Milan Coach Massimiliano Allegri described him as a ”player without equals, playing three tiers above everyone else.” Despite all the talk surrounding Zlatan Ibrahimović’s ability to win the Scudetto wherever he goes, and his immense contribution to Milan’s 18th title this season, Allegri was not referring to the Swede. He was referring to Thiago Silva, the Brazilian central defender who has been just as important to the Scudetto success as Ibra.
According, at least, to his central defensive colleague Alessandro Nesta, who cited him along with Ibra as the two most decisive players this season. Such has been his contribution that it could be argued that the Brazilian has surpassed Nesta himself as the most important member of the Rossoneri defence, and that would be the ultimate testament to the massive improvements he has made in his overall game.
He stated in a recent interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport that this season he has felt calm even when Nesta was not alongside him thanks to his teammates having confidence in his abilities, something he felt concerned about in the last campaign. It was one of the criticisms of his début season – he seemed unable to lead a defence, which was naturally highlighted when his more experienced partner was not playing.
Now that does not appear to be a problem. Nesta has missed 10 Serie A games so far (Thiago Silva played in nine of those), but Milan has only lost one of them (the early season defeat to Cesena). Of course, there are other reasons for the team’s newfound ability to cope without their No.13 – Thiago Silva spoke of Allegri’s ”meticulous” approach to defensive situations in training as a major contributing factor to the strong rearguard displays – but the Brazilian playing just as well without him is certainly one.
He is now the complete defender: strong in the air, great with the ball and with all the physical attributes desirable in a central defender. The biggest of these is his pace – crucial for a defence that has not had someone with his acceleration for a long time. It has meant that teams can no longer lob a ball over the top of Milan’s back four and expect to get to it first (Ignazio Abate also deserves a mention here). It gives added security to everybody in front of him, safe in the knowledge they can attack knowing that there is at least one player behind them who is not going to get burned by a counter-attack.
Combine his talents with Nesta’s and you end up with a perfectly complementary partnership that is reflected in their incredible statistics. In the 18 matches where the two have completed a full game together, there have been 11 clean sheets, and only seven goals conceded. Of the 23 goals conceded by Milan in Serie A thus far, seven have occurred when Thiago Silva has not been present on the pitch – almost a third of the team’s total.
When it comes to picking out the key members that have driven Milan to the title, his performances warrant his name being spoken of in the same breath as a certain headline-grabbing forward. If you were to ask Nesta in private, he may not even mention the forward at all.