David Silva's success in the Premier League caught Pep Guardiola by surprise. The Manchester City manager lauded his captain on Friday but said he didn't expect the playmaker to find life in England's top flight easy.
Silva, who has replaced Vincent Kompany as City's captain this season, drew high praise from his boss, per BBC Sport: "Moving in these small spaces, he's really good, one of the best. But he's tiny, a little player, not a box-to-box player, and my image of England from the outside, I thought 'maybe he's going to suffer.'"
Guardiola said "happily I was wrong" about "one of the most intelligent players I have ever seen."
Silva more than merits the compliments in what is likely to be his final season in the sky blue half of Manchester. The 33-year-old is set to become just the second player in club history to make 400 appearances if he features during Sunday's game away to Bournemouth.
Through 399 matches, Silva has won four Premier League titles, four League Cups and two FA Cups. His arrival from Valencia in 2010 can be viewed as the catalyst for the Citizens' awesome run of success during this decade.
Guardiola is full of admiration for the longevity of Silva's achievements: "You can play a good season, but he's done it for 10 seasons, it is almost incredible. He's a huge competitor. How he reacts to the bad moments—his specific qualities help him survive in the Premier League."
Silva's time at City can also be seen as a representation for how life in the division has changed. Once defined almost solely by rugged physicality, the Premier League has become noted as much for technical quality.
It's a process that started in earnest with the emergence of Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal back in 2004, and it gathered pace once Silva proved an instant hit with City. His performances, along with those of Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric, showed how slight midfielders embodying creativity more than power could win in England.
Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Philippe Coutinho all soon moved to the division and thrived. Homegrown talent is beginning to follow suit, with James Maddison flourishing for Leicester City, while Mason Mount is catching the eye for Chelsea.
Silva remains the benchmark for the Premier League's modern midfield maestro, though. He was the creative heartbeat for title-winning teams under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, but his role has changed since Guardiola took over in 2016.
Now Silva is the supporting act to primary creator Kevin De Bruyne:
Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden, a 19-year-old Guardiola has described as the "most talented player" he's seen, are also available to unlock defences.
The time appears ripe for Silva to move on, with the decorated veteran announcing earlier this summer this campaign "is the last one" at City.
In the meantime, though, the skipper's presence is another reminder of the strength in depth in attacking areas none of City's title rivals can match.