Nottingham Forest beat Derby on Saturday, a result that would have been enough to lighten fans’ hearts. But midfielder Tiago Silva added to that with some moments of ultimately needless showing off…
You may have seen the clips. You certainly will have done if you’re a Nottingham Forest fan.
There were three of them in all: one of a no-look, reverse pass; one of an ankle-snapping, Ronaldinho-esque flip-flap that sent a poor, hapless defender for a sandwich; the other of…well, it’s slightly difficult to describe the other, but let’s just say it was a basic five-yard pass turned into a brief moment of showing off.
Tiago Silva was the player in question, Derby County the opposition in Forest’s 1-0 win in the East Midlands derby on Saturday.
Silva’s performance in the game was terrific, full of guile, constructive skill and imagination. Forest have made a habit of signing obscure players from various corners of Europe in recent years, and perhaps predictably many of them have quietly shuffled off after an underwhelming number of appearances, while some have been Forest players in admin terms only, technically members of the playing staff without doing much of the playing.
Silva though, is a star. An unassuming, squat character, at first glance he looks like an errant elbow to the ribs on a crowded commuter train would send him crashing to the floor. It’s tempting to fall into the old Proper Football Man trick of popping him in the box marked ‘skilful but insubstantial Euro creator’, the sort of player you wouldn’t fancy on a wet and windy, etc and so on.
But then you watch him play, and while there might not be much of him, what there is, is made of granite. The Portuguese midfielder’s chief appeal is that he is just as likely to produce a defence-splitting pass as he is to thoroughly stick his boot in, silk and steel combining to extremely pleasing effect.
Which is all great, and the substantive part of his game. But as he showed on Saturday, he also has a penchant for moments of pointless flamboyance. For tricks and skills that are essentially needless, but nonetheless supremely entertaining. The sort of thing that you can build a YouTube compilation around, or a gif you can caption ‘Watch as midfielder DESTROYS defender.’
— Rob Terrace (@rmt_1982) November 9, 2019
Let’s go through the three clips once more. Clip one sees Silva meatily dispossess Jayden Bogle on the left flank, slipping a pass inside and around Duane Holmes to Lewis Grabban, who lays it back. At this point Silva has several options, many of them safe and sensible, and can be performed without undue showing off. But instead he looks to his right, attempting football’s equivalent of telling some credulous rube their shoelaces are untied, before splitting three defenders with a pass to his left, returning the ball to Grabban.
? Stop that, Tiago Silva.
? Sent Duane Holmes for a hot dog…
— Football League World (@FLeagueWorld) November 12, 2019
In clip two Silva collects the ball on the left flank and advances towards the box, all the time being jockeyed by Holmes who, knowing Silva favours his right foot, is sensibly showing his man to the left. Silva goes for one lollipop, but that’s just the set-up, the dangling of the string of sausages in front of the willing dog before whipping it away. And the whipping away came next, with what looked like another lollipop, this time scooping his right foot around the side of the ball, taking it away from goal before rolling his foot over the top and snapping it back towards the byline, leaving Holmes looking like a minor version of Jan Olsson, the Swedish defender famously flummoxed by that Cruyff turn in 1974.
It was the perfectly-executed flip-flap, the first move taken just far enough that Holmes had shifted his weight to the right before Silva moved left. It was like those old slapstick films where the main character prepares to tuck into a delicious plate of food, turns around just as a waiter clears the plate away, then is baffled and dazed upon turning back to see an empty table.
— Rob Terrace (@rmt_1982) November 9, 2019
And then the third, the most joyously pointless of them all. Silva receives the ball just inside his own half from Ben Watson, looking to his right where Ryan Yates, the third member of the Forest midfield, was making himself available. It was a textbook midfield triangle, the one we’re all taught as kids, the most basic element of efficient midfield play, and Silva had a simple, five-yard pass to complete it.
He could have easily used his left foot, shunting the ball carefully over a short distance. If he was feeling particularly fancy he could have used the outside of his right foot, raising the risk level by a small amount but still with plenty of wiggle room for a comfortable pass. Instead, he chose mystery option No.3 and flicked the ball with his right foot onto his left, flexing his ankle and sending the ball to Yates perfectly. It was the sort of move you’re used to seeing at the end of some ball work in training or a warm-up, not in the midfield of a heated local derby, his team leading but only by one goal and preparing themselves for a late onslaught that would surely come.
All of these moves ultimately had a purpose, but they could easily have been carried out in a much simpler manner. Silva could have simply looked the right way to pass to Grabban; he could have got past Holmes with a simple jink, although admittedly that might not have been so effective; he could have simply passed to Yates in a standard manner.
But where’s the fun in that? Forest fans left the City Ground with a quickened step and a lighter heart anyway after their victory, but with a little extra pep having seen one of their players actively take the piss out of the opposition with some ultimately needless flamboyance.
It’s not the sort of thing you necessarily associate with the Championship, a division usually portrayed as a merciless slog to the finish, an ultra-marathon over 46 games where teams don’t so much win, more are just the last standing. But that’s why it’s so important. The joy of extraneous skill and ostentatious showing off is all the more valuable in leagues and games like this. It’s a reminder that football is supposed to be entertainment, not just a joyless accumulation of points and pursuit of results. Style matters.
Silva didn’t need to do any of this, really. But the world is a very slightly better place because he did.
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