The Brazilian recalls how Carlo Ancelotti, the man in the Everton dugout tonight, helped him settle in European football following a tumultous few years...
When Thiago Silva arrived at AC Milan at the start of 2009, he was only 24 years old but had already experienced a lifetime’s worth of fluctuating fortunes in the game. Having built his career from the lower divisions in Brazil and earned a move to Porto in 2004, the defender failed to break into the first team during his maiden season in Europe.
He was loaned to Dynamo Moscow the following year but endured fitness struggles, eventually being diagnosed with tuberculosis, an illness that almost cost him his life, never mind his football career.
Having returned to his homeland to recuperate, Thiago Silva was eventually coaxed back onto the field by Fluminense and finally returned to Europe three years later. It was in the Italian city that the defender took his game to new heights with Carlo Ancelotti as coach and the legendary Paolo Maldini as mentor.
Ahead of today’s meeting with Ancelotti’s Everton and a reunion with the man he worked with for a year at AC Milan and for 18 months at Paris Saint-Germain, Thiago Silva has been reflecting on the impact the Italian has had on his career.
‘He’s someone who I really love,’ the 36-year-old said this week. ‘I’m really happy to have worked with him at Milan and PSG but at Milan even more so because I’d come from Brazil, straight from Fluminense to Milan, and in the first six months I was unable to play because the slots for non-EU players were full.
‘I just trained in these six months and Carlo took me to every game. He said that I had to gel as soon as possible and he gave me a piece of advice which I remember as if it were yesterday. He said to me, “Thiago, firstly learn the language and I’ll take you to all of the games, even away games, so that you can observe Maldini a bit.”
‘So I learnt Italian and then looked at the way Maldini played. He was already 40 at the time but he was playing really well so I had a great learning experience. Maybe Maldini knows nothing of this, that Carlo said this to me, but my first six months were just studying the theory and the practice alongside top defenders and especially one of the best in history.
‘Carlo has contributed a lot to my growth in Europe over the years I’ve been here, playing at the highest level. I owe this to Ancelotti.’
Eleven years after they first met, the two are on opposing sides of what promises to be a Premier League battle at Goodison Park tonight. Much has changed since their San Siro days, with Thiago Silva now the veteran passing on his knowledge and experience to a younger generation eager to learn.
The Blues currently have the second-best defensive record in the league, aided by a blossoming partnership between the Brazilian and Kurt Zouma at centre-back, though it is not just the Frenchman learning from the new arrival.
‘I feel proud because they’re young players who see you as an inspiration and want to follow in your footsteps,' he added. 'This happened at PSG with Thilo [Kehrer], [Pascal] Kimpembe and Marquinhos. It’s happening here with Zouma and I think it’s the case for others as well.
‘It means I have more responsibility and I have to give my all so that they keep seeing me as an inspiration. So it’s a source of pride but also a big responsibility.’