In an exclusive interview with Goal, the ex-City goalkeeper hails the Spain attacking midfielder as one of English football’s best ever imports
The former goalkeeper was still plying his trade at the Etihad Stadium when Silva arrived from Valencia in 2010 for £25 million ($31m).
Given says the World Cup winner’s natural talent was obvious to the rest of the squad from the moment he first set foot on the training pitch, so the Irishman was not in the least bit surprised to see Silva go on to lift four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and five League Cups with City.
“The players used to call him ‘Merlin the wizard’,” Given told Goal. “What a brilliant player! What a career he has had!
“And he is a fantastic guy off the pitch. He is a perfect professional but he likes a laugh.
“We have had great foreign imports in the Premier League but he has to be up there amongst the best because he has been brilliant.
“Because of trophies he has won for Man City and Spain, he will go down as one of the greats, for sure.
“He is never flustered in possession and he always seems to have time on the ball. When you are watching the TV, you are thinking, ‘Why is no one getting close and tackling him?’
“But he just has that natural ability of finding space and picking the right pass before anyone can get near him. That’s intelligence; a football brain. It’s something you are born with.
“He has worked extremely hard as well but I just think he is such a naturally gifted player.”
Given, though, believes that Silva deserves credit for the way in which he adapted to the defensive demands placed upon him by Pep Guardiola, who took over as City boss in 2016.
“I think David had to change his game for Pep, and Sergio Aguero too,” the ex-Newcastle No.1 argued.
“Pep is very demanding in terms of what you must do when you don’t have the ball, so maybe that’s why David and Aguero had to adapt more. Maybe, previously, they were more about doing their business on the ball but, under Pep, they have had to chase and graft.
“But David tracks back to the edge of his box, makes interceptions and that shows he is a team player. He will do what the manager wants.”
This season hasn’t gone quite according to plan for Given’s old club, though.
Before the coronavirus pandemic forced a suspension of football across the world, City had put themselves in a perfect position to progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League by beating Real Madrid 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
However, their hopes of a third successive Premier League triumph had been long since extinguished by Liverpool, with last season’s runners-up having opened up a staggering 25-point lead over the champions with just nine games remaining.
City may have denied the Merseysiders last year with a sensational 14-game winning at the end of an absorbing title race but, even if the campaign resumes, there appears no chance of Guardiola’s side reeling in the Reds.Given believes that City will, thus, be left counting the cost of allowing Vincent Kompany to leave last summer without bringing in a replacement for their former captain.
“Liverpool had an unbelievable season,” Given acknowledged. “They were brilliant and it was a year where Liverpool’s points total (97) would have won the league nine times out of 10. But the run City went on was unbelievable and they won every single game towards the end of the season. There was no blip there. Liverpool can count themselves unlucky last year.
“But City have had a dip this season and it was caused by a combination of Kompany going in the summer and a massive injury to their most important defender, Aymeric Laporte. That’s a massive hole in any team, even the champions.
“They are fantastic going forward but you need a solid base to build from. I thought they should have tried to replace Kompany in the summer or even try to keep him for another year, but he decided to go back to Belgium.
“I felt someone needed to come in to strengthen that department as Laporte was a massive part of last season’s success as well. I haven’t seen a problem going forward this year but I have seen them conceding too many goals.
“Liverpool having Virgil van Dijk at the back, and them being so solid, only highlights City’s issues more. Van Dijk and Alisson have been a big part of changing Liverpool to an exciting goalscoring team to a less vulnerable team. Jurgen Klopp saw where they could tighten up and you can see the difference now.”
Given is a huge admirer of Alisson, believing the 2018 arrival from Roma has provided Liverpool with the kind of security and excellent distribution that Ederson offers City.
Indeed, in his role as Derby County’s goalkeeping coach, the former Republic of Ireland international advises his charges to study the Selecao stars.
“Brazilians weren’t renowned for their goalkeepers in the past but now you have Alisson and Ederson, who are up there with the best goalkeepers in the world,” Given argued.
“David de Gea is still among the top keepers for me. Ben Foster at Watford is older but he can keep his level and desire to stay at the top of his game. I have enjoyed watching Dean Henderson at Sheffield United; he has done brilliantly.
“But when you are coaching goalkeepers, you should always encourage them to learn from the best. You can coach them on the training pitch all day but it is important that they watch other top goalkeepers.
“So, right now, you invariably get them to look at the two Brazilians at the top of the Premier League.”
Given is enjoying his current coaching role at Pride Park, as part of Phillip Cocu’s backroom team, having previously served under Frank Lampard, but he hopes to eventually become a manager himself.
Consequently, he enjoys doing his own homework, analysing the methods of the top tacticians in the game today.
“A lot of people would look at Pep as the top dog,” Given mused. “Pep puts a lot of demand on players and he is the mastermind in my eyes.
“But, of course, there’s also Klopp. He’s top of the Premier League now and he is very charismatic, so, from a player’s perspective, you would want to play for him.
“[Marcelo] Bielsa in the Championship is excellent too, so, as a coach, you look at all these different managers and you try and learn from them.
“If you are a manager, you have to bring your own personality to the table. That’s what Pep and Klopp both do. They both place massive demands on their teams but have different ways of getting the best out of people.
“That’s the biggest thing in the game: man-management; getting the players to follow you.”