Football has been cast into uncertainty by the coronavirus pandemic. As it stands, nobody is sure if the current season will reach a conclusion. In these circumstances, supporters of Manchester City might not get to give David Silva the send-off he deserves.
The Spanish midfielder had already announced that he would be leaving in the summer after a transformational decade at the club, during which he made more than 400 appearances, winning four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and five League Cups. However, he might have already played his last game in English football without anyone realising at the time.
It would be sad if Silva’s Man City career were to end this way – unexpectedly and ahead of schedule. Having brought so much joy and success to a fanbase that couldn’t have envisaged owning a player of his quality, let alone keeping him throughout his prime years, until the Abu Dhabi takeover, he has been a source of great comfort and continuity amidst profound change.
Silva helped to build a dynasty, taking the club to new and unimaginable heights. He was their little magician – chief creator and tempo-setter for so many devastating performances. In a football culture of tribal fanaticism, he achieved the unusual feat of being almost universally liked. A master craftsman who it was a pleasure to watch at work.
More than simply his effect on life at the Etihad, he leaves a wider legacy. In a country where pace, power and physicality is prized like nowhere else, Silva made a virtue of purely technical qualities. His control, passing and appreciation of space is exceptional. He's always a step ahead, whatever the situation. He reads the game so well and has been instrumental in establishing Man City as English football's dominant force.
Silva is the sort of player who would traditionally have been considered too small and slight to thrive in the Premier League. Somebody who could be overrun or brutalised into submission. Lost in the relentless hustle and bustle of the midfield battle.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, but the scale of his impact was therefore something of a surprise. There was a certain misguided assumption that without the time and space he had been afforded back home, Silva might struggle to impose himself on matches. Mercifully it was proven to be wrong.
His debut against Tottenham Hotspur back in 2010, on the opening day of the season, having helped Spain to become world champions earlier that summer, wasn’t the most promising start. He seemed lightweight and ineffective, struggling to adapt to the speed and intensity of the game. Yaya Toure and Aleksandr Kolarov also made their debuts that day, contributing little of note in a 0-0 draw.
But first impressions can be misleading. Silva soon found his feet and became an influential player. He demonstrated his durability by making 53 appearances that season as Man City won the FA Cup, ending a 35-year trophy drought, and qualified for the Champions League for the first time. It was the start of a new era.
Silva has seen it all as one of the first names on the team sheet under Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola. Few players have been as consistently brilliant over the course of such a prolonged period. While many have come and gone in recent years, unable to keep up with the pace of change at City, Silva is notably leaving on his own terms.
His last contribution to a trophy win, of which there have been many, may well prove to be victory over Aston Villa in the League Cup final earlier this month. It was telling that as he departed late in the second half, Phil Foden stayed on. The teenager, who hasn't played as much as he would have liked over the last two seasons, is Silva's natural successor.
The plan has long been in place for Foden to step into the void eventually left by Silva. Both are intelligent players with the deftest of touches. Foden has had to wait for his chance to come but there was no one better to shadow in the meantime than Silva. He’s everything a creative midfielder of that ilk aspires to be.
As a lifelong Man City fan, Foden grew up watching the man who is now his teammate, learning from his subtle movements and intricate style of play. Just 10 years old when Silva first arrived from Valencia, the challenge is now to follow in his footsteps.