Thiago Silva may be a veteran of the European game after 12 years playing at the highest level in Italy, France and now England, but the defender’s hunger and desire burn brighter than ever before...
The Champions League is the one major piece of club silverware to have eluded him during a distinguished career, though don’t suggest to the 36-year-old that this is his final shot at glory as Chelsea prepare for a quarter-final tie with Porto.
While the Blues are well aware they are four games away from the final in Istanbul, Thiago Silva is adamant that he will be playing long after the curtain falls on the 2020/21 campaign.
He has spoken openly about his desire to represent Brazil at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and it is perhaps the experience of working in Milan alongside one of the great old heads of football that has convinced him of his own longevity in the game.
‘I had very positive examples close to me and one of those was [Paolo] Maldini, the greatest mentor and teacher I had,’ said our number six in the build-up to tonight’s European quarter-final against Porto.
‘He taught me a lot, even though he wasn’t aware of it. I was able to see his preparation for training and for the matches.
‘He was a guy who, at 41 years of age, was playing at a high level. He didn’t run as I did when I was 22 but if football was only about running then I definitely wouldn’t be playing it anymore!
‘The ball says everything. It’s the ball that runs, it’s the ball that brings intensity to the match, and I had a great example of that by my side.’
The Brazilian missed 11 matches for the Blues with a thigh issue he picked up against Tottenham in early February, before starting at the weekend against West Brom. It was not a happy return to the side, however, as the Blues lost for the first time under Thomas Tuchel and the defender was sent off after being shown two yellow cards.
He will subsequently be suspended for the trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday but remains available for selection in European competition and will be hoping to feature in Seville against the club that first offered him a chance in European football back in 2004.
It was a turbulent time in the career of a young defender moving from South America for the first time and, following a year in the Porto B team, he then went on loan to Dynamo Moscow in 2005/06. Soon after arriving in Russia, Thiago Silva fell ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a period he later described as ‘one of the worst experiences of his life.’ It is a memory that makes mere muscle injuries appear insignificant.
‘Nobody likes getting an injury and I was out for a few games ] but the atmosphere in the club, all the positive things going on, the happiness I feel for being at this club, all of that has helped me to get back on my feet quicker,’ he explained.
‘I’ve never felt as happy while injured. That may sound a bit weird but it’s part and parcel of the game. I’ve got many examples to look up to and keep my chin up. As many times as I fall down, I’ll rise up again. I’m not a quitter.
‘People say “you’re 36 and playing well” but nobody sees everything I gave up to reach this point. At 36, many players are ending their careers yet I’m going through one of my best spells. I’m really enjoying this time at one of the biggest clubs in the world and I’m very happy right now.’
The centre-back has featured predominantly in the centre of the back three under Tuchel, a coach he worked with for two-and-a-half years at Paris Saint-Germain, and was already well-versed in the German’s methods.
However, he has been impressed with how quickly his team-mates have taken on board the new manager’s instructions, a rapid adaptation that has borne impressive results and should stand the Blues in good stead in the final seven weeks of the season.
‘Since the first game against Wolves, he made some tactical changes in the team, saying what he’d like the team to do, so you can see the coach has already put his mark here,’ continued Thiago Silva.
‘His way of playing has convinced the players that it’s possible to hold the ball and be aggressive when necessary so we get on the field knowing basically all that we have to do.
‘I have known for two years all I have to do on the field – when to go up, when to hold the ball. Often, other players take a little longer getting the coach’s timing but surprisingly they haven’t taken long to understand Tuchel’s way of playing and behaving in the field.’
As we turn the corner onto the final straight of a season like no other, Chelsea’s ambitions still burn strongly – a top four finish in the Premier League to seal Champions League qualification, plus both domestic and European silverware still up for grabs.
Few in the dressing room have as much trophy-winning pedigree as Thiago Silva, who continues to play on and dream big.
‘We’re going in the right direction right now,’ he added, ‘getting wins and feeling really motivated but we are also in a new beginning, with a new coach and a new style.
‘Of course there are ups and downs in a long season, especially when the team is very young, but I believe we’re fully capable of getting far in the Champions League.
‘We’ve got great quality and, especially in knockout games, you just have to hope the opponent isn’t having a good day and that you are. This can change the season completely for a team with big dreams.’