By Jonathan Birchall
As records were reached at Old Trafford on Saturday, along came another reminder that Manchester, soon enough, will need a new magician.
With another goal and spellbinding performance against Wigan to mark his 700th appearance for Manchester United, Paul Scholes, aged 37, continued to stand time still. But less than three years from 40 and with one retirement party already down, it’s not far from catching him.
Yet five miles from Old Trafford, just beyond the other end of Mancunian Way, David Silva, as silent and deadly, has made Manchester his stage. The man known as Merlin is the city’s new otherworldly apprentice.
At the Etihad Stadium they simply dare not lose the Spaniard. After a summer of talks in Barcelona and Manchester between Silva’s camp and City, the Premier League champions announced a £200,000-a-week deal on Monday that will see him join the likes of Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez on the top rung of earners at the club.
The reported interest in Silva from Real Madrid this summer will have no doubt helped the Spaniard’s negotiating position when trying to raise his £140,000-a-week deal that expires in 2014, but the 26-year-old from a fishing town in Gran Canaria is happy to stay a million miles away from what he knows. His best years will be spent in Manchester.
| SILVA’S MANCHESTER CITY RECORD
After all, Madrid’s interest in the midfielder, along with rivals Barcelona, has been long-standing. Targeted by both Spanish giants when he was put up for sale by the financially crumbling Valencia in 2010, Silva left for the Premier League. City, he said, pushed harder than anyone else for his signature.
The charm offensive from Roberto Mancini worked then and continues to do so. The Italian, wary of keeping the quiet, family-orientated Silva content off the pitch, sanctions the midfielder time away to return to his native Spain where the girlfriend he has known since the age of four still studies. On it, Silva has free rein, and to devastating effect.
With 31 assists in his first two seasons at Eastlands, the former Valencia man has become one of the defining faces of the new City, winning the club’s Player’s Player of the Year award last term, when the 44-year wait for a title ended on the blue half of Manchester.
The defining performance for City was arguably Silva’s finest, as he and his team-mates embarrassed United at Old Trafford with a 6-1 win to shift the sands of power in Manchester. His through ball to Edin Dzeko for City’s final goal was, even United fans would admit, Scholes-esque. There’s no higher compliment to be paid in the Theatre of Dreams.
But the temptation of Madrid or Catalunya will have been strong for Silva, a man who keeps himself to himself away from the Etihad. Like Scholes, the Cheshire-based Spaniard is rarely seen in Manchester.
His friends in the squad are the Spanish speakers at City, namely Pablo Zabaleta, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure, while the arrival of Javi Garcia, who he played with at youth level in Spain, will provide extra incentive to stick around.
But avoiding attention in a city where he is revered by those in blue and red isn’t the only challenge for Silva to overcome. The midfieler, who wears strapping on both ankles to protect himself from the kicks, trips and clips of Premier League defenders, has been forced to increase his strength by Mancini.
Tuesday’s trip to Madrid will, tauntingly, provide Silva the chance to prove to the Bernabeu outfit what might have been. That City announced his new half-a-decade deal in the Spanish capital had a hint of political posturing.
City are really here and have the players to make a mark on Europe’s elite after turning the Premier League’s status quo on its head last term.
And Silva will be central to that, even if like his Manchester United counterpart, he goes about it quietly.
Luis Figo, one of the 33 to have played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid during his career, summed up Scholes best: “On the pitch you can’t catch him. Off the pitch he disappears.”
The same can typically be said of Silva. The Galactico that got away.
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