David Silva: 'Past our best? Spain are getting better'
Manchester City playmaker says that his country can beat the odds by winning a fourth successive trophy in Brazil
Sunday 18 May 2014
For a man generally so unhurried on the pitch and off it, David Silva suddenly speaks with urgent defiance. The Manchester City playmaker is discussing the World Cup, and one of the biggest questions underscoring Brazil 2014: are Spain's defending champions finally past their best?
"I don't think we've declined," Silva insists. "It's very difficult to maintain that level after so many years, especially after winning three trophies, that nobody has done."
There's a clear edge to the response, as he emphasises Spain's unprecedented achievement in winning successive European Championships and a World Cup over the last six years. There's also a strong sense the suggestion badly bothers this squad, especially since Silva is known as one of its most laid-back members. That defiance may well be crucial for them.
There can be no disputing Spain's aura of excellence has been affected over the last year, to the point they are no longer favourites for the World Cup. Their last trip to Brazil seemed to confirm that, as the host nation took them apart in the 2013 Confederations Cup final. That 3-0 humiliation was not just this Spanish generation's biggest defeat in a competitive game since winning Euro 2008. It again raised questions about their style of play, and the physical state of so many established players. The likes of Xavi looked like six years of success had caught up with them.
At 28, though, Silva is one of Spain's few key players who could be considered in his absolute prime. He has just enjoyed one of his most impressive seasons, winning the Premier League title at Manchester City. Silva also produced one of the champions' most urgently defiant moments, scoring a divine opening goal in the 2-0 win at Hull City just five minutes after Vincent Kompany's early red card.
"I think I'm in a good moment," Silva says. "I'm happy here [in Manchester] too."
That is crucial given interest in him from Barcelona, as he remains one of the few starting players from outside Spain's big two clubs.
"These four years I've been here, I feel good, and I think things have come out well. It's more physical here, quicker. You have to adapt and still apply your own good qualities, but while learning others. I think you do pick up experience. You're more adult, especially football-wise, and that helps."
Since he made his debut in the 1–0 friendly home defeat against Romania in November 2006, Silva has grown into one of Spain's central players. During the victorious Euro 2012 campaign, he was deployed as the much-discussed "false nine", in a system many thought boring.
"Boring?" Silva bristles. "In the end, we won! And, on top of that, we won the final [against Italy] 4-0. Boring, nah... to win 4-0 and in games like that is hugely difficult."
Silva also argues the system was merely a response to the extreme defensive football Spain faced. Their dominance of possession has meant opponents looking to deny all space around the box. He points to one of Spain's main rivals, and how Germany set up in the 2010 semi-final.
"They came like... with a little fear. The game started and they didn't play like they had beforehand, when they won so many games so well. There was a lot of respect towards us. They knew that, if they gave us space, we can do a lot of damage.
"It is difficult. When a team puts everyone back, but we adapted and, every time, we've got better."
The question after the Brazil defeat is whether the rest are adapting to Spain and stopped paying the defending champions too much respect. Silva points to the defiant response: Spain won 1-0 in the vital qualification match away to France.
"Brazil are an incredible team, they beat us in the Confederations, but this is a different context. That's the past, no? We have to think of the present. I believe we qualified very well for the World Cup, in a difficult group, with France, who deserve respect. I believe we're on good form.
"There is the age [of some players], but you never know in football. I think the future is good. A lot of young players are coming through, good players, putting pressure on."
One of those is Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa, who switched nationality from Brazil, and provides Spain with the prime striker they lacked in Euro 2012. Silva praises "his pace, his power". Costa is the one major change to the team, but Silva maintains Spain do not need to alter their style. He again becomes animated.
"Why would we change? We've done very well with this style. There's no need to change it."
No side has retained the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, no team has won four major international trophies in a row, no European team has won one in South America.
"But stats are there to be broken..." Spain have done that before.
This is a shortened version of an interview with David Silva in Rabona Magazine for their World Cup special issue, in shops tomorrow. Also order online at: rabonamag.com/buy
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