Manchester City's David Silva: I don't know how I played on last season
Even in the biggest rivalry, football does not always come first and David Silva knows all about that ahead of Manchester City's clash with Manchester United this weekend.
When his baby son, Mateo, was fighting for his life after being born "extremely prematurely" last December, a message from the red half of Manchester emphasised that there are more important things in life than what happens on a football pitch.
"Some things are much more important than football," tweeted Manchester United's then-captain Michael Carrick. "All the best to you and your family David, especially to your little man."
"At the end of the day, we're playing a sport," Silva told ESPN FC in his role as an ambassador for the Anfi Group, a holiday resort in his native Gran Canaria. "Beyond that, we're all individual people and I was really pleased to receive that nice gesture from Michael Carrick."
As Mateo approaches his first birthday next month, he is mercifully making good progress after spending the first five months of his life in intensive care. He is now strong enough to be home with his family and Silva is able to focus fully on the football again after a traumatic period.
City manager Pep Guardiola granted the midfielder unconditional compassionate leave last season, allowing Silva to fly back to Spain whenever required, but the 32-year-old largely played on and he now admits that helping the team break so many records on the way to the Premier League title last season proved a crucial release for him.
"You know, I don't know [how I played on last season] and I ask myself that sometimes," Silva said. "Maybe it was a form of release when I was out on the field, where you would just put things to one side. You could forget what was happening and enjoy being on the pitch.
"It [City's support] is something I'll always be grateful for, with how the manager, coaching staff and players treated me. It's something that was spot on for me and something that will be memorable for me at all times."
Since last season, Silva has called time on his international career with Spain, having helped La Roja win the 2010 World Cup and European championships in 2008 and 2012.
The 2018 World Cup in Russia, when Spain exited at the round of 16 stage to the hosts on penalties, proved to be his final curtain, but Silva admits that the situation with Mateo influenced his decision to retire from international duty.
"I think it was something that really I started to think about with everything that was going on in my private life last season," Silva said. "Then it came to a head during the World Cup. It was a tough year, culminating with a World Cup, and it seemed an ideal time to spend more time with my family.
"It's good to get some rest and obviously great to spend time with the family, and mentally as well. The good thing with international break is that I can take my son back to Gran Canaria for some sunshine."
Silva has never hidden his desire to return to Gran Canaria at the end of his career. Unlike many Spanish players, the former Valencia midfielder has not regarded a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid as the pinnacle of his career and he has settled well in Manchester since arriving in 2010, despite the climate being far removed from the year-round sunshine of the Canary Islands.
But with his City contract due to expire in June 2020, Silva admits that he would be keen to end his career with Las Palmas on the Canary Islands.
"At some point, in the future I'd like to play there, but you can never tell can you?" he said. "You certainly can't talk about these things until the right moment.
"For now, I'm just thinking about the season and a half that I have left and enjoying every minute and focusing on doing well for City.
"I'll leave any kind of discussions and talks [on his future] until then and I think it will be a case of seeing how I am physically, mentally and fitness wise. It'll be down to the club as well, of course, to see what they think."
The immediate future revolves around Sunday's Manchester Derby, the 177th competitive meeting between City and United.
Historically, United are the top dogs in the city, with the Red Devils winning 73 of the previous meetings compared to City's 51 victories. But the gap has closed since Silva's arrival eight years ago and City, having won three titles this decade, are now the powerhouse in Manchester.
They have not finished below United in the Premier League since Sir Alex Ferguson guided his team to the title in 2012-13 and Silva admits that the derby has changed beyond recognition during his time at City.
"The derby has changed since my time here," he said. "A key turning point was the 6-1 win at their place [in November 2011] -- I think things have changed since then. When they come to play us here or anywhere, they probably have higher respect for us than before.
"The respect is always there, no matter who you are playing, but maybe now, the way in which City are viewed by United has changed and maybe we have got the upper hand. There is a huge impact from this game, whether you do badly or well, whatever the result of the derby, it has a massive impact."
Whether the Manchester derby is still THE biggest game in English football is open to debate. Traditionalists will always cite United vs. Liverpool as the most important game historically, with the two clubs winning far more major trophies than any other team in England.
Liverpool's revival under Jurgen Klopp, which has coincided with United's recent failure to compete for the biggest honours, has seen their games with City become some of the most eagerly-anticipated. And Silva admits that there are now many fixtures in the Premier League which are a challenge for City.
"Liverpool are doing really well," he said. "But Chelsea are in top form as well at the moment and then if you look just behind them you've got the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham.
"I know Unai Emery personally and I know that's he going to get the absolute best that he can out of that squad of players, he's a top manager.
"United are a little bit off pace maybe, but they have always had a great side and they still have a great team now and I'm sure that, come the end of the season, they won't be too far away."