Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva is often hailed as “the best defender in the world,” by virtue of his €42 million price tag.
He has started to live up to that figure recently, and his performances against Barcelona in particular caught the eye as one of the best defensive showings in recent memory. Like Fabio Cannavaro in Berlin when Italy won the World Cup in 2006, Silva’s colossal effort against the Catalans will live long in the memory.
That the 28-year-old can even be mentioned in the same bracket as the former Azzurri captain is compliment enough, but Le Parisien hailed him “already a legend” after the match. Former player and head of recruitment Alain Roche dubbed him the “Lionel Messi of defenders,” serving as confirmation to the French public at least, that PSG have the best defender in the world in their team.
Roche even went as far as saying that Silva is already "better than Cannavaro in his prime," and former PSG and Brazilian Ricardo hailed his presence as that of “a monster.”
These are accurate descriptions of his performance against Barcelona, and it is that performance that arguably justified his tag as the best defender in the world to any lingering doubters.
Silva has the whole package. His physicality, reading of the game, interceptions, tackling and aerial ability are second to none, his passing skills and distribution are also crucial for both club and country. It is his concentration that is most impressive, though, and arguably the attribute that has seen him rise to the pinnacle of the world game at the back.
In the first leg against Barcelona we had a perfect example of that, Carlo Ancelotti put him into a defensive environment that he was comfortable in alongside Alex and left Silva to organise the rest himself. The Brazil captain almost single-handedly kept the likes of Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta at bay for the 90 minutes through sheer willpower, even though Barca did score two away goals.
That indomitable attitude that he displayed at the heart of the PSG defence against the Spanish is also one of his greatest qualities. As a leader, he inspires those around him and sets an example to all of his teammates. Very few top-class defenders can boast such well-rounded attributes.
Silva’s ability to usurp Frenchman Christophe Jallet as PSG captain, despite an inability to yet even conduct interviews in French or something close to it, is testament to the powers of his influence. The former AC Milan man is vital to the capital club’s ambitious future plans and despite reports linking him with a potential future move to Barcelona (via ESPN), he will be indispensable for the French giants in the seasons to come.
There are few in Europe who can touch Silva for all-round ability. Arguably only Barcelona’s Gerard Pique, Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and perhaps Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels come close. But even they do not possess the same unique blend of all of those attributes and the experience that the Brazilian has in equal measure.
Silva’s success with AC Milan, and before that Fluminense, has prepared him well for the challenge that lies ahead with PSG, but a potential pairing with one of those three defenders is also an awesome possibility. Pique would seem the more likely given the Barcelona links, but any of the three could be lured to Paris at some point in the future given the ambition of the club’s project.
That is a debate for later, though. For now, there seem to be few genuine contenders for Silva’s crown as the world’s top player in his position. In fact, Roche, in the same interview, went as far as to say that the Brazilian is one of the “best players in the world,” let alone his position.
Ancelotti certainly agrees. He regularly compares Silva to Milan’s age-defying former captain Paolo Maldini. Whilst both are different in a number of ways, there are parallels in their approach to the game, and the Brazilian has the capability of perfecting the dynastic qualities that made the Italian timeless.
Both have a simplicity to their game, choosing to play it safe and ensure the team’s safety in the most straightforward way. That outlook towards the game and desire to escape the more glamorous trappings that come with other positions make him perfect for Ancelotti. Silva is pliable, loyal and entirely committed, and that is why he is such a great defender.
Whether he moves to Barcelona or not in the future is unknown for now; it seems likely but not for a few more years at least.
Until then, Silva will continue to be an indispensable member of the PSG team, a cornerstone of the project, and his reputation will continue to be enhanced as the capital club continue to grow on the pitch.