'Until you live it, you just don't know how bad it is' - David Silva opens up on 'toughest period of his life'
Man City star tells James Ducker about the agony his wife and he went through when son Mateo was born prematurely
Electronic boards advertising the derby are dotted around Manchester City's training ground, where David Silva is quietly reflecting on what he calls "the toughest, most difficult period" of his life.
"City vs United, It's A Big Deal," screams the message and, in a football sense, it is just that.
A veteran of 15 Manchester derbies, Silva may have more experience of this game than any other player who takes to the pitch at the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.
But, while he recognises emotions are likely to be running high, there is little danger of the Spaniard getting caught up in the tittle tattle such encounters invariably throw up.
Nothing will diminish Silva's desire to win but, having come close to losing his baby son, Mateo, last December, there is an acute sense of perspective.
"I think you learn to value the important things in life," the City midfielder says.
"I don't waste my time doing my head in about stupid things that don't really matter and don't waste time worrying over nothing. So, yeah, it puts things in perspective."
Silva looks back now on those dark days last winter, with Mateo, born prematurely at just 25 weeks, fighting for his life in an intensive care unit in a Spanish hospital almost 1,000 miles away, and wonders how he held it together on the pitch like he did for City.
"It's funny, it's a question I ask myself - how did I cope with that?" he says.
Silva was not eating or sleeping properly and, with his usual routine broken by frequent dashes between Manchester and the Casa de Salud hospital in Valencia, he says his standards in training slipped sharply.
Read more here:
- Pogba a doubt as Mourinho prepares for 'untouchable' City
- Raheem Sterling puts pen-to-paper on a lucrative new contract at Manchester City
Yet, none of that was even vaguely evident in the games. If anything, Silva merely elevated what was already a rarefied level of performance, the midfield conductor in Pep Guardiola's perfect symphony, the balletic force behind the club's march to the Premier League title and an unprecedented century of points.
Those matches, it transpires, provided his only escape, however fleeting, from an otherwise unrelenting cycle of personal torment.
"Football was the thing that helped me the most," Silva explains. "For that time I was out on the field, those 90 minutes, that was the only way, the only time I could forget stuff.
"For that short time, you'd enjoy the game for what it was but then, as soon as it is over, you're back to thinking about everything again."
That is captured in one emotional scene in the Amazon documentary on City, 'All Or Nothing', where Silva is filmed scrambling to find his phone in the dressing room after one particular match for an update on his son's condition.
The pleasing thing now is that, after spending his first five months in hospital, Mateo continues to go from strength to strength and Silva's gratitude to his team-mates and the club is profound.
In August, Mateo attended his first City game, against Huddersfield at the Etihad. His father marked the moment with a goal in a 6-1 win.
"It was one of the thoughts that was going round my head when Mateo wasn't well," he said.
"I was thinking, one day I could take him to the ground and take him on the pitch."
Silva has experienced personal turmoil before. He was 15 when his cousin, Cynthia Vega Jimenez, the daughter of his father's sister, Loli, died from cancer aged just five.
Every time Silva scores, he kisses a tattoo bearing Cynthia's name on his left wrist.
But he says nothing could prepare him for what happened with Mateo, whose face is now adorned on a tattoo on his left arm above the words "Never Surrender".
"I don't think anyone is prepared for something like this," he says. "Until you physically go through that situation, you can't appreciate what it would be like. Everyone has an image of a premature child, but until you live it and experience it, you just don't know how bad it is."
Silva announced his international retirement with Spain in August, largely in order to be able to spend more time with Mateo and his family. His contract with City runs until June 2020, by which point he would have spent a decade at the club, but, keen for Mateo to grow up in Gran Canaria where he was raised, he has talked about finishing his career with Las Palmas.
Interestingly, though, he will now not rule out staying at City for longer.
"In principle, in theory, that's my time - a year and a half I've got left to play (at City) but, in football, things change around, don't they?
"All I'm going to do is concentrate on enjoying every minute between now and then and then who knows? At that time, I'll see what I think. You never know."
So, he could remain at City beyond 2020? "I don't know. Maybe," he adds.
That will be music to the ears of City supporters, plenty of whom consider the man they call Merlin to be the greatest player in the club's history.
Liberated by his move to a central midfield position under Guardiola, Silva, 32, certainly seems to be playing the best football of his career and, as he prepares for another derby, he is proud of the role he has played in the power shift in Manchester.
United were top dogs when Silva arrived in 2010 but no longer.
"It has changed. When I first got here there was that huge respect for Manchester United, and now I think it is a little bit more the other way around," Silva says.
"It's been nice to be involved in these years where the balance in power has shifted.
"It's nice to feel that I've been involved in that in some part, and you have something there as a legacy."
Win or lose tomorrow, though, Silva need only look at Mateo for a sense of perspective. (© Daily Telegraph, London)