Ogo Sylla Date: 1st June 2011 at 11:14am
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Thiago Silva has undoubtedly proven this season that he is one of the key players for AC Milan. The Brazilian has enjoyed his best season yet since joining the Rossoneri in 2006 from Fluminense. Beyond having shown that he has been one of Milan’s best performers this season, the Brazilian’s form hints that he might have hit even loftier heights.

“Thiago Silva is a great player, a great defender who’s proving his worth. He has exceptional qualities, so I believe Milan have found a player for the long run, a defender who has a bright future ahead of him,” high praise indeed for the defender and even higher when we consider it came from Milan legend, Franco Baresi.

The Rossoneri ended the season with the best defensive record in Serie A (24 goals conceded) as well as setting a Serie A record for least goals allowed over the course of a season. In fact should we consider the anomaly that was the 4-4 draw with Udinese, Milan would have gone far in setting the record for seasons to come.

For many seasons it had been well documented that Milan’s defense really struggles in the absence of Alessandro Nesta. A season ago such claims were still true as Thiago Silva struggled to really command the back-line. This season however, the Brazilian has shown real maturity and experience in being able to stand on his own. Thiago Silva played alongside Nesta on 19 occasions this season, and the pair only conceded eight goals.

In all other games, Thiago Silva partnered Mario Yepes. The main difference between the center-back this season compared to the last is that he took on much more responsibility in marshalling the defense. Thiago Silva is now the organizer of Milan’s back-line and has numerously sweeped behind his seniors [Nesta and Yepes] and covered for some of their mistakes and diminishing pace. Such contributions cannot be understated and have led the Brazilian to truly take on the mantle of this year’s player of the season.

The revered Paolo Maldini also came out to praise the Brazilian in comparing him to his old teammate, when he said: “Thiago shows that security that characterized Franco when he used to play… For one reason or another, when Baresi came off during the game, we all felt his loss and I think the same thing is happening now with Thiago, because he gives so much security at the back.” Maldini, in his statement, clearly highlights the importance of the Brazilian defender to the team.

The likes of Edinson Cavani and Antonio Di Natale have both contributed a lot to their teams [in the goals scored department] but it is undeniable that Milan secured their 18th Scudetto very much on the back of their great defensive record. The Rossoneri’s quality up front cannot be discounted of course but long domestic campaigns are won through great defenses and Milan have shown that this year. The performances of Thiago Silva have greatly helped to that goal in allowing Cristian Abbiati to amass a total of 18 clean sheets, which is the most in Europe’s top five leagues.

“I think that Thiago Silva is the best defender in the world. It’s incredible how good he really is,” so says his teammate, Filippo Inzaghi. 

In terms of his qualities, Thiago Silva really is worthy of such high praise. He reads the game very well and possesses an excellent sense of anticipation, able to snuff out danger before it happens. Of course he also boasts of good athleticism, possessing good pace and being a great header of the ball, but it is his aforementioned qualities that allow him to almost always stay a step ahead of attackers. His finesse in the tackle – seldom ever having to lunge in – and robust physique are but some of his great assets. Finally, his ability to surge forward [in typical Brazilian fashion] into midfield and deliver a pass as well as strike from long range are just other tools in Thiago Silva’s arsenal.

This year however, he widened his portfolio by playing as an emergency defensive midfielder at times. The Brazilian did very well. Although his speed of distribution may have had been an issue, when he seemed a bit ponderous in possession, but the accuracy of his passing was very good. Again his great football brain came to the fore in this unfamiliar position, where he would often cut out danger with crucial interceptions and clinical tackling before smoothly transitioning to releasing a pass for the counter-attack. Indeed his short stint as a midfield anchor drew many comparisons to the man they called ‘The Octopus’ in Milan, something Adriano Galliani echoed in the post-match of the Rossoneri’s 2-0 win against Cesena: “He reminded me of the old [Marcel] Desailly.”

The claim may have been seen as hyperbolic at the time, but the statistics of the game did back it however. Against Cesena that day, Thiago Silva completed more passes than anyone else on the pitch (67), recovered more balls than anyone other than Yepes (25) and managed three shots on goal.

It is however undeniable that Thiago Silva’s best position is as a center-back. But in addition to his qualities, the versatility he showcased over the course of the season and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the group are what make him standout from the pack. The Brazilian echoed this sentiment when he said “I’d also play goalkeeper if it helps the team.” Thiago Silva has undoubtedly cemented his status as a Milan favorite and as the first name on the team sheet every week. And so, even amongst other valid candidates, it would take a strong case indeed to deny Thiago Silva of the player of the season award.

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