By Kris Voakes
As AC Milan push their trolley around Calcio’s huge supermarket this summer, there will be no need to so much as browse down the aisle marked ‘Defenders’. Having headed straight for the bargain bin to sign Philippe Mexes and Taye Taiwo, they have also secured the presence of a player Pippo Inzaghi this week called “the best defender in the world” for another five years. By handing a contract extension to Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva, they’ve already made the best summer signing of the lot.
It’s now two-and-a-half years since the No. 33 first put pen-to-paper with the Rossoneri, and in that time he has quickly developed into one of the finest purchases of the Silvio Berlusconi era. Milan beat the links of Inter, Chelsea and Manchester City to secure his signature, paying €10 million for his services in December 2008 despite having already filled their two extracomunitario positions in the squad for the season with Andriy Shevchenko and Tabare Viudez.
|THE DIFFERENCE MAKER
|Silva's 66 Serie A games...
Last 66 games without Silva...
In 2010-11 he has gotten better and better, and was last week named Goal.com’s Serie A Player of the Season. Having gradually assumed the role of defensive leader from Nesta, the Brazilian has taken to every task presented to him with relish. Naturally right footed, he has made a mockery of the inability of so many stoppers – even top class ones – to switch between the two centre-half positions. With Nesta providing less versatility, it has been Silva who has played away from his natural space on the right of centre for two whole seasons, yet you wouldn’t know it for a second. He was even trialled as a defensive midfielder in early 2011, to decent effect.
As time has gone by over the past two years there has been a fairly major decline in Nesta’s mobility and reliability, yet you’d be forgiven for not noticing. This is maybe the biggest compliment you can pay to Thiago Silva. After his season out with back trouble, many were surprised at how well ‘Sandrino’ returned. But while it’s true that Nesta has done very well, he can often be found gasping for air while his partner in crime remains as sharp as a tack.
Since the turn of the year in particular, there has been an appreciable drop in the Italian’s level of effectiveness, but this is increasingly masked by the brilliance of the Brazilian. His unparalleled vision is a joy to behold, with his ability to anticipate the play two steps ahead of anyone else often leading to him bailing his side out. This is not to detract from Nesta as such – for a 35-year-old with a poor injury record, he has done extremely well to stay at the top for so long – but simply to highlight just how complete Silva has quickly become.
|"Thiago belongs to the elite group of players who are born maybe once in a century."
- Pippo Inzaghi
The next time you watch Milan on TV, spend a few minutes if you can following how he reads the game, and if you can get yourself to a Rossoneri match at any point then you it will be even more apparent just how good he is. More and more often he can be found drifting from his left centre-back position into a near right-back slot to cover danger long before it has been detected by the likes of Nesta, Daniele Bonera, Ignazio Abate et al. He has also made light work of the Diavoli’s issues at left-back by helping Luca Antonini out of a number of tight spots at the back.
Still only 26-years-old, it could be argued that Silva is still to reach his peak, which is a frightening thought. Already he is a defensive monster, the likes of which there are few in entire decades – particularly in the modern game – and there have even been speculative reports in the Spanish press over the last 24 hours that he could be a target for Barcelona. Though you could clearly see why the European champions might want to sign him, Milan simply won’t let it happen. With arguably their best centre-back since Franco Baresi in tow, their defence over the next few years can surely only get better.
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