Thiago Silva made his first passes and tackles on a pitch in the neighbourhood of Campo Grande, more than 55 kilometres away from the touristy areas of Rio de Janeiro. Playing for one of several football schools set up by Fluminense across the country at the time, he would leave their youth ranks at 19 and rise from the low levels of professional football in Brazil to European football only a year later, first joining Portuguese club Porto in 2004 and then moving on loan to Russian outfit Dynamo Moscow.
The latter was a disaster for the boy who was used to the heat of an entire city confined in another city in a valley covered by concrete and asphalt, with the low temperatures in the Russian capital turning the athlete into a bedridden tuberculosis patient. But before becoming a “monster”, Thiago was a warrior. And he battled through, returning to his home city and childhood club to recover both career- and health-wise.
The then 22-year-old certainly did not take a laid-back approach to a career that almost came to an end a few months prior, and used that in the best way possible to save the Tricolor from relegation.
“A 22-year-old player, especially a defender, is at the beginning of their career.
“Of course that’s true for a forward as well, but a forward is able to play professionally when they are 17 or 18 years old. For a defender, that’s a bit more difficult, you have to have more experience, the responsibility is much higher. Forwards have less responsibility. They can do things using intuition. At the back, things are a bit more serious, in terms of positioning.
“I think that the 22-year-old Thiago was a guy who was willing to learn. Even though he had a good season with Fluminense, he still had a lot to learn.
“And the best thing is that I was prepared to learn, that’s what I consider the best thing. There’s no use in knowing that you need to learn if you lack the patience and the comprehension of things, because that doesn’t work.”
The “Monstro” nickname would soon come to him, and it fit like a glove. Goalkeeper Fernando Henrique, known for his over-the-top personality and style, was the man behind the myth.
“Firstly, it was because of the good performances I’d put in, and due to the confidence that not only I, but all of the defence was giving to our goalkeeper.
“Actually, it was not the fans who came up with that nickname, it was the goalkeeper, Fernando Henrique [dos Anjos]. He was the one who came up with that nickname after a move from the opposition in which I made a good recovery and was able to prevent them from scoring.
“Then, he looked at me and said ‘Nice one, Monster!’ Then the fans heard that through the microphones behind the goal and started calling me Monstro.”
-Thiago Silva; Source: Chelsea FC
Despite being a “monstrous” defender for most of his career, Silva's path has had its fair share of ups and downs. He failed to bring Fluminense what would have been the most important title in the club’s history in the 2008 Copa Libertadores final. Twelve years later, at the culmination of an eight-great Paris Saint-Germain career, he saw a repeat of the same story. The bad luck almost continued this year, with an injury forcing him off the pitch in the Champions League final, but this time the night — now four weeks ago — would have a most triumphant ending.
With or without these trophies, Thiago Silva, who has recently signed a one-year extension at Chelsea, has served as inspiration to many, from Brazil to the rest of world — including his former neighbours like me.