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
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