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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

City's David Silva shaping up among world's best midfielders

David Silva is good enough to become one of the greatest foreigners to play in the Premier League.

David Silva is good enough to become one of the greatest foreigners to play in the Premier League.

With Carlos Tevez currently out of the Manchester City team, Silva has stepped up to become City's star. He has been the best player in England this season.

Silva is a joy to watch. I love seeing him go past people when he drops his shoulder and makes it look easy, but he's a selfless player, too. He's always searching to slip someone else into play with an intelligent pass. He's a centre forward's dream and I'm sure Fernando Torres's fortunes would be very different with his Spain teammate behind him at Chelsea.

Silva needs to play at this level for at least three years before he can be elevated to the level of Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Gianfranco Zola, Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo – the best foreigners to play in England.

I played with or against all of those legends. At United, we held Henry, Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Bergkamp in the highest regard. Arsenal were our main rivals and games often got very heated between us. The United lads would joke about the way Henry raised his arms and did other little, petulant things to irritate us, but those Arsenal players were all legends.

I played against Henry when he was a youngster at Monaco, but he was a one-trick pony who would kick the ball and chase after it. Arsene Wenger transformed his game and his position when he arrived at Highbury. I remember thinking: "Wow, this boy can play."

Henry's partnership with Bergkamp, who had a glorious first touch and vision, was majestic. Henry had pace to burn and could go past anyone when one-on-one. He was inventive and had an eye for a goal. What more do you want from a player?

Not that Patrick Vieira was far behind. He and Roy Keane had some magnificent battles, but that Arsenal team were so good that we had to get in amongst them and knock them out of their stride. We had to go to war with them because that was the only way to beat them.

It didn't matter what our fans thought, we knew Arsenal were our main challengers. They played football like no team could play. They were faster than the rest with the pace of Henry and Marc Overmars.

They had a midfield who mixed it physically and a solid back four. They were one of the best teams in the world, a proper team that functioned as a unit.

Vieira is a nice guy. That's one thing all the people I've mentioned have in common – they're quality people on and off the pitch. I saw Henry in July in New York and he was brilliant with me. You shouldn't always form an opinion of a player's personality from how they comport themselves on the pitch.

I mean, look at what I was like. I could be angry and surly. Zola once came up to me when I had blown my top. I was ready for lashing out at someone.

"A player like you shouldn't act like this," Zola said to me. "You have the class not to get angry."

I had to smile at that. There was only one player who had class in that moment and it wasn't me.

Not all great players are like that. George Weah was an idol of mine who turned out to be an arrogant egotist when I met him. Never meet your heroes, and all that.

Weah was the exception. Zola is a lovely fellow. I played against him a few months ago in a veterans game. He's long retired, but he was still easily the best player on a field of former greats. He could have replaced Eric Cantona at Man United and lit the place up, he was that good.

There were other great foreigners in the Premier League.

Ronaldo arrived as an unknown, worked his socks off, wanted to be the best and left as a global superstar.

And how could I not comment about Cantona, my old strike partner?

People said we didn't get on. Nonsense, we got on fine. He saw how hard I worked and we didn't have problems. Eric came to a great team which was lacking a little bit of magic – and all for just £1 million (Dh5.87m). He gave United that magic and was a star at the biggest club in England. Like the others I've mentioned, he's remembered as a legend.

Silva isn't at that level yet, but if carries on playing like this for a few more years he will be.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.