Silva: I didn't come here to chase City's gold

As he makes his debut, David Silva tells Ian Herbert about World Cup rivalries and why ambition attracted him to Eastlands
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The Independent Online

There are so many comings and goings at Manchester City that the banter starts even before the new signings are through the door.

So it was that David Silva, the 5ft 7in Spaniard – whom Pepe Reina once described "that guy there, the very little one" while waving his hand around at knee height – was confronted with an image of Nigel de Jong in the World Cup final, when he first stepped through his new dressing-room door six weeks ago.

The picture captures that dreadful moment De Jong launched, studs first, into the challenge on Silva's compatriot Xabi Alonso – an act which was so symbolic of the Netherlands' display in that final. Clearly no sensitivities are spared among Roberto Mancini's new clan, but Silva evidently threw himself straight into the necessary camaraderie of the most pressurised changing room in the Premier League. "That photo in the dressing room is all part of what we get up to," he explains. "As long as [De Jong] saves those tackles for the games and not for training that is fine by me."

Silva and De Jong have actually come to form an improbable friendship at the club: Silva, the elegant playmaker of whom Reina also said that "he might barely measure 1.70m but he has talent to die for" and De Jong, the man nicknamed Rasenmäher – the lawnmower – at his previous club, Hamburg, because he used to mow down everything in front of him. "I've actually spent quite a lot of time with him," Silva says of de Jong. "He's helped me settle in while we've been together at the club. He's sat down and talked to me and he seems like a nice guy."

They actually have more in common than you might think. The way that Silva, the quicksilver, drifts around the frontline should not disguise the feistiness that led Luis Aragonés, his one-time manager with the Spanish national team, to declare he has the "most balls" in his entire squad. A former team-mate, reflecting on the repeated number of kickings Silva received, declared: "He just took it – he must have Horchata [Valencia's cold milk drink] for blood." Silva asserts, slightly testily, that "it's not that easy in Spain, either. There are people who can dish out some stick and there is concentration on the force and power of the game as well as skill. It's not something that daunts me. I'm lucky that I'm joining a team that will look to play football and I think that will only help me."

The flying tackles were not all he had to contend with in a decade of faithful service at Valencia. Silva also discovered the realities of playing in a team on its uppers; of facing financial ruin because of the reported €400m (£330m) debt exacerbated by the as yet putative plans to relocate to a new Mestalla and (here really is a contrast to the new club) an inability to pay its players. Silva laughs out loud when someone, hearing the story, reaches into his pocket. But there is an unmistakable sense of sorrow as he reflects on a club which has had to be propped up by the qualities of a young coach, Unai Emery.

"Things were all over the place," Silva says. "At one point we weren't even getting paid. The time came where they had to sell players like me and David Villa; then construction on the new stadium stopped."

His affinity for the club was born after they showed faith in him when others took a look at his stature and scoffed. Silva, a police officer's son from the Canary Islands town of Arguineguín, was rejected by Real Madrid before joining Valencia at 14. Within a year he was hailed as a teenager of prodigious talent – even though one colleague, unhappy to see him promoted to the first team squad, initially dismissed him as a " fútbol sala player" and a "myth".

It was in 2007 that English football learned what he had to offer. Chelsea fans still remember Silva's spectacular long-range goal at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of a tense Champions League quarter-final which their side narrowly edged 3-2 on aggregate.

There have many chances of pastures new, particularly since Silva so lit up the 2008 European Championships. In the summer of 2008, Barcelona tried to sign him and in January 2009 City came calling, only to be sent away with a quote of £128m for both Silva and David Villa which, at the time they considered the most obscene example of the "Manchester City price" the newly-enriched club were regularly being quoted. City persisted, though. Early in the latest process, Mancini telephoned him personally and told him he had once tried to sign him for Internazionale, and Silva eventually placed the prospect of Europa League journeys above Real Madrid, who made their own bid this summer. "City were the club that showed the most interest for me," Silva says. "They stuck their neck out and showed the serious interest, so that's why I went for it. They also showed interest last season, so I knew they wanted me more."

So the money didn't come into it? "It's all very straight-forward," he counters. "There is no problem with the salaries on offer. If someone is prepared to pay that because they want you as part of their project then that is fine. I don't see a problem with it, we're just doing our job. Money is not the main issue here, what is important is trying to win trophies and to get in the Champions League next season."

Although Mancini suggested yesterday that Silva might not be ready in time for this lunchtime's opener with Tottenham, there was a glowing illustration of the invention he will bring, with his display behind Carlos Tevez against his old club at Eastlands last Saturday; a position his former manager Emery told The Independent where he sees the player best deployed. "What he needs is freedom; he needs to be able to receive the ball then play other people in and, if that means him going out on the wings from time to time, then that is fine. He has an eye for goal as well and you also need to get the best out of him in front."

Silva arrives with surprisingly few medals in the cabinet. "There is only the Spanish Cup domestically. But winning the Euros and the World Cup makes up for it," he says. "The off-field stuff at Valencia probably had a lot to do with it, why that group of players didn't win more silverware." He also admits to a cursory knowledge of his new employers: "I was aware that they weren't in the top two or three teams but I haven't gone into the history too much." And he acknowledges that Manchester United are the side who actually know each other. "You could say that they've got their squad in place, they are an established group of players. We, on the other hand, are on the up in terms of our position."

But Silva's summer conversations with Fernando Torres and Reina taught him exactly what lies ahead. "They confirmed to me what I thought – that I would be treated well and that the league will be very competitive," he says.

Silva should encounter Reina on the pitch a week tomorrow in east Manchester. And no one can say the Liverpool goalkeeper won't know that the man whom he once called the "very little one" is capable of making a very big entrance.

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