Thiago Silva has a closer relationship with Porto than most and here he explains why, before looking ahead to his second consecutive Champions League final appearance…
Whatever happens tomorrow night, the city of Porto will always hold a special place in Thiago Silva’s heart. It was there he took the first, tentative steps on his road to recovery following an illness that not only threatened to end his career, but his life.
The complications began during his debut season playing for Porto B, in 2004/05, as he struggled to keep up with the pace of the game having moved from Brazil. Sharp chest pains came and went. He joined Dynamo Moscow on loan in search of playing time at a higher level, but the condition only worsened during a pre-season tour of, ironically, Portugal.
The 20-year-old Thiago was diagnosed with tuberculosis, six long months after contracting it. An undignified illness, tuberculosis causes intense flu-like symptoms. The late diagnosis didn’t help Thiago Silva’s cause, but it came in time to save his life.
'Football always brings us a lot of emotions and sometimes in a quick, even unexpected way.'
— Thiago Silva
He ended up spending half a year bedridden in a Russian hospital, unable to see visitors for three months. The suggested surgery on his lungs would have ended his playing career, but he avoided that and managed to return to Porto a year after his ordeal had begun.
‘I had a flat in Porto, and kept up my recovery there,’ says Thiago Silva.
‘A tuberculosis specialist recommended I go walking for half an hour in the mornings until I felt tired, then restart. Isabelle [now Thiago’s wife] came with me by bike, but I couldn’t do it for five minutes.
‘I felt exhausted, but I didn’t stop. Little by little, I improved. I started jogging. Then, after three months, I was healed.’
Thiago Silva returned home to Brazil to rebuild his career, and was soon impressing to such an extent AC Milan came calling. An elite career at the top of the European game has followed.
It is not over yet. Not by a long stretch. Tomorrow night he will compete in the Champions League final for the second time in nine months, again in Portugal but this time in a city synonymous with perhaps the most dramatic period in his life.
‘It is difficult to express in words the whole meaning of all this,’ he reflects.
‘Achievement is a daily goal in my career and often we don't understand some decisions or facts, but I want and am enjoying this special moment God is providing me in this place that has to do with my life story.
‘To be back in a Champions League final so quickly means a lot,’ adds Thiago.
‘You could say it is a surprise gift. Until last year I had never been in a Champions League final, and now I have been in two in a row. It is very special.
‘Football always brings us a lot of emotions and sometimes in a quick, even unexpected way, and when you do something you love, with all the necessary sacrifices, this gift undoubtedly has a much greater meaning.’
That it is Thomas Tuchel leading Thiago Silva into a Champions League final once more only adds to the drama.
‘We trust each other’s work and we have similar philosophies and profiles,’ Thiago says of their relationship after a couple of happy years in France, and now four thrilling months together at Chelsea.
Thiago Silva agreed to join the Blues shortly after PSG were beaten by Bayern Munich in Lisbon last August. His short time in England has taught him plenty about game management, training methods, and even, at the age of 36, passion for football. His dedication and professionalism knows no boundaries.
‘I don't see it as a weight, because I love what I do,’ he explains as he considers what keeps him going.
‘I believe that for any professional to reach their goals, sacrifice is part of their daily lives. The life of the high-performance athlete demands this and nowadays, even more so. However, the fulfilment and joy are greater, without a doubt.
‘Thankfully, I will be playing in my second consecutive Champions League final, and I hope that it ends on a different note to last year,’ continues Thiago.
‘As you gain experience over time, you take a few precautions because too much eagerness can influence you in the actual game. I’ve been feeling very relaxed lately, ever since I put every situation in God’s hands and stopped asking "why?" or "how?".
‘I’m just keeping faith and working hard, because keeping faith won’t be enough. We know that a final is a very unique game. It’s always tough to play in one, regardless of whether you’ve played against your opponent numerous times throughout the season.
‘A final cancels all that out. It’s a one-off game. In that sense, it’s completely different, but hopefully we can get a third consecutive victory over Manchester City.’