Poster Boy Silva insists he has steel as well as style
City's talented Spanish midfielder tells Ian Herbert how he has shaken off doubts about his size and homesickness to become one of the key figures in the Eastlands revolution
Manchester City knew there were no guarantees that David Silva – the boy from Arguineguin, a tiny piece of the Canary Island coastline – would find that he could live and work as a free spirit in chilly northern England.
The club went to some fairly extraordinary lengths to help him – City's Spain scout Rob Newman visited Silva's house in Valencia to ensure that the club's head of player liaison, Hayden Roberts, could offer him something similar. The unhappy north London sojourn of Jose Antonio Reyes, the Spaniard who never settled at Arsenal, played on a few minds at the highest levels of the club. "David comes from a part of Spain where traditionally they find it hard to adapt when they move," said one of those heavily involved in bringing the Spaniard to City. "It doesn't matter how much money you are paying. You are asking yourself: 'Will he adapt? Will he settle?'"
The answer to these questions is to be found in the broad grin and the sparkling wide eyes of a player settled at a table in the surrounds of City's training ground at Carrington this week, already comfortable in the elegant "Mercer jacket" he will wear when he walks out at Wembley today, its design based on the one City's legendary manager Joe Mercer often sported. It is fair to say that Silva has not yet culturally devoured Manchester – the delights of the Instituto Cervantes on Deansgate evidently still await and it is the Spanish TV channels for a player who still speaks through a translator – but he is delighting in the anonymity his new home affords him. "The thing that has surprised me, amazed me is that you can just have a normal life. You can just go out," Silva says. "In Spain it's really tough to go anywhere because people are in your face. Here, it's marvellous."
This "normal life" will not belong to him indefinitely. Silva has so epitomised the brand values that City want all their players to exude – clean-cut image, no hassle, a World Cup winner – that he is to be the main focus of a forthcoming club ad campaign which uses a number of players' faces. For City's marketeers it is happy coincidence that Silva also happens to fuse east and west – his mother, Eva, is of Japanese descent. He is the 21st-century footballer in every way.
The prospect of this 25-year-old becoming the epitome of all things City – a role which the club had always envisaged the equally clean-cut Kaka fulfilling before he turned down their approaches to join them and left Milan for Real Madrid instead – seemed improbable amid his low-key arrival last summer. Somehow, the midfielder did not quite fire the British public's imagination in those early days. Maybe it was his place on the margins of Spain's World Cup squad. Maybe because the signing was agreed in the final week of June, when everyone was fixated on the events in South Africa.
Silva wanted it that way. "I like a nice, quiet life," he says. "I settled in really quickly – that was the key – and that was down to my team-mates and everyone else at the club, helping that settling-in period go so quickly." But it was not a retiring personality that struck Shay Given on the fields of Carrington – rather, a combative individual akin to Tottenham's Luka Modric. "He'll bring real presence to the team. He can drift into little gaps and holes, he can see through-balls and that killer pass," Given enthused. Silva also quickly revealed the ability to take a kicking which led one former team-mate at Valencia to declare that the midfielder must have horchata for blood. (Horchata is Valencia's famously ice-cool drink.) Everyone sees this feistiness – former Spain coach Luis Aragones once insisted Silva had the "most balls" in his squad – and it is when the size issue surfaces in our conversation that a mild indignation surfaces in the midfielder, who stands six inches short of six feet. "The fact there are lots and lots of small footballers, some even smaller than me, in English football shows that size doesn't matter," he says. Which certainly also applies when, as today, Stoke City are the opposition, he adds. "We know they are a big side and play with a lot of aggression. We know they will be hard to beat, but at the same time it's a final and we go in there with a lot of desire and belief that we can beat them."
This is the way they make them on the streets of Arguineguin, where at the age of four Silva was kicking oranges and potatoes around the streets until his father, Fernando, tired of him taking them and made a ball out of cloths and rags for him and his cousin, Ranzel, to play with instead. The Silva story has been full of the homesickness after he left Gran Canaria for Valencia's youth academy – "You can't fool a grandmother," said the family matriarch Antonia Montesdeoca, who took the 13-year-old's solemn telephone calls back then – but toughness is the overriding factor. Aged five, Silva was a ball boy for Arguineguin when he broke his arm. He had it put in a cast but was back on duty the next week.
This background has aided his mutual understanding with the boy from Fuerte Apache, Carlos Tevez, which may be entering its final three games today. Silva's yearning for the Argentine to stay is certainly more fulsome than his manager's. "He's a vital player for us... a reference for the side and the real key player for Manchester City," Silva says of Tevez. "He's great to play alongside and I feel at ease with him, very comfortable. He makes things easy. He's [also] a real character, not just as a player but he is a top guy and it's very important he stays...." Only when it's slightly too late does Silva's diplomacy kick in. "But at the end of the day it's not my decision. He's a great player but we've got others in addition." Even more great players would be welcome, especially Cesc Fabregas: "If only he could come [to City], it would be great, marvellous. He treats the ball as his friend and I get on with him well. It would be great."
Silva's desire to see Tevez stay is borne of the fact that football has delivered him surprisingly few medals – only the 2008 Copa del Rey in the domestic game – during his six years in the first-team with Valencia, who were latterly on their uppers and facing the ruination brought by a £330m debt. When Xavi and Andres Iniesta have bent the conversation with Silva towards City, during international breaks in the past year, the talk has been of potential, rather than its fulfilment. "They have mentioned [my club] and it is there for all to see City are on the way up, growing and moving in the right direction. We have chatted about one day facing each other in the Champions League. But what you have to notice about Barcelona is that it hasn't happened overnight. They've been working in the same style for a good number of years now. Everyone there knows his job when they go out on that field and has confidence in what they want to achieve. They all work hard.
"I suppose it will be nothing abnormal for people to be talking about Manchester United on a European level because of what they've achieved over the last few years and trophies won, but it would be a good sign towards what we are achieving now and in the future if City was the name on the lips of people in Europe."
The Spanish nation is not even faintly aware of Silva's involvement today in a game which will capture much of Britain's attention, Silva admits. "I don't even know if it's on live television back home," he says. But the meaning of today and the significance attached to ending City's 35-year wait for a major trophy is one that resonates with him. "[Winning the FA Cup] would be just as meaningful for me [as taking international trophies] in the sense that it's been a good while since City won a trophy or even got into a final," he says. "I know how important it is for the people who follow this club. It's important I can give something to them; give them a victory."
Before that wish can be fulfilled, there is the small – or rather the large – question of Stoke. Mario Balotelli said last week that he had never witnessed a side quite like them, though Silva dismisses the notion that a squad of such physicality are a particularly unwelcome opposition for such a diminutive embodiment of the pass-them-to-death style . Though he laughs and shakes his head at the notion of there being a "Spanish Stoke," there is. Athletic Bilbao have had their moments, lumping balls forward to 6ft 5in striker Fernando Llorente, and Silva will also have had his share of batterings at Osasuna, with Walter Pandiani playing up front.
"I thought we played pretty well at Stoke [in November]," Silva reflects. "They scored a late goal to equalise but we had been on top." His pronunciation of the name of the Potteries city which is beyond most of the guide books to Britain on sale back in Spain is impressive. But then the post-industrial north is the new domain of David Silva and he's well at home in it.
Silva's Medal Collection
Despite winning both the European Championship and World Cup with Spain, David Silva has yet to pick up many domestic honours. Silva has won only one club medal, the 2008 Copa del Rey while he was with Valencia. He was in the B side when Rafael Benitez's team won the treble of La Liga, Uefa Cup and European Super Cup in 2004 and Los Che were in decline when Silva became a first-team regular in 2006.
He played in the final of Euro 2008 against Germany, clashing with Lukas Podolski before being substituted, but was on the bench for last year's World Cup final against the Netherlands.
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