Thiago Silva: 'I made the right choice'
PSG defender Thiago Silva may be one of football's golden boys, but in this interview he reveals the winding - and often painful - road that has led him to PSG, where he has been won over by the rapidly improving quality of Ligue 1.
Captain of Brazil, captain of the French champions, often described as the best defender in the world; it is fair to say Thiago Silva has reached the summit of his profession. And yet his life has been far from easy. Thiago Silva's rise from humble beginnings in Rio is the story of pain and hardship, perseverance and determination, and, ultimately, triumph in the face of incredible adversity.
"When I was a boy I missed my father terribly. My parents split up when I was very young and I really lacked direction," he revealed to beIN SPort. "I lacked a father figure, a head of the family. But soon, two of three years later, that figure emerged in the form of my step-father. Without that person I wouldn't be where I am today. My step-father was always there for me, helping me unconditionally."
While Silva's father figure was instrumental in his beginnings as a footballer, he wasn't the only one who helped the Brazil captain on his way to the summit of the world game.
"Despite the fact we had very little money, he always found a way for me to play football, to keep on training," Silva recalled. "Sometimes, I used to put my school uniform on when I took the bus to training - that way I didn't have to pay the fare. The bus drivers would say, 'Sorry young man, this bus isn't going to your school'. I always told them the truth. I said, 'I'm not going to school but if you can help me make my dream come true then I'll be eternally grateful'. They never once threw me off, they always let me go to training, so I need to thank those bus drivers as well."
In 2004, Europe beckoned and a 20-year-old Thiago Silva signed for then-European champions Porto. The shy Brazilian failed to settle, but more worryingly, started to struggle physically too. After six months was loaned out to Dynamo Moscow.
Scrape with death
"I was still very young when I arrived in Russia," he recounted. "It was in the middle of December and it was bitterly cold. I quickly found out I'd contracted tuberculosis, and it was so aggressive that it came close to killing me. I'd had the illness for six months, and the doctor told me if it had gone on for two or three more weeks, it would have been incurable. So I was very close to not being here today, let alone having the career that I've had in football."
His battle with the crippling lung disease almost took a career-stopping toll, but Silva brought all his strength of character to bear in order to keep his footballing dream alive.
"My treatment ended after six months in hospital. I was given two options: leave it like it was or cut out a piece of my lung. I said, 'No, don't touch my lung'. Today, when I look back I tell myself I've learned a real lesson. I even joke about it because it's hard enough playing with two lungs, so imagine my trying to take on all these French and African attackers in Ligue 1 with only one-and-a-half lungs!"
Now with the crisis behind him, Silva recognises that the episode really put things into perspective for him.
"To be honest, this illness was one of the hardest tings I've gone through in my life," he declared. "The biggest victory in my life hasn't winning the league title in Italy, or in Brazil, or in France; I think my biggest victory as a human being was beating this illness."
A healthy Thiago Silva returned to Brazil with Fluminense, and in two seasons he emerged as the best defender in the country. Then in 2008, he joined Italian giants AC Milan, a life-changing move where he was adopted as the heir apparent to club greats Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini. And then, last summer, he joined PSG.
Ligue 1 doubts expelled
"I had some pretty big doubts when I signed here," the classy defender admitted. "Not because of PSG, but because I was leaving AC Milan for a different type of football, what I thought was probably not as good a league. Today I'd say the two leagues are on par because Ligue 1 has improved a lot in recent years."
And Ligue 1's calibre is still on the up-and-up, according to Silva.
"This season I think French football will show the world how far it has come," he predicted. "But I had this doubt, I wasn't sure I'd made the right choice. I admit that even before we won the title I was still thinking about it. But today I know I made the right choice because I'm working with some formidable people."
With a Ligue 1 title, the Champions League and a World Cup up for grabs this season, Thiago Silva's remarkable story hasn't finished yet.