Over the course of his brilliant decade in English football, David Silva spent well more than 100 matchdays surveying the rest of the Premier League from its summit.
He won four winner’s medals, among 14 trophies in all, and never finished a season beneath the top four in his epoch-making time with Manchester City.
The assumption, when City and the much-loved Silva said their farewells in the summer, was that the medals would come to him less easily from now on.
Silva turns 35 in January, and has chosen to spend what may be the last adventure of his professional career in his native Spain, with a club who have not been in sustained contention for gold or silver in La Liga since 2003.
Real Sociedad finished sixth last season. They were thrilled when Silva chose to join them rather than any of the suitors – Lazio the most determined – who were promising him Champions League football.
La Real, of San Sebastian, offered a wonderful city to live in, a club with a fine academy and a progressive manager in Imanol Alguacil.
What they could scarcely dare promise was that, eight matches in to the Spanish season, Silva would be looking down on the rest in much the way he was used to at City.
He is part of a team that are top of the table, that has comfortably outscored the champions, Real Madrid, and who need a telescope to pick out where Barcelona are in La Liga, fully 11 places beneath the surprise pacesetters from the Basque Country.
There is no suggestion, either, that Silva is in northern Spain to wind down a dazzling career.
He joined, on a two-year contract, after a reduced pre-season, was then quarantined after a positive coronavirus test. But after making his first la Real appearance as a substitute in the 0-0 draw against Real Madrid, he has barely paused, in the starting XI for every match, including both so far in the Europa League, in which Real Sociedad tonight host AZ of Alkmaar.
Adaptation has been swift, although Silva joked recently that some of the fabled aggression of English football seems to have travelled back to Spain with him: He has picked up three yellow cards so far for la Real.
He returned with some unexpected target-man qualities, too. Silva helped keep his new club at the top of La Liga at the weekend by opening the scoring in a 4-1 win at Celta Vigo, with a glancing header to meet a cross.
It was his first la Real goal, expertly taken, though not exactly a typical Silva finish. You have to scroll back a long way, some seven years, through the nimble, 1.7m-tall playmaker’s 77 goals for City to find the last headed one.
A more recognisable Silva had clinched three points a week earlier, against Huesca, with an incisive reverse pass and then a perfectly weighted ball over the top of the Huesca back line to set up two goals. Alguacil anticipates they were the first of a regular supply of Silva assists.
“My game is about seeing the decisive pass and opening up space,” Silva told uefa.com ahead of the visit of AZ. “I knew coming to la Real would be the right decision for me.” He is part of the most potent side in Spain’s top division, scorers of 18 goals from eight games.
In Europe, the goals have been harder to tease out. La Real opened Group F with a 1-0 win over Rijeka in Croatia but lost 1-0 at home to Napoli a week ago. So the back-to-back matches against AZ, who have maximum points so far, carry high stakes.
The Europa League is not a secondary issue for ambitious la Real, nor for Silva. Club success in Europe remains his elusive target.
He has won two European Championships and a World Cup with Spain, a Copa del Rey at Valencia and every English domestic prize.
He has spoken of his sadness that his final match with City was the Champions League quarter-final defeat to Lyon in August, the latest in a series of disappointments in the knockout rounds. A major European trophy would fill a gap on a dazzling resumé.