By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Hailing from a land famed for open, imaginative and above all theatrical football, it might be hard gaining a deserved recognition as one of the world’s leading defenders. But former Fluminense zagueiro (central defender) and current AC Milan star Thiago Silva is, alongside veteran Lúcio, firmly shaking the misconception of some that Brazilians don’t know how to defend.
In December, French sports paper L’Équipe voted the Brazil Seleção (national side) number four the best Brazilian player in Europe, beating such stars to the accolade as Barcelona’s Dani Alves, Real Madrid’s Kaka’ and Milan team-mate Robinho.
Playing in a league championship well known for tactical and defensive discipline, Silva confirms the gaping chasm between the Italian and Brazilian leagues. “As a zagueiro I like to discuss formations both of the team and our adversaries.”
“I have adapted well to Italy. In Brazil, teams change players every season. This makes it difficult to maintain standards in teams,” Silva explained.
Playing in Brazil, and more specifically the colors of Carioca club Fluminense, turned Thiago Silva into one of the most sought after defenders on the planet. In 2008, the year he swapped Rio for Milan, the stopper was instrumental in the Tricolor’s run to the final of the Copa Libertadores, where they eventually lost on penalties to LDU Quito of Ecuador.
And after turning into an idol in the eyes of Flu fans, Silva reiterated his desire to pull on their shirt once again. “Fluminense is the club that gave me visibility [to a world audience], I have a very big affection for the club.”
“It would be a pleasure, in the future, to end my career at Fluminense,” Silva said. Words that are surely music to Tricolor ears, especially as he has kept in touch with several people still connected with the club.
“I haven’t only stayed in touch with the players, but employees of the club as well. I have many friends there and whenever I’m in Rio I visit Fluminense to see them again,” he reminisced.
As well as being the bedrock around which Milan have built a new look defense, the center-half has also become a mainstay for the Seleção.
It is widely expected Silva will form one half of the nation’s central defense at the 2014 World Cup, possibly alongside Vasco’s Dedé, but the most pressing international date is the Olympic Games in London this July.
With Brazil looking to win their first ever Olympic golden football medal, Silva confirmed his desire to be part of the squad in four months’ time. “To play in the Olympics is one of my objectives for this season and I’m working hard to achieve it.
“London is a magnificent and unbelievable city. To win gold for the first time, in the country that created football, would be fantastic.”
It is impossible to speak to an international without mentioning the World Cup, an event that, despite still being two-and-a-half years away, is at the very forefront of everyone’s mind. Silva acknowledged the enormity of the task that faces the national side in 2014.
“Brazil is under huge pressure to win this World Cup, as it will be disputed in our home. We have a coach [Mano Menezes] with the capacity to deal very well with everything, and he is earning the confidence of the players,” he said.
He signed off with a positive message for his countrymen. “In spite of the difficulties, I am very optimistic and confident in this Brazilian squad.”