After having an illustrious career spanning 17 years, Thiago Silva is now a household name in Brazil as the PSG captain has surpassed all odds to become one of the greatest football leaders of the 21st century.
Abandoned by his father at the age of 5, he did not have a pleasant childhood. After facing a fair amount of adversity in the initial days of his career, the Brazilian never gave up and raised himself to fame, even though life gave him many reasons to quit.
Growing up, Silva played youth football for a club in Campo Grande neighbourhood, a feeder club to Fluminense, where he eventually joined the senior squad.
But with the limited number of minutes at his club, he decided to move on. At first, he was denied by several top clubs in Brazil including Flamengo. Yet, Silva did not lose grit and finally found a club who could take him on board – Barcelona. No, not the mighty blaugrana, but a second division side based out of Rio de Janeiro.
Later, at the age of 20, Silva moved to Juventude. His first season and only season in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A was a massive success, earning him a transfer to European Champions Porto. However, instead of rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ricardo Quaresma, Silva spent the season with the reserves.
It was here that Silva’s career was hit by a huge number of medical issues, including a near-death case of Tuberculosis. In the meantime, he joined Dinamo Moscow, where he hoped he could revive his career but unfortunately, his health issues didn’t allow him to even make a start.
“I was devastated when I saw him. He showed up at the box and I barely recognised him. He was all deformed, seemed swollen, had gained over ten kilograms. I would find out later that it was because of the medicine he had been taking. I was really worried about him.” “One day, the doctors told me Thiago had a hole in his lung and had to go through a surgery. They warned me, ‘Do not expect him to go back to training.’ It would mean the end of his career,” Wortmann recounted.
His chronic illness almost compelled him to quit football forever after he was written off by almost all the clubs. However, his mother managed to convince him to not give up on the game. Eventually, all the dark clouds faded away, and a new Thiago Silva emerged.
He returned to Brazil and joined Fluminense and earned the name of O Monstro (the Monster), by virtue of his phenomenal performances for his hometown club.
Unsurprisingly, Silva credits his other for sticking by and believing in him during tough times. The crucial lessons of life he learned have moulded him into the reliable leader who controls Les Parisiens from the back today.
“Thiago Silva will extend my life as a central defender.” – Alessandro Nesta, 2009
Trying to fulfill the dream of Paris
In 2012, deemed as the best defender in the world after a three-year stint with AC Milan. Paris finally had its leader. Silva was signed by PSG.
The saga to sign him was dramatic and long, as it took one month for the French club to secure his services for a reported fee of €42million. Silva’s acquisition was crucial for PSG in that it opened the floodgates for other stars and decorated players to ply their trade for the Qatari funded club, who had failed to win the Ligue 1 in the last 19 years.
The Brazilian defender was given the captain’s armband in no time, and he inspired the club to become one of the most feared sides in Europe.
PSG was or still is an ambitious project by the club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, with millions of petrodollars poured in to make PSG the next footballing giant.
Amidst the process, Silva worked as a leader in the unstable squad, consisting of aged players, rejects from superior clubs and few expensive prodigies.
Silva worked as the face of the club along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic to gel the players in the squad, which went onto win to win the league title in his debut season as captain. For his exploits, he was declared as the best defender in Ligue 1 by France Football.
In 2013, Silva played against Barcelona for PSG in the quarter-final round and was hailed as “The wall” by French and Catalan media outlets alike. After the match, his manager Carlo Ancelotti hailed his skipper as the best defender in the world, and one who could even win the Ballon D’or.
In the return leg, the media was once again singing all the Brazilian’s praises as he once again delivered a World-class performance. It wasn’t enough in the end, however, as Barcelona edged through on away goals with the aggregate score at 3-3.
But holding Barcelona with the world’s best players at its resources, PSG found its ground in the apex European tournament with Silva as its torchbearer.
“It’s difficult to identify where he can still improve. He has already proven to have everything.” – Franco Baresi, 2012.
The determination and faith to overcome all obstacles are what has kept Silva going. In 2015, during a Champions League Round of 16-second leg tie against Chelsea, Silva was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box for which Eden Hazard stepped up to take the penalty. The Belgian converted the spot-kick to give his side the lead.
Silva then tried to compensate by finding the net through a laser-beam header but Thibaut Courtois denied him with an incredible save. There was no denying him, however, as just a few moments later, Silva stepped up to score a beautiful headed goal to take his side through to the next round. The win against the Londoners could not have been a greater display of determination, heart, and recovery from a setback – it was Thiago Silva in a nutshell.
Now 35, Silva is in the twilight of his career and his tenure at PSG could well be drawing to a close. In these years, the Brazilian monster has managed to win every bit of silverware available in France. He even had a phenomenal career with AC Milan, when he shot into prominence on the back of Scudetto and Supercoppa triumphs.
As is the case with some of the game’s finest talents, Silva is yet to win a Champions League medal, a glory his present club has long thirsted for. With this likely to be his last season at the Parc des Princes, his dream can possibly remain unfulfilled.
However, some stories remain perfect while being incomplete. A Champions League medal would be a fitting reward for a glittering career, but for now, it seems a distant dream. That said, it can never eclipse the reality of a captain inspiring a whole city to dream once again.
“He is the Messi of defenders. The question is no longer if he is the best defender in the world because he is quite simply one of the best players in the world — better than Cannavaro when he won the Ballon d’Or.” – Alain Roche, 2013
The complete defender
Silva has been recognized as one of the best defenders to ever play the game. At his peak, he made such an impact that Franco Baresi went on to state that Silva is the defender who most resembles him, declaring the Brazilian to be his heir.
A player known for leading the defensive line from the back, Silva is very vocal, a capability which is a necessity for players in the centre-back position.
“Thiago Silva is, without doubt, the best central defender in the world. He has incredible qualities. He is a symbol of elegance like Franz Beckenbauer was. Silva follows in his footsteps.” – Ronaldo, 2014
To go with his brute strength, Silva is regarded as one of the fastest defenders with good aerial ability. It’s not all brawn though, with his tactical knowledge and reading of the game second to none, allowing him to excel at anticipating the opposition’s move and shutting them down at the right time.
In 7 seasons at PSG, Silva has been included in the team of the season each time, as well as twice in Serie A, thrice in the UEFA team of the year and thrice in FIFPRO XI. A decorated career in terms of both individual recognition and team honours.
“I think that Thiago Silva is the best defender in the world. It is incredible how good he really is. Thiago Silva is part of a new generation of phenomenal players who are perhaps born once every 100 years.” – Filippo Inzaghi, 2011.
The sad demise of a glorious soldier?
Silva has been equally heroic for his national team but destiny has been harsh to him. That was until this summer, where he won the Copa America to heal some of the wounds of the past with the Seleção.
Nevertheless, he still had many heartbreaks with the national team, not least being stripped from the captaincy of Brazil following the debacle that was their World Cup campaign of 2014 on home soil. It led to the controversial and inaccurate suggestions by some journalists that he lacked “mental strength”.
Yet, for all the pain Silva has suffered in life, he would probably always feel that he deserves much more recognition at the International stage than what he enjoys right now.
O Monstro has overcome all the setbacks to which many would’ve succumbed, traversing to the peak of football. Adored in Milan, an icon in Paris and a hero for Brazil, Thiago Silva has achieved the impossible.
Written by Tanish Chachra | Edited by Kabir Ali
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