If Thiago Silva had been driven by thoughts of glamour, he might have plumped for one of the attacking positions he tried as a youngster before deciding his niche was in central defence. The adulation goalscorers receive does nothing for the Paris Saint-Germain FC No2, who sees football in a refreshingly straightforward way.
"I try to do the simplest thing and bring security to my team," says the Brazilian international. "There is no point in a central defender going forward and wanting to score goals. That isn't my job, my job is to defend."
That no-frills attitude – and his outstanding all-round ability – makes him a coach's dream. PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti says: "No one has the concentration, the speed, the heading or the sense of anticipation he has. He is on track to become the next Maldini."
Captain of his country, Silva joined PSG in July after three full seasons at AC Milan. His team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimović, who made the same move days earlier, backs Ancelotti's assessment. "I have played with many fantastic central defenders – Thuram, Cannavaro, Piqué, Puyol – but Silva is like all of them put together. Perhaps fewer have noticed because he's Brazilian and Brazil is not known for good defenders, but he's the best in the world."
Such praise does not alter Silva's perspective: "You have to put praise into practice. Be very focused. Try to make few mistakes, so the expectations and plaudits remain." Such an admirable work ethic helps explain the 28-year-old's jaw-dropping statistics. In his final two terms at San Siro he helped keep 33 clean sheets. In 2011/12 he was the most accurate passer in Serie A and made more than twice as many interceptions, blocks and clearances as any other Rossonero.
It has not always been plain sailing for Silva, however. He first landed in Europe, at PSG's matchday six opponents FC Porto, from Fluminense FC in 2004 – at the age 19. Two months later he caught tuberculosis, although it was not diagnosed for some time. "The illness slowed me down so much – 2005 was a year I didn't play football, a sad year. When I face a difficult situation now, I look back on that and it makes me stronger."
After a subsequent campaign with FC Dinamo Moskva, Silva returned to Fluminense and, fortified by a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, he signed for Milan in December 2008. He has now matured into a formidable player. "We're still growing," Silva says of his latest employers PSG, who are back in the UEFA Champions League after eight seasons – a semi-final spot in 1995 being their peak. "It isn't ideal to change a lot of players at the same time, it takes a while to understand each other."
If the French capital club's Qatari owners aim to win the UEFA Champions League by 2015, Silva himself knows such success requires more than an influx of money and players. "Milan's name is more feared than PSG's at the moment," he says, "because they have won the Champions League seven times. We're back in the competition after I don't know how many years, so people don't have that respect for us yet. That will come with victories, with hard work and good football, so that's what we're looking to do."
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the latest edition of Champions Matchday which is available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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