Thiago Silva: The Unexpected Chelsea Legend

The year is 2020, and Chelsea is constructing a new squad to build on a successful season where Frank Lampard guided the club to Champions League qualification despite fronting with the disruption of a transfer ban.

The sizeable haul of players in the summer transfer window included sought-after talents like Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, and Timo Werner, who had hefty price tags attached to them. But among the youngsters was an experienced veteran who signed for free.

Many thought that he would, at most, last for a season or two. But he proceeded to carve his name in Chelsea’s history and cement himself as one of the club’s greats.

His name is Thiago Silva.

2020/21: Inaugurate season 

Silva’s much-awaited debut for Chelsea came in the EFL Cup against Barnsley, where his team comfortably secured a 6-0 thrashing. However, it was not a similarly pleasant start to his Premier League career.

In the first half, the Brazil international miscontrolled a pass that led to a goal in a tense 3-3 draw against West Bromwich Albion. Although Chelsea recouped a point in the dying minutes of the match, Silva looked uncomfortable throughout the evening.

However, after the unconvincing league debut, Silva maintained his composure and exuded world-class quality for the rest of the season. His presence and experience were invaluable, on and off the field, for the joint-fifth youngest Premier League team at the time, to mature and grow as a collective.

Frank Lampard was all praises for Silva as he discussed the veteran’s impact in a press conference only a few weeks into the season: “Certainly a leader. He’ll bring that with him by nature. By presence, by attitude in training, and quality of the player, he commands respect, and it is great having him around. That’s all you can ask for as a coach.”


Although the accomplished center back was aware that he was stepping into a developing team, there were certain expectations that he must have had, which did not include Chelsea’s 9th-placed league ranking come January.

After Lampard and the club parted ways due to underwhelming results, the atmosphere around Chelsea turned bitter. The dressing room seemed in disarray, and the club looked directionless.

Although there are no concrete reports on this matter, Silva would have likely had a positive impact during this turbulent period. The Brazilian international provided the team with much-needed leadership with club legend César Azpilicueta, who had seen that story play multiple times during his Chelsea career.

Following intense discussions in the board room, Roman Abramovich turned to Thomas Tuchel to deliver a miracle in what appeared to be a bleak season as Chelsea placed mid-table in the league.

But a beacon of light that the hierarchy and new management team identified was the cup competitions where the Blues had qualified for the knockout stages in the Champions League and quarterfinals in the FA Cup. If Chelsea was to produce some success, it would have to come from a good run in at least any one of those competitions.

(Chelsea’s league position when Thomas Tuchel took over. Source: Premier League)

Chelsea’s fortunes instantly changed after Tuchel established a system that prioritized their defensive shape and efficiently utilized their key players.

The structure incorporated Silva as the central defender in Chelsea’s back three – allowing him to play as the sweeper while giving freedom to the aggressive front-footed wide defenders like Antonio Rüdiger and Azpilicueta.

It also maximized the capabilities of Chelsea’s high-flying wing-backs – James and Chilwell – their contributions in the final third were crucial in Tuchel’s system.

But it was Chelsea’s defensive astuteness that altered their trajectory for the season. Tuchel’s men only conceded two goals in the knockout stage while keeping a clean sheet in the Champions League final against a star-studded Manchester City team that won the Premier League.

Silva was crucial for their success as he was instrumental in guiding Chelsea to be the meanest defence of the tournament by patrolling his soldiers against some of the best teams in the world.

The triumphant season also saw the Chelsea defender help the team climb up the Premier League and finish fourth, which seemed unrealistic at one point.

Despite a shock defeat in the FA Cup final, Silva and Chelsea had a good run in the renowned tournament. Yet, more importantly, he lifted prestigious silverware – the Champions League – after falling to do so just a year prior with Paris Saint-Germain.

2021/22: Drama never stops in West London

The start of the 2021/22 season began with high aspirations after a dream season as Chelsea looked to steady the ship and move on to new targets like getting back to competing for the domestic title.

Silva was full of spirits as well after announcing a one-year contract extension with the club that he earned just a few days after lifting the Champions League.

The opening months of the new campaign reflected the mood in West London as Chelsea sustained a strong start after winning the Super Cup in August – the first in club history – and sitting top of the Premier League at the beginning of December with Silva still playing a key part.

However, serenity did not last long at Chelsea. There was unrest in the dressing room after the infamous Romelu Lukaku interview, and uncertainties regarding the ownership began after the commencement of the Russia-Ukraine war. The hectic takeover process that followed also deterred the new-found stability at Chelsea, which had an impact on the team’s performance.

The calm and quiet atmosphere quickly turned tense and eerie. Wise characters like Silva and Azpilicueta were relied on once more for their leadership and guidance. Although performances were understandably volatile, the Blues ended the season with a top four finish and a FIFA Club World Cup trophy – a first for Silva and Chelsea.

For the Brazilian, it was yet another outstanding campaign on a personal level – starting 28 of 38 league matches and ranking as one of the best center backs in England despite being the joint-oldest defender in the senior division.

By the way Silva played that season, one would never tell he was 37.

2022/23: Never-ending mileage

With Silva looking evergreen in the Chelsea backline, it was only fair for the new owners to hand out another contract extension. Although many expected him to show signs of decline this season, they just never came about.

For Chelsea, it was another season after heavy spending in the transfer window, which heightened hope, but the team failed to deliver.

Again, Silva’s leadership was pivotal in a season where the owners churned through four managers, two of them interim, while the West London club scrambled to find an identity and direction.

The 2022/23 season was a disastrous campaign that Chelsea fans would not need reminding. The Blues finished the Premier League year at a disappointing 12th place, knocked out of the FA Cup and EFL Cup by Manchester City in the third round, while losing to Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

But again, Silva proved to be one of the rare performers for the Blues and continued to start the majority (26 of 38) of league matches.

2023/24: Is it time to conclude?

The latest rendition of Chelsea instills the top management’s principles of integrating youthful talent and reducing the squad’s average age to build a title-winning team for the future. But as many former players and managers would suggest, every team needs experienced figureheads to lead the team.

Despite not being handed the armband, Silva has occupied the captain’s responsibility due to the lengthy absence of James and vice-captain Chilwell. As the oldest and most experienced player at Chelsea and the Premier League, at 39 years old, he has helped guide the young squad through another tumultuous season.

However, there are indications that this could be the penultimate season for Silva as Chelsea will look to establish their young center backs in the team like Levi Colwill, Axel Disasi, Benoît Badiashile, and Wesley Fofana.

Silva could take one of many routes if that were to happen, like a return to Brazil for one last dance with Fluminense. He could also coach, or even move to a higher position within the Chelsea structure if the hierarchy and Silva desire it.

Whatever the outcome, Silva’s profound impact at Chelsea these past years cannot be understated.

When the Brazilian joined the Blues at age 35, many did not expect him to leave a lasting footprint at the club, but it is indisputable that he will leave as a Chelsea legend.

Silva’s unwavering spirit, remarkable endurance, and unshakable class will perpetually remain in the hearts of all Chelsea fans, who will be forever grateful to have had one of the greatest center backs in world football grace Stamford Bridge.

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