've spent your whole life wanting to do, and you're really, really good at it. Some would even say great.
Your partner is back home - along with your two children - preparing for the delivery of a third that is still a ways off, and she's happy.
Until one moment, it isn't.
You get a call from home, you have a word with your boss, and you fly out - right away.
Your partner's gone into labour well ahead of schedule. Too far ahead of schedule. Your third-born is a son. But he is born extremely premature, and as is with such cases, he's in extreme danger...
Before he's learned to live, he'll have to fight for his right to do so. Day after day, he will have to do that.
You are a mental wreck now, worried sick thinking of your baby, of your partner - who is feeling her son's pain more acutely than anyone else can even imagine - but within the week you are back at work.
And you are back to doing it better than most anyone in the world.
Whatever be our line of work, whether it be driving a truck, analysing the risks and gains in the equity market, selling cargo space on an aircraft, belting out words in an attempt to entertain - or rile up - Ronaldo-Messi fans, you don't just flip a switch and get back to being the best at what you do.
The task is made even harder when that line of work puts you in the public eye, puts you under that unforgiving gavel of mob criticism... When a whole bunch of people have invested their money - and more importantly - their souls, their lives, their happiness, in you and your colleagues, when your colleagues depend on you to perform at your best all the time.
How the hell do you do it?
How do you put on an expressionless face and get on with the task at hand, how do you forget your pain and smile and laugh and celebrate - because everyone around you is... And it's awful if you caused even a flicker of a frown to cross their brows.
With Yessica fighting the mental, and acutely physical, pain of the premature childbirth, with Mateo fighting with all his infant will to stay healthy, to stay alive, David decided to do his fighting where he always did it... On the football pitch.
"I don’t know. 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 was going through hell in his personal life.
And yet if he hadn't told the anxious, and slightly worried, world why he'd left the Manchester City camp during those cold December days, if he hadn't explained that he was going to be shuttling between Manchester and Arguineguín for the next three or four months, if he hadn't momentarily suspended his policy of keeping his private life, well, private, we'd never have guessed it.
Because on the football field this season, he was quite simply majestic.
We will - and rightly so - talk about the Kevin De Bruynes, the Leroy Sanes, the Raheem Sterlings, the Edersons, the Sergio Agueros and the Pep Guardiolas after this immense, history-making season for Manchester City, but flying a little under the radar, the man they all call Merlin on the training ground, was as magically brilliant as ever, as pivotal to the City 'system' as ever.
Shut up about the numbers - as impressive as Silva's are - he isn't just about numbers and statistics and logic and objectivity. And it's not just the fact that David Silva is romanticism personified on a football field, a graceful waif of a sportsman who treats that little round thing with more care, and understanding, and genuine, heartfelt love than most anyone else...
It's how he's looked at that Venn Diagram where maths and stats form one set and grace and beauty the other and decided he's going to get some acreage on that awfully small slice of mindspace where the two intersect.
He's been doing it consistently for nigh on a decade now, but this season it was made all the more special because of what he had to endure behind the scenes.
It helped that he had a boss most of us can only dream about, one who's empathetic about your personal life, and educative in your professional one.
"He wants to stay because he enjoys it a lot, but family is the most important thing in life." said Pep Guardiola; a man often accused of treating his players more as chess pieces than actual footballers but a man who showed that he is, at the end of the day, a decent human being.
"It doesn't matter if we drop a lot of points because he is not here. I will never push him. Some days he will be here, some he will be out, it depends how his family is."
It helped that his teammates were the understanding kind. During the first game he missed - Spurs at the Etihad - De Bruyne celebrated by making '21' with his fingers, a sign of love for his midfield partner, while Ederson held up his shirt during the post-match celebrations in the dressing room.
Not one of them complained that he was missing training, or missing crucial games.
What he's done this season is give new meaning to that old Luis Aragones compliment, the one in which the great man said that Silva's got the "most balls" in the Spain squad. Coming from someone who put a lot of stock in the cojones his men possess, that was something.
Silva was always a battler, a man who had a nasty tackle or two in him, a man who as Guardiola says will do it all to win. "You cannot imagine how competitive he is. He is a stylish guy, but he is an animal, always wanting to win games.", but this season he's shown a strength that we must all yearn to possess, a mental fortitude that separates the common folk from the champions.
It's the easiest thing in the world to get angry at our heroes, to shout at TV screens with a beer in one hand and some peanuts in the other, telling them they really ought to have done this rather than that just because you were able to hit a maniacal combination of L1, T3, R2, X and O with surprisingly quick reflexes on your PlayStation controller...
It's easier still to love them, to put them on a plinth, to ignore their wrongs, to pretend they are something more than us, to pretend that what affects us won't affect them, to pretend that they are not really one of us.
It's easy, and it's wrong.
Every now and then, they go through hell, just like us... and like us, they have a choice - fight or flight.
When they choose the former, how dare we not celebrate it.