Much more significant is the fact that, over the last decade, nobody has created more goals in the Premier League than the elfin Spaniard; only two foreign players — Bergkamp and Cesc Fàbregas — have more assists in English history.
Never mind that he has lasted longer in the tumult of English soccer than almost any of his rival candidates (only Vieira remains ahead of him, for now). Far more important is that he has done so despite being adjudged, in some quarters, as too lightweight for the fray when he first arrived. Silva has — not uniquely, but more than most — changed the way the Premier League sees itself; he has played a role in ending the tyranny of the powerhouse. He has not just helped to define and refine the playing style with which City is now synonymous, but proved that small, technical players can thrive in England.
“You can see his quality from how long he has survived in the Premier League,” Guardiola said. “If you survive, it is because you are a better player. When he moves, it is clever, more intelligent. When you see things like he does, it is because you are more intelligent than the others.”
That he is so easily overlooked — when Alan Shearer nominated a player to enter that pantheon earlier this year, he went for Silva’s teammate, Sergio Agüero — is in part because of the person Silva is: shy, private, not given to grand public declarations of his genius.
But it is also because of the player he is. Silva does not pretend to be a great soloist; he does not play to the gallery or for his personal highlights reel. He is not especially quick or frighteningly strong or ruthlessly prolific.
He is, instead, an embodiment of that old Guardiola maxim: he takes the ball, he passes the ball. The better he plays, the brighter others shine. It has been easy to lose sight of him, a player who seeks nothing but to be part of the collective, but he has always been at the heart of it.
It is hard to tell, but he is slowly descending from the peak he has occupied for almost a decade. Even he thinks he has just a couple of years left before he is replaced. He may be right: Foden may go on to be one of the best in the world. Silva, though, will prove a tough act to follow.