Skip to main content

Thiago Silva: Silent Knight

Some people say they like the strong, silent type. If that’s true for you, you probably love Thiago Silva. And what’s not to love? Milan’s Brazilian born center back is Serie A’s best defender, as chosen by the league last year, and argued by many to be the best center back in the world right now. He is quiet but powerful, precise yet unyielding, a formidable force for opposing attackers to beat. Add to that his speed, tactical awareness, and passion for winning, and you have a player with the valor and strength to rival the knights of old.

Silva reacts after scoring the equalizer vs. Barcelona
Born in Rio de Janeiro as Thiago Emiliano da Silva, he trained with Fluminese but began his youth career with RS Futebol, then moving to Juventude in his native Brazil. He went to Portuguese side Porto in 2004, then on to Dynamo Moscow in 2005, but failed to make appearances for either side.

The main reason he did not play was that he contracted Tuberculosis just two months into his Portuguese adventure. Only the doctors didn’t find it for a long time. He trained with the B team, his health rendering him unable to play full strength. He was finally diagnosed in January of 2005, and had to stay in the hospital for 6 months in Russia in confinement, struggling with health and also 20 pounds underweight. He and his family faced the difficult decision of whether or not to operate, and possibly lose a lung, which would certainly end his football career.

Eventually, he was able to recover after plenty of injections and other treatments. He speaks of this time humbly, acknowledging that he nearly died. “When I face a difficult situation nowadays, I always look back at that experience and remember what I've been through. I get stronger each time I think of it." Clearly, this life-changing experience contributed to his strong character on and off the pitch, transforming him into the gentle giant of a man that he is today.

Following this very difficult time, and having not played football for a year, he went back to Fluminese, the club that did not even have faith in him as a youth. He worked very hard to return to form and helped them move from 15th in 2007 to 4th in the league in 2008. It was in January of 2008 that he agreed to join Milan on a €10 million transfer, only becoming official in July of 2009 due to the non-EU player rules.


His International career also benefited from his return to form, having featured five times for Brazil’s U23 team and representing his country at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He also has 24 caps for the Brazilian National Team, including being called up for the 2010 World Cup. He did not feature for Coach Dunga there, despite being in excellent form, but is now a starter under Coach Menezes.

Since debuting for Milan, he has steadily built an impressive partnership with the iconic Alessandro Nesta, with the two of them being largely responsible for Milan having the best defensive record in Serie A last year en route to being crowned champions. Silva’s ability to play just about anywhere he is asked saw him play a few times in the midfield over the past year or so, and has led to comparisons with former Milan player Marcel Desailly. Some have even suggested offhand that he play as a striker, too, although it is clear that he is best suited for defense.

Defending? Check. Scoring? Check. Dancing? Umm...

Scoring goals isn’t a problem for the impressive Silva, though. This year, he’s already got two on the books, one in the league as well as a very memorable last minute header vs. Barca in the Champions League in September that gave Milan the draw. Someone recently pointed out to me that our top goal scorers wear numbers in multiples of 11: Ibra (11) and Nocerino (22). If so, then wearing number 33,  could Thiago Silva be next on the list? I certainly wouldn’t put it past him.

His passing skills are unparalleled, having completed the second most passes in all of Serie A last season, a very impressive 92% completion rate. He also won 74% of his tackles and 79% of his aerial challenges, which makes it clear as to why he is a striker’s nightmare when attacking. In fact, Milan only conceded an average of .54 goals per game when he was on the pitch, compared to 1.2 goals when he was not last season. But for me, the stat that best exemplifies a defender’s tackling abilities is this: he only received a single yellow card for the entire season last year. That is talent.

Best vs. Best?

These are all just numbers, though, and numbers can’t possible tell the whole story. In June of this year, he signed a contract extension that would keep him at Milan until 2016, despite incessant rumors that he would move to Barca. He has recently come out and said that not only does he aspire to be the captain at Milan, but he would like to extend his contract to the year 2020. Such fervent loyalty was not required, though, as his character and the respect of his coach and his teammates were enough for him to have recently worn the captain’s armband multiple times this season, to the delight of many a Milan fan.

It’s not just that he works hard, plays harder, and wins at all cost. He is a consummate professional with a fantastic attitude that is always on display, both on the pitch and off. Comparisons to Baresi or Maldini that have bewitched so many fans might overwhelm some players, but he humbly aspires to meet that challenge, all the way maintaining his own identity and improving his skills for both club and country. Most players do not have to face the challenges he has had to, but Silva used his experiences to strengthen himself both mentally and physically. His quiet humility is only overshadowed by his strength and athletic abilities. Like the chivalrous and powerful icons of old, he is a silent knight.


Special Thanks to Derek Hauer for the inspiration for this post.