David Silva deserves more recognition as Manchester City's main magician
Shaun Wright-Phillips isn't exactly renowned as an authority on Arthurian legend. But, taken aback by the sorcery of one of his Manchester City colleagues, he christened him "Merlin." The nickname, which stems from the wizard at the mythical King Arthur's court, is probably the lasting legacy of Wright-Phillips' second spell at City.
"Merlin the magician" -- otherwise known as David Silva -- has a range of tricks. He can thread a pass through the eye of a needle. He has an uncanny understanding of space, coupled with an intuitive sense of where his teammates are. He has an innate sense of timing, and returning to fitness when the fixture list is at its most crowded and City's talismanic top scorer, Sergio Aguero, is injured suggested he has ghosted back into the picture at a typically opportune moment. Yet perhaps his finest trick is a disappearing act. Silva can vanish himself. He seems to disappear from the thoughts of the men who should be most aware of him: opponents.
And it is not just when he eludes them on the pitch, either. Many in the blue half of Manchester were upset when the PFA unveiled their short list for the 2013-14 Player of the Year award. For the third time in four years, there was no Silva. Luis Suarez was the red-hot favourite anyway, but Adam Lallana was preferred for a place in the select six.
Nor was he voted into the team of the season by his peers. Once again, Lallana, a deserving overachiever and a Spanish-style British footballer, but not a man in the same class as Silva, was elected instead. Perhaps it was an English bias, which can be detectable in the players' choices, but it cemented the feeling that Silva will never be named Footballer of the Year in the Premier League. This is an era of Silva and silverware at the Etihad Stadium, but the individual honours go elsewhere. Maybe that is an indication he is a team player first and foremost.
But in these hyper-sensitive times when everyone seems to feel there is some intrinsic prejudice against them and their club, we often tend to hear that so-and-so deserves more credit. In most cases, they don't. Silva does.
Edin Dzeko recently suggested he is among the top three players in the division. Micah Richards nominated the 28-year-old as the best footballer he played alongside in his City career; many fans, and not just of the younger generation, believe he is the greatest in the club's history, ranking above modern-day favourites such as Aguero, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany and past heroes, whether Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee or Bert Trautmann.
Yet Manuel Pellegrini's regular paeans of praise tend to be devoted to Aguero, who he often mentions in the same sentence as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in discussions about the world's top players. In March, he backed Toure's candidacy for the Footballer of the Year award. He keeps quieter about Silva, perhaps because the playmaker prefers not to be singled out.
If he is underestimated, perhaps it is because he has never scored more than eight times in a season for City. His quality was apparent in October's glorious goal at West Ham -- the sort of strike that invites questions as to why it is a rarity. He fails the Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or the Toure test. Nowadays, midfielders often are judged by their goals, and Silva makes more than he scores. Not really a winger, he defies categorisation. Not selfish enough, he defies our logic. He passes sometimes when he should shoot. He shows little ambition to take statistic-inflating set-pieces. His sole penalty for City, against Southampton in 2012, was missed.
Indeed, Silva is only prolific for Spain, where the surfeit of passers in the tiki-taka team means he has more responsibility for finishing moves. Yet a comparison of the cornerstones of the triple trophy-winning all-conquering squad of 2008-2012 might count against him.
There is a school of thought that all the leading Spanish talents play for either Real Madrid or Barcelona at some stage; only Fernando Torres and Silva of the golden generation have not, and the striker's roots at Atletico Madrid and 50 million pound fee paid by Chelsea offer both an explanation and an example of his status elsewhere. Silva is the odd man out. Real preferred to sign Mesut Ozil in 2010, offering City the chance to swoop for a seeming paradox: an overlooked World Cup winner.
Now City court publicity less than they once did, providing an antidote to the melodrama of the Roberto Mancini, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez years, and hoping results will speak for themselves. There is a further factor whenever Silva is slighted, one that may be a sensitive subject at the Etihad Stadium. He is a City player and, despite their spending and success in recent seasons, they lack the profile of their peers. And, in particular, of their neighbours.
Manchester United's claims they have 659 million fans across the planet have been met with skepticism, but their players are catapulted to a level of prominence denied their City counterparts, many of whom seem refused entry to the bracket of superstars. Had Silva starred in red rather than blue, perhaps he would be classed alongside Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria. Instead, he has "only" three million Twitter followers to Rooney's 10 million. It matters not which is the more precise passer.
United can testify to Silva's virtuosity, though: his hooked pass to Edin Dzeko was arguably the ball of the 2011-12 season. It came in City's historic 6-1 win at Old Trafford, when Silva was involved in four goals (but Balotelli attracted more attention with a brace and a "Why Always Me?" T-shirt.) In the title-deciding rematch, Silva's corner led to the sole goal, scored by Kompany. He has illustrated the shift in the balance of power in Manchester while retaining a status as the low-maintenance maestro, the understated icon.
There is the sense that suits Silva. His public pronouncements are few and tend to be uninteresting, even in Spanish and before an interpreter can remove the flavour of his comments. He has never really learned English and perhaps never will. Besides doing some promotional work for a company in his native Gran Canaria, he chases neither sponsorship deals nor headlines. Perhaps that unobtrusiveness helps him on the football field, allowing him to steal in unnoticed and wreak havoc in his own immaculate fashion. Perhaps he does not want any more recognition. But that does not mean he doesn't deserve it.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.