We celebrate Thiago Silva’s 39th birthday today by hearing from those who are lucky enough to play alongside the defender and best placed to explain what makes him such a special footballer…

By his own admission, Thiago Silva never imagined his time as a Chelsea player would extend into a fourth season.

Yet, thankfully, here we are. The Brazilian has 122 appearances and three pieces of silverware to his name, alongside a glut of individual accolades. And, before 2023 is out, Thiago is set to become our oldest ever outfield player.

Few have left as indelible a mark on the club in such a short space of time. In the stands, Thiago is universally adored by the supporters. His name is sung as often as anyone’s.

On the pitch, whether in training at Cobham or running things from the heart of our defence during matches, Thiago leads by example. It is one a host of current Chelsea team-mates are doing their best to follow.

‘I remember when I was younger, I used to watch clips of him the day before a game,’ recalled Levi Colwill last month. The 20-year-old now has the privilege of lining up next to Thiago in our defence.

‘Perhaps it was because he's not the biggest, he's not the fastest, and that's what I used to be like before I grew a lot.

‘He's amazing. Even training with him, playing next to him, he's just so relaxed. He knows everything that is going on. You can't put into words how good he is. Mentally he's steps above everyone. Now if 10-year-old Levi thought about playing with him it would be amazing. The best feeling in the world.’

‘You can tell he’s a leader by the way he carries himself around the building and in training,’ Reece James, our club captain, added.

‘He talks and helps everyone with his experience.’

Academy graduate Bashir Humphreys, who is spending the season on loan at Swansea City, trained and played alongside Silva during our summer tour of the U.S. He opened up on the on-pitch influence of the Brazil international.

‘He is always telling me to go here, or to go there, when to pass or not to pass,’ Bashir explained.

‘He might find me a little bit annoying sometimes! I am always trying to get information from him. He is top!’

Thiago is approaching his 900th game as a professional footballer. It is a phenomenal achievement. Not only has his club career been spent mostly at the top of the game with AC Milan, PSG and Chelsea, but he has also racked up more than a century of caps for Brazil.

Such long-lasting international recognition is testament to Thiago’s enduring class and physical conditioning. Quite simply, he would not still be playing if it were not for the recovery and recuperation work he puts in behind closed doors.

‘The way he looks after himself away from football, the way he looks after his diet and body, he’s literally just the perfect footballer,’ outlined Ben Chilwell after arriving at Stamford Bridge.

‘I was at Leicester when all the speculation around Thiago [coming to Chelsea] started. I remember chatting to a few of the boys saying, ‘imagine if I go there and play with Thiago Silva, that would be a dream.’

‘He’s been one of the best centre-backs in world football for so many years,' Chilly added.

'To then come to Chelsea, meet him, train with him, learn from him, talk to him around the building, hear how he thinks I can improve my game, here how he talks to me and the other boys during matches, it’s just amazing.’

Chilwell was appointed our vice-captain this season, with James given the armband following the departure of club legend Cesar Azpilicueta.

Many might have considered Thiago the Spaniard's natural successor, but it was clear to Mauricio Pochettino he did not need an official title to have an impact on those around him.

‘He is a captain also,’ said Pochettino last month.

‘He is going to help Chilwell and Reece to be great captains for this club. In a young squad, to have some experience like he has, is always very helpful.’

Pochettino knows he can lean on Thiago. And the rest of the squad are keenly aware every minute in his presence is a chance to study at close quarters the work behind one of the game’s greatest defenders.

Wesley Fofana perhaps best summed it up last year. ‘I used to play FIFA with Thiago Silva and now I'm training with him,’ he said.

‘I'm in the changing rooms with him just to my right. I learn every day. It's crazy, but life is incredible.’