Why PSG's Silva is the world's best defender

Say what you like about Joey Barton and his Twitter diatribes, but he’s usually pretty quick to admit when he gets it wrong. 

He had little option last night – hours after the Marseille midfielder had derided Thiago Silva as “another overrated Brazilian” and a “fat boy”, the Paris Saint-Germain captain showed exactly why so many rate him as the best centre-back in the world with a masterclass against Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final.

He’s that good. Barton gamely admitted that Silva had been “immense”, but also suggested the skipper had “put in the performance of his career.” 

While producing a display like this one against an opponent as mighty as Barça is certainly a feather in anyone’s cap, this was by no means an exceptional event for Silva. 

He is relentlessly consistent and the ideal captain and teammate, not just doing his own job to the best of standards but raising those around him to perform just a little bit better. 

Carlo Ancelotti didn’t even think about the language barrier when handing Brazil’s captain the PSG armband. 

When Xavi scored the late penalty last night that seemed for all the world as if it would break Parisian hearts and pretty much sew up the tie, it was Silva who revved his teammates up for one last push. 

Notably, he put his arm around a crestfallen Blaise Matuidi and exhorted him to go again. With the last kick of the match, it was of course Matuidi who produced the goal to breathe new life into PSG’s challenge.

It was Silva’s aerial prowess that had created PSG’s first equaliser, with his firm header coming back off the post for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to poke home. 

Yet perhaps the moment which best showed his defensive class – and what all the fuss is about - was halfway through the first period, when Lionel Messi began to weave through the back of PSG’s midfield and defence as he has with so many opponents. 

Silva stood poised, jockeyed and poked the ball away with his left leg at just the moment when Messi was poised to strike. The 28-year-old is rarely fazed or mesmerised by anyone, or anything.

It’s an important characteristic to note, because the circumstances of his arrival in the French capital were “complicated”, as he told me back in July. With Milan having initially pulled the plug on the move and given Silva a new contract, he was told the move was back on while in Brazil’s training camp for the Olympics. 

He flew to Paris to sign the deal, then came straight back to Brazil. He joined up with his new club teammates post-Olympics with the Ligue 1 season already underway. Even if Barton’s point that Silva has missed a few games holds true, playing 18 of 30 league games so far on the back of no break or pre-season is testament to his fortitude.

Crucially, when PSG have really needed Silva, he’s come through every time. When he returned from a three-week layoff to face Valencia in the last 16, he performed heroically despite being way short of match fitness. 

If Zlatan is Paris’s dazzle, there is no doubt that Silva was their real coup last summer. His quality is a secret to fewer and fewer people, and is one reason why PSG retain a chance to reach the last four. 

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