We are all impressed by Thiago. We always believed he would be exactly what he has become to us. He has proven it, and you can see what a great addition he has been.
When you are about to bring a more experienced and older player into the team, especially in a league where it’s faster, physical, and more demanding, you need to make sure the player suits the team and suits the league. You look at how they look after themselves, how professional they are, and how they manage the load of a season.
When you look at Thiago, you don’t see any differences between him playing 10 years ago and now. That’s the impressive part. The way he trains is the key. He also trains fully concentrated and with full commitment. He looks after himself and this is why he is able to play at this high level for such a long time. Put it together with his experience and immense talent, and that’s why he is so successful even when he is getting older.
You can see he loves the game. He does everything to give himself a chance to be fit, and his body is going well. He is a great example of the combination of everything going in the right direction. If he stays fit and has the same motivation to win and be on the pitch, he can carry on for another three years.
The wiser you get…
If you look at the world of football and see the players who are still at the top of the game at an older age – Cristiano, Oli Giroud, Ibrahimovic – they are fit! They look after themselves and make sure they tick. That’s why they are there at such an age.
If you have the desire to carry on and you keep your discipline and your commitment levels high, when you get older you need to be wiser. The number of games is increasing every year, for club and country. Recovery has become more important than ever in the past two or three years. The pandemic has charged the calendar so all you do is play. If you are at a successful club who are in every competition and don’t get eliminated in the first round, you play every three days. Recovery is more important than training. Finding a way to keep your energy up is very important.
You can be lucky your body is structured in such a way you stay fit no matter what you do, but there aren’t many lucky players like that! The majority who manage to play at the top of the game until late in their career manage to really look after themselves, look after their nutrition, and sacrifice the time to relax and recover.
My decision to retire
When you decide to retire, there are usually one of three reasons why:
1. Your body can’t perform at the highest level anymore because it has deteriorated as you get older.
2. You have had enough mentally - enough of the same routine, travelling, training, hotel, pressure, demands - and you have fallen out of love with the game.
3. You want to carry on, you have the same motivation, but your body tells you to stop.
You must consider all three when you’re getting older. The race is against your age and the fact the body could lose its performance.
In my case it was my body that told me to stop. I played in pain every day for the last two years. It was my ankle and my Achilles. It never went away, and it just got worse, even in normal life.
I realised the pleasure of being on the pitch, being part of a team and playing in the best league in the world was keeping me going, but it was the moment to give the body a break. If you feel like you can’t enjoy anything because of the pain, it’s time to stop.
I didn’t want it to happen like that. I would rather have decided on my own terms, not because of pain, but it was the right moment for me. I avoided the moment where people had to tell me: ‘Please finish, we don’t want to see you on the pitch anymore, it’s a disaster!’.
After six months of not training and having the load of games and travelling, all my pain disappeared. It sometimes makes me think that maybe if I took three months off and let the body heal, I could have kept on playing. But with the schedules these days, you never get more than three weeks off.
One thing that helped me was the pandemic. For much of the first year, when it was very raw, there were no fans. I couldn’t imagine how strange it must have felt for everybody on the pitch. But it wasn’t the same as playing with a full stadium in terms of excitement, atmosphere and adrenalin.
Preparing for the future
Once I got over 30, I knew retirement could happen at any moment. I started preparing my future early so I could have options when the day came. It takes years before you get your qualifications or licences or diplomas. Players can underestimate that when they’re still playing, and lose time. So I did my coaching badges, and studied things outside of football to have the appropriate educations for jobs outside of football, or in a different structure inside football.
I was planning to have a year off after I retired, and then I got an offer from Chelsea for a position I couldn’t refuse. It could have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I took it. That is the way life goes!