Thiago Silva exclusive: Playing at 40, finishing at Fluminense - and what happens next at Chelsea

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Thiago Silva - PAUL GROVER
Thiago Silva - PAUL GROVER

Thiago Silva might not understand English well enough to know everything he is being asked, but he stares at you earnestly through eyes that look like they have seen it all before.

It is not particularly unsettling, but you become aware of your own body language, as well as the questions you are asking. It feels like a test to try to match his high standards - however impossible that might be.

Silva used English for the only time during our half-an-hour interview to immediately shoot back “no” in answer to an admittedly unremarkable question over whether or not he has any early memories of watching FA Cup finals on television as a boy in Brazil.

Fortunately, the answer was followed by a smile. But it was clear that Silva had no interest in going through the motions - one of the reasons he is such fascinating company, even through a translator. It also offered an insight into how his Chelsea team-mates might feel when they line up next to him.

How, for instance, would he react to a question over his age? “I don’t feel old, I feel experienced as a footballer and experience is very important,” he said. “I’m making the most of my career at the moment."

That is understandable, particularly given Silva's brush with death after contracting tuberculosis while on loan at Dynamo Moscow in 2006. But, ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final against Liverpool, he is not treating each new opportunity like it might be his last - even though he will celebrate his 38th birthday in September.

Thiago Silva has been a key man for Chelsea since his move to Stamford Bridge in 2020 - ACTION IMAGES
Thiago Silva has been a key man for Chelsea since his move to Stamford Bridge in 2020 - ACTION IMAGES

“Of course, I make sure that I prepare well, here at the club and also at home. Over the course of a career you are always going to have difficulties and I had them. There was the issue with the tuberculosis I suffered early in my career as well, so when you say I am nearly 38 years old, an issue with my lungs has complicated matters as well. But I’m just really happy to be at this age, to be playing football and still performing at a good level.”

There was the flicker of understanding at the mention of his former Milan team-mate Paulo Maldini, who played on until 41, and Silva was able to second-guess the question before it arrived back to him in Portuguese.

“I’m not sure about Maldini’s record, but in terms of my own record, I’ve already beaten it because I never thought I’d still be playing at the highest level at this age. So I’ve already beaten my own expectations and that’s what I will continue to do.

“It’s very difficult to talk about the future because you never know what’s going to happen, but in my mind I’m projecting myself to play until I'm 40. I don’t know if I’m going to get there, you never know with these things, but that’s what I’m preparing for in my mind.”

Having arrived early, Silva not only kept his interviewer on his toes, but also provided a test for the translator, talking at such length he had to keep a note of his answers before relaying them back in English.

It was at Fluminense where Silva, who was born and grew up in Rio, was given a chance to restart his career following his near-death experience and the Brazilian club would represent the perfect ending for a player who has made over 700 career appearances.

“Fluminense is the club I would like to finish at,” said Silva without a moment’s hesitation. “It was the club where I played after I had my illness and it’s the club who opened the door for me after that stage and believed in me when nobody thought Thiago Silva would still make it as a player. As incredible as it may seem, it’s the club that I support as well.”

Thiago Silva - PAUL GROVER
Thiago Silva - PAUL GROVER

The contract extension he signed in January means Silva is committed to Chelsea until at least the end of next season and has provided some certainty at a time when supporters have been made to sweat over the future of the club and key players.

“To sign a new contract, for me, was the easiest decision to make,” said Silva. “I feel very much at home here, my family are really happy here and, generally speaking, if things are going well off the pitch then they tend to go better on the pitch as well.”

Recent evidence would point to Thomas Tuchel’s team facing a battle just to continue to cling to the coattails of Saturday’s opponents Liverpool and Manchester City next season. They have won just three of their past eight league matches, turning what should have been a procession into next season's Champions League into something slightly more uncomfortable, although the midweek win over Leeds dispelled any lingering doubts.

Given the nature of his career, however, Silva is one of life’s believers and is adamant Chelsea's sights should be set higher next year. “I’m absolutely certain that we’ll be in the fight for the Premier League,” he said. “This year has been a great learning curve for us, we’ve made lots of improvements and I believe in the group we have got here, I believe in the coaching staff and the project we are putting in place.

Off the pitch, there’s been issues at the club but I don’t think for one minute that’s been an issue for us on the pitch. If we’ve not achieved what we wanted to, it’s because the performances we’ve put in haven’t been at the level that we would have hoped they would be.”

Before concentrating on the future, Silva has unfinished business to attend to in his latest Wembley final, having lost two - against Leicester City in last season’s FA Cup and Liverpool in this year’s Carabao Cup.

“Wembley is known around the world for being the home of the English football team - it has a status like the Stade de France and the Maracana,” he said. “It’s a privilege to play in these stadiums and, obviously, it would be an amazing thing to win there. I’ve lost finals there against Leicester and Liverpool, and those are not great memories. To return to Wembley and win a trophy would be another dream come true.”

Liverpool do, however, pose a major obstacle. Silva admits that meetings between the two teams now deserve to be considered "a type of Clasico", but suggests Liverpool's strength lies in the collective rather than the individual: "The key is the team itself - it’s the squad, it’s the manager," he said.

Silva is well versed in Liverpool's qualities but, for all that, remains undefeated in three meetings with them this season, most recently the goalless Carabao Cup final draw, which Jurgen Klopp’s team won on penalties. On that occasion, Silva's wife, Belle, was prevented from wearing his name on the back of her Chelsea shirt. Will that change this weekend?

“It wasn’t that she didn’t want to wear the shirt, it was because when she was getting her pass to get into the VIP zone, and they weren’t allowing family members to wear club colours,” said Silva. “She was upset because she wasn’t able to wear it, but she wanted to.

“She always wears my shirt, above all for finals. She wore it in the Champions League final and other competitions, the Club World Cup and things like that, so hopefully there will be no problem this time and no kind of rules on what they can and can’t wear. It just shows passion and football is about passion. Hopefully she will be able to wear the shirt and it will bring us luck.”

When assessing what adding the FA Cup to the Super Cup and the Club World Cup would represent to Chelsea’s campaign as a whole, Silva returned to the theme of believing the club will be in a better position to challenge Liverpool for the title, and not only in cup finals, next season.

“For us, it means a lot, the FA Cup final,” said Silva. “It’s an incredibly important competition for us as players, we know what it means with its status here in England and, of course, we lost last year. So it’s a competition we would absolutely love to win.

“People talk about what interests them and perhaps Chelsea at the moment, since we went out of the Champions League, we’re not the story (on the pitch). But if you look at our season, the finals we’ve got to, the silverware we’ve picked up and being third in the League, I’d say we’re having a very good season. Not excellent, but we’re very proud of what we have done, particularly as we are only a year-and-a-half into playing under our current manager.

“If you look at Man City, they’ve had a real amount of time to settle in under (Pep) Guardiola. I’ve already said that Klopp’s been there for seven years. So we are still a work in progress and we are taking it step by step. We know that next year we will come back even stronger because we will have had more time to adapt to his (Tuchel’s) methods.”

Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal and Thiago Silva of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on April 20, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. - GETTY IMAGES
Gabriel Martinelli of Arsenal and Thiago Silva of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on April 20, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. - GETTY IMAGES

For a man who seems to defy time, it is hard to imagine the day Silva will eventually retire. But when the curtain finally falls on what is one of the great playing careers, he already knows what he wants to do.

“I’ve always thought I just want to stay in football and if I do, then it will be as a coach because I don’t see myself as a sporting director or in a role further removed from the pitch,” said Silva. “I’ve worked with really great coaches in my career and I’ve learned an awful lot - people like Tuchel, Tite with the national team, Carlo Ancelotti. These are the guys who have been very, very present in my career. So if I can take a little bit from all of them, then that would be what I would like to do.

“And, obviously, I would love to coach in England as well. It’s a country where I feel really at home and it would be an incredible opportunity to coach here too.”

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