Why Silva chose Chelsea – with help from Ney­mar

➤In the first of a se­ries ex­am­in­ing how the top clubs are pre­par­ing for the new sea­son, Ja­son Burt re­veals the story be­hind one of the big­gest coups of this trans­fer win­dow when the de­fender left PSG

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It was in the Paris St-Ger­main team ho­tel, in the five-star lux­ury of the Myr­iad, in cen­tral Lis­bon that Thi­ago Silva sought out Ney­mar for a pri­vate word. The PSG cap­tain had a big de­ci­sion to make and he wanted the dis­creet ad­vice of his friend and team-mate, for club and coun­try, as to what he should do.

PSG were in the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal for the “fi­nal eight” tour­na­ment to com­plete the Cham­pi­ons League – an en­deav­our that ended in a heart­break­ing de­feat in the fi­nal against Bay­ern Mu­nich last month.

That game would be Silva’s last for PSG, de­spite, shortly af­ter the fi­nal, the club bow­ing to the de­mand of coach Thomas Tuchel to of­fer his cap­tain a two-year con­tract ex­ten­sion. But by then it was too late. The Brazil­ian’s mind was made up – he would be leav­ing PSG, come what may, af­ter ac­cept­ing that sport­ing di­rec­tor Leonardo wanted him out.

Un­like Edin­son Ca­vani, Silva had agreed to ex­tend his con­tract un­til PSG’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Cham­pi­ons League was over, but he felt let down that the club did not want him af­ter that.

Ini­tially he be­lieved he would be re­turn­ing to Italy, hav­ing left AC Mi­lan for PSG in a £36mil­lion deal – then a world record for a de­fender – in 2012. Mi­lan wanted him back, as did two other Serie A clubs.

It was then that su­per-agent Pini Za­havi in­ter­vened. The Is­raeli pre­sented an of­fer from Chelsea to Silva, who was in­trigued by the no­tion of play­ing in a new league, de­spite turn­ing 36 later this month.

“The mo­ment he heard about Chelsea he wanted to say ‘yes’ im­me­di­ately,” a source said. “It felt like com­plet­ing the cir­cle in his ca­reer.” Even so, Silva wanted to do some re­search – and seek a lit­tle ad­vice. It meant what Ney­mar said mat­tered. And the for­ward was re­mark­ably clear. He urged Silva to join Chelsea and be­lieved it would be a chal­lenge he would re­gret not tak­ing if he turned it down.

Ney­mar was not the only Brazil­ian Silva spoke to. There was also a call to Wil­lian: the winger was about to leave Chelsea to join Arse­nal. News that Silva was on his way to Stam­ford Bridge elicited a joke from his in­ter­na­tional team-mate: “If I’d known you were mov­ing to Chelsea, I would have stayed there af­ter all.”

Silva may have earned the nick­name O Mon­stro (The Mon­ster), but that re­flects his hard play­ing style more than his per­son­al­ity. The con­ver­sa­tions con­firm the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion of him as one of the most thought­ful, de­ter­mined, and well-liked play­ers in world foot­ball. He is con­sci­en­tious; he does his re­search; he works prodi­giously hard; he looks af­ter him­self. And he wants to win.

Silva was also taken with the prospect of be­ing coached by Frank Lam­pard: he has a high re­gard for the for­mer mid­fielder from his play­ing days. In­deed, in their first con­ver­sa­tion, the pair re­called cap­tain­ing their coun­tries against each other in 2013, when Eng­land trav­elled to Rio de Janeiro for a friendly that marked the open­ing of the new Mara­cana sta­dium.

The re­spect was mu­tual and in those dis­cus­sions Lam­pard made it clear he wanted Silva not just for his abil­ity, but his in­flu­ence and win­ning men­tal­ity.

In a sense, Silva will be­come not just a key player for Chelsea, but a de facto mem­ber of Lam­pard’s young coach­ing team; an “un­of­fi­cial as­sis­tant man­ager on the pitch”, as one source said.

It is a role Silva is rel­ish­ing, al­though there is work to be done. He needs to learn English and he is work­ing in­ten­sively to gain a grasp of the lan­guage, just as he stud­ied French when he went to PSG and learnt Ital­ian while with AC Mi­lan.

Silva un­doubt­edly has the con­fi­dence to lead a dress­ing room even if, at times, he can be quite an emo­tional char­ac­ter. Cap­tain­ing Brazil on home soil at the 2014 World Cup al­most meant too much to him, es­pe­cially as that cam­paign un­rav­elled so spec­tac­u­larly in the 7-1 semi-fi­nal de­feat by Ger­many.

Still, Silva knows his own worth, and that his words carry weight. As he put it in an in­ter­view with The

Daily Tele­graph four years ago: “When I speak ev­ery­one lis­tens – even Zla­tan [Ibrahi­movic].”

Silva ex­pressed ad­mi­ra­tion for Chelsea in that in­ter­view, and the two al­ready have a sig­nif­i­cant shared his­tory. He faced them in three suc­ces­sive sea­sons in the Cham­pi­ons League – los­ing in the quar­ter-fi­nals in 2014, af­ter which Silva said he suf­fered a sleep­less night, be­fore gain­ing re­venge the fol­low­ing year, when he scored the de­ci­sive goal in ex­tra time. In the saga’s third chap­ter, also in the last 16, PSG won more com­fort­ably, home and away.

Mem­o­ries of those per­for­mances are one ex­pla­na­tion for why there was such una­nim­ity at Chelsea when the Silva deal was dis­cussed. In­deed, sources close to the trans­fer de­scribe it as the only one dur­ing all the years of Ro­man Abramovich’s own­er­ship that was met with uni­ver­sal agree­ment.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions were re­mark­ably smooth with Silva read­ily ac­cept­ing the salary on of­fer, which was sig­nif­i­cant, but still a re­duc­tion on his £900,000 a month at PSG (af­ter tax), and a one-sea­son deal with the op­tion to ex­tend for 12 months.

Silva is in ex­tremely good phys­i­cal shape and re­mains de­ter­mined to play for Brazil in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and be­yond. He has tar­geted re­tire­ment at 39, at the ear­li­est.

He will be rel­ish­ing the prospect of get­ting stuck in – lit­er­ally. “The ref­er­ees let [tack­les] go,” he told this news­pa­per in 2016. “They don’t call a nor­mal foul. For us de­fend­ers it is mag­nif­i­cent to play like that!”

The Premier League has been warned: the Mon­ster is com­ing.

Agony and ec­stasy: Thi­ago Silva be­ing con­soled and then con­grat­u­lated by Brazil team­mate Ney­mar

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