A veteran of each of Spain’s three major tournament victories of the past eight years – as a young tyro at Euro 2008, an emerging force in the 2010 World Cup and a fixture at Euro 2012 – David Silva is approaching 100 international appearances and turned 30 in January, yet has an evergreen air to him.
Perhaps it’s because he looks about the same now as he did when signing for Manchester City six years ago, or maybe it’s the way he gambols through opposition defences with the ball at his feet. Regardless, Silva can offer something few in the Spain squad can replicate – he’s not the metronome playmaker of Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, nor a speed merchant akin Pedro Rodriguez or club colleague Jesus Navas. He’s ingenious, and not known as Merlin for nothing.
Born on the south coast of Gran Canaria and first catching the eye when loaned from Valencia to Celta Vigo in 2004-05, Silva has been used as a false nine under Vicente Del Bosque, and is arguably the closest player Barcelona-influenced Spain have had to Lionel Messi. As Barca have evolved so too have Spain and the Coach has routinely looked for a genuine nine to lead the line – Diego Costa, Paco Alcacer and Aritz Aduriz all contenders, and each one having arguments for and against their inclusion.
But del Bosque is nothing if not loyal, sometimes to a fault, and Silva, be it more as an option than a starter, still appears to be in his plans. He was named in the squad for friendlies against Italy and Romania, playing an hour against the latter, even despite a disrupted season. Indeed, 2015 was the year Silva made the fewest international appearances – seven – since the year he debuted, 2006, and the Physio Room website lists eight separate injuries or illnesses for Silva since August 2015.
That translates to 35 appearances this season for a City side that reached the latter stages of the Champions League, but underwhelmed in the Premier League. Silva missed most of October and November and to date has recorded only four goals for Manuel Pellegrini’s side. If he has a failing, it is in that department – despite making almost 500 club appearances, he’s yet to reach 100 goals, and only twice has he reached double figures in a single season, though 23 in 96 international outings is a little more respectable.
Silva at least makes up for his dearth of club goals with assists, falling behind only Mesut Ozil and Christian Eriksen in the season’s Premier League rankings, 11 to Eriksen’s 12 and Ozil’s 18. That compares favourably to the seven for Fabregas and the six for Navas, as well as the four claimed by Juan Mata. If Spain can settle on the right man to convert the chances Silva will surely create – however long he spends on the field.