When all talk of Brazil’s 2022 World Cup squad faded, a local journalist made a clever remark. He said that if the most controversial aspect was the reserve right-back, there wouldn’t be much controversy about it.
He was, of course, referring to 39-year-old Dani Alves. But Thiago Silva isn’t much younger – only a year and a few months old – and unlike Alves, Chelsea’s centre-back is a potential starter for Brazil when their World Cup campaign kicks off against Serbia on November 24.
This is something that could have come as a surprise to Brazil’s technical staff four years ago. After their exit from Russia 2018, they had to plan ahead. Their project was to develop Real Madrid’s Eder Militao as Thiago Silva’s long-term successor. There was no need for an immediate change, but the transition will be handled gently over the four-year cycle that extends all the way to Qatar.
Militao had made better progress than they had expected. It is true that he can make an occasional foul, but his extraordinary speed of recovery often comes to the rescue and that speed comes in handy for a side seeking to press high on the field. Militao has teamed up with Marquinhos – Brazil’s most important centre-back since Russia – in six World Cup qualifiers, including the trip to Argentina. In all these matches, Brazil has not conceded a single goal.
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Militao, then, is ready for action. But Thiago Silva is still the likely initiator. The coaching staff in Brazil were amazed by his physique, his ability to cover ground quickly if needed, and more than that, by his ability to read the match and position himself in a way such races are rarely necessary. Thiago Silva may be 38 years old, but he remains a potential member of Brazil’s starting line-up for one last World Cup win.
It’s not a competition she was nice to him. In 2010 it was a reserve; After four years he became the captain of the team and the promotion probably came too soon. Obviously, the pressures of playing the World Cup on home soil were enormous and it seemed like it was too much for a defender. He admitted before the tournament that he had been spending sleepless nights thinking about what was to come – not the most inspiring message coming from the captain – and when the competition heated up, and Brazil’s second-round match against Chile went on penalties, Thiago Silva produced one of the worst examples of the captain ever.
He should have mustered the troops and, as a good dead-ball striker himself, is preparing to come into position to take a kick. Instead, he sat alone, sitting on the soccer ball, with tears in his eyes. It’s an image that makes the stunning 7-1 semi-final collapse against Germany so much easier to understand. Thiago Silva was not present for that match, he was suspended after receiving a needless yellow card in an attempt to prevent the opponent’s goalkeeper from clearing the ball in the previous match against Colombia.
It didn’t work out for him when Brazil responded to the humiliation by reappointing Dunga as coach. A tough client, Dunga was captain of Brazil’s World Cup winning team in 1994, and he was appalled by the way Thiago Silva played his part. The center back was left on the bench, but managed to regain his place in time for the 2015 Copa America, where, once again, he did not cover himself in glory.
Brazil fell on penalties to Paraguay in the quarter-finals. The match ended 1-1 and Paraguay’s goal came from a penalty kick – which was conceded by Thiago Silva in one of the inexplicable handball incidents that has been an accidental feature of his career. Next, Dunga brought him back to the bench and credited the strong duo of Miranda and the upscale young Marquinhos to start the World Cup qualifiers.
This was the centre-back partnership that coach Tite inherited when he took over in the second half of 2016, and he kept it together as Brazil worked their way through qualifying to claim a place in Russia 2018. And then, on the eve of the final. Championship, the coach changed. He came to the conclusion that he had to find a place for Thiago Silva; So Marquinhos was left on the bench.
In hindsight, the coach will almost certainly admit that he made a mistake. Not that Thiago Silva did anything wrong – he had a good championship – but he was asking hard to bring down his fastest defender, and the team paid a price when they stunned Belgium in the fateful first half of the quarter-finals. Marquinhos has not been left out again, and now Thiago Silva has to fight for the right to play alongside his former PSG teammate.
But for all his undeniable defensive form, there is a gamble going on ahead of the Qatar 2022 tournament. Thiago Silva has excelled at Chelsea, working in the middle of three defences, rallying the defense from the middle, with center backs both sides to cut back. The area it has to cover. Thiago Silva covers more ground, and more quickly for Chelsea than he does for Brazil. This is true, but it may not apply in a World Cup where Brazil plays 4-3-3 – or at least in the knockout stages, where the team’s defensive unit will be tested much more than it has been during almost every period. Qualifications.
Did playing in the middle of three defenses make Thiago Silva less efficient at covering the wing? Opponents will surely test that, exploring the distance between him and the left-back – Argentina scored the goal that won the Copa America last year and handed Brazil their latest defeat. Will the team’s senior press also work for the 38-year-old? Or will he give himself an insurance policy by going a few yards deep?
These are great questions. One way or another, the truth will be revealed as Brazil looks to end their 20-year wait to win the World Cup, and while Thiago Silva looks to banish the championship demons and leave the international stage at the pinnacle of success.