Today the Brazilian defender Thiago Silva is considered one of the best central defenders in the world. He has won Serie A and Ligue 1, Olympic medals, and in 2014 he made FIFA’s Team of the Tournament after the World Cup, a World Cup where he also captained Seleção. Thiago Silva has however not always been this successful. In 2005, he spent a year on loan at Dinamo Moscow after the Russian oligarch Aleksey Fedorychev started to invest massively in the club, a year he has later called the worst in his life.
Following FC Porto’s incredible Champions League victory in 2004, the Portuguese club saw most of their biggest names leave the country. José Mourinho brought Ricardo Carvalho and Paolo Ferreira with him to Chelsea where he went to become the ‘Special One’, while the Brazilian playmaker joined FC Barcelona. One of the players Porto signed was a young Brazilian central defender named Thiago Silva. Silva had been a revelation for Brazilian side Juventude the year before, and this led Porto to pay a €2.5 million fee for his services.
Silva was however, no success in Portugal, and after spending a year on the second team, he was sent on loan to Dinamo Moscow. The year before signing Silva, the oligarch Aleksey Fedorychev had bought Dinamo, and with his entrance, the club hoped to return to the glory years from the Soviet period. The ambitions were obvious, as the club signed Champions League winners like Maniche, Costinha, Georgios Seitaridis and Derlei, all from FC Porto, Igor Semshov from Torpedo Moscow, Aleksey Smertin from Chelsea, Danny from Sporting and then of course, Thiago Silva on loan. To coach the many new stars, Dinamo had the legendary Oleg Romantsev.
The many Portuguese players were signed after a close collaboration between Fedorychev and the now world-famous agent Jorge Mendes. Fedorychev trusted Mendes, and so it was easy for the agent talking him into signing his clients. Some of them was even signed without going through the otherwise obligatory medical check- one of these was Thiago Silva.
For the then 20-year-old defender, the transition to the capital of Russia was difficult. “The city was horrible, I was cold and I got ill,” he told Gazetta dello Sport in 2011. Despite the problems of settling at a new place, Silva was off to a good start, and he immediately impressed his new coaches.
The current Dinamo head coach Andrey Kobelov worked as assistant for Oleg Romantsev, and the new signing impressed him. When Silva was called up to the Brazilian national team in 2007, Kobelev shared his opinion on the then former Dinamo player.
“Thiago made an impression on the coaching staff. I must say, I have never seen such a promising defender. He had amazing qualities. So, we thought that we had caught the Firebird’s tail.”
The Firebird’s tail is an expression coming from the Slavic folklore about the Firebird, which is believed to bring blessing to its captor.
Unfortunately, for both Dinamo and Thiago Silva, the honeymoon period soon ended. It became clear for everyone at Dinamo, that something was wrong with the new signing, as if something was slowing him down.
“After a month, it became clear that Thiago had a serious illness.” Kobelev said, and continued, ”We checked the whole team to be sure that nobody else got infected while the Brazilian was released from training.”
Silva was then examined by Dinamo’s medical staff, before the doctor Yuri Vasilkov told head coach Romantsev that Thiago Silva had a serious condition. The Brazilian was sent to a hospital in Lisbon, where it was discovered that he had suffered with tuberculosis for between eight and ten months before joining Dinamo.
The discovery of Silva’s illness came at the last possible moment. “The doctors said if another two weeks had passed, I might not have been able to recover. I almost died,” Silva told Gazzetta dello Sport.
The time in hospital took its toll on the young defender:
“I was 10 kg overweight, and despite everyone else in the hospital being so skinny and not wanting to eat, I was always hungry. The doctors would tell me to get up and go for a walk, but I couldn’t do it. This disease is also contagious so I was put in isolation, only able to play computer games and go on the internet.”
Because of his illness, Thiago Silva never made an appearance on Dinamo’s first team, and seven months after moving to Moscow he left the club and joined Brazilian side Fluminese. Between 2006 and 2008, Silva reignited his career in Brazil where he established himself as the best central defender. His good form earned him a call up for the national team, something that surprised most of the Dinamo fans who had forgotten all about their former player, but not the people who had watched him play before his illness forced him off the field. When his call-up was announced, Kobelev told Sport-Express: “Frankly, the fact that he became a candidate for the national team doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Not long after, Silva moved to AC Milan before becoming the second-most expensive defender after Rio Ferdinand as he was signed by Paris SG in 2012. Even though Thiago Silva never played any football in Russia, the experience left a permanent mark on him, as he told UEFA.com back in 2011:
“When I face a difficult situation nowadays, I always look back at that experience and remember what I’ve been through. I get stronger each time I think of it.”
While Silva became one of the best players in the world, Dinamo are still waiting for their first league title since 1976.
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Author: Toke Møller Theilade
Brøndby supporter, groundhopper and more importantly Editor-in-Chief at Russianfootballnews.com. As a hopeless romantic, I still believe Fyodor Smolov and Viktoria Lopyreva has a future together.