If one were to award a prize for the single most under-rated football player in the world, Mauro Silva of Deportivo la Coruña would have to be a strong contender. For British football fans, and indeed fans everywhere outside Spain and his native Brazil, he is more than underrated, he is virtually unknown.
And yet one may state with conviction that if Arsenal manage to get the better of Mauro Silva in this week's Champions' League match against Deportivo at Highbury they will come out the winners. Should Vieira, Pires or Henry or anyone else doubt that Mauro – as he is known – is the key man for a team who have beaten Manchester United twice this season and who swept aside Juventus 10 days ago, let them ask their French team-mate Zidane, or Figo, or Raul, or any other of the superstars who play for Deportivo's most recent victims, Real Madrid.
They will say – should they have recovered the power of speech after the massive blow Deportivo inflicted on their morale – that, supremely skilled as they themselves might be, they were eclipsed by the Brazilian; that they threw everything they had at Deportivo in Wednesday's Spanish Cup final but that every move foundered on the rock that was Mauro Silva.
To play the most expensive collection of talent ever assembled – in a cup final, at the Bernabeu, on the very day of Real's 100th anniversary, before the king and queen of Spain, is quite a thing.
For a team with next to no reputation in the game, representing a fishing town of barely 250,000 people, to have gone out and beaten Real – a fair and square 2-1 victory – in a game that meant so much to the legendary Madrid club and their tens of millions of supporters worldwide represented a feat that some in the Spanish press compared to Uruguay's victory against Brazil in the 1950 World Cup final at Rio's Maracana.
Call it the mother of all spoilt parties; call it, as one Spanish paper did, a savage act of profanity. Whatever. It was a massive game. The kind of game that provides the ultimate test of a player's mettle, both as a footballer and as a man. The best player on the pitch, the lion king of the Bernabeu, was Mauro Silva.
Who is Mauro Silva and where, for that matter, does he play? Mauro Silva is the Roy Keane of Deportivo. He plays in the same position as Keane, in midfield just in front of the defence. But he is a more dignified version of the Irishman, a strong but silent type, a player who rises to the big occasion, a man of iron when nerves fray. A family man, about as far removed from the spoilt-brat type as one can imagine, he is a player who leads by mature example. Intelligent but self-effacing off the pitch, he is several steps ahead of most other players on it. If he is an excellent reader of the game in defence, it is also because, at 34 years old, he has been around.
The surprise is that none of the giants of Europe have sought to prise him away from north-west Spain, his home for the last 10 years. Because it is not as if he were some kind of late developer. He won the World Cup in 1994, and he was no bit player. He not only played in every game Brazil played, he started every time and was only substituted once.
He has since won the Spanish league and now the Spanish Cup. What remains is the European Cup. Or perhaps even the goal Deportivo players said they were gunning for in the euphoria of Wednesday's game at the Bernabeu: the big Treble, the one only Manchester United have ever won. Three other teams are competing with Deportivo for that singular achievement, and all three of them, remarkably enough, are in the Spanish side'sChampions' League group: Arsenal, Juventus and Bayer Leverkusen.
Deportivo are the only team with one trophy already in the bag. And since that one, given the nature of the opposition and the magnitude of the game, was as tough as any of the others are likely to be, the prospect of one of the least glamorous teams in Europe repeating the achievement of the fabled Manchester United no longer seems as improbable as it might have done. Should they do so, raise a glass to Mauro Silva, a man who gives the impression that nothing would please him less than to play for one of the flashy clubs. For the quiet Brazilian is the living, breathing spirit of Deportivo – a team whose mighty successes so far, never mind what glories the future may hold, send a message to the whole of the football world that there is more to winning than big money and big names.Reuse content