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FEATURE | Thiago Silva – The Final Renaissance?

Thiago Silva’s performance against Lyon last weekend proved once again he remains the best defender in Ligue 1. But, aged 35 and his contract expiring in June, will this season be his last at PSG?

Last week, Paris won a tight game against Lyon at the Groupama Stadium, with Neymar scoring the winner in the 87th minute. This important victory over potential title challengers was the best gift Thiago Silva could have ever wished for. Indeed, “O Monstro” captained PSG on his 35th birthday and reminded Ligue 1 that, despite his age, he is still bossing it. However, his contract expires at the end of the season and it hasn’t been renewed yet. Does this mean it will be his last year at PSG? Or will he sign up again for another season at the club? In any case, a departure would sound the end of an era for PSG and would be tricky to compensate for.

Thiago Silva joined PSG in August 2012 from AC Milan for an estimated fee of €42m. At the time, he was ranked amongst the best defenders in the world after several impressive seasons in Italy wearing the black and red jersey. He was meant to be the great defender that would lead PSG to new heights in Ligue 1 and Europe.

It is fair to say that it worked out pretty well at a domestic scale, as Silva’s consistency has been quite impressive, to say the least, since he joined the French champions. Indeed, he has appeared seven times in a row in the league’s team of the season, becoming the first player to ever do so. Thiago Silva has been a key player in PSG’s success in France over the years and proved, through his very good beginning of this campaign, that he had no intention of giving up on this status.

It’s Leo’s call

Thiago Silva’s contractual situation will be one of Leonardo’s main issues this season.

Thiago Silva appears to have the physical capacity to remain an important player in the Parisian defence. Furthermore, his partnership with fellow countryman Marquinhos has proven to be very Ligue 1’s best over the years. The pair helped PSG conquer several domestic titles in a row and even led Brazil to victory in the Copa America last summer. Silva became Marquinhos’ mentor and his departure would essentially signify a handover of power.

Although Silva’s situation remains unclear, the latter declared in an interview following Paris’ victory in Lyon that he “still had a couple of years ahead of him”. This statement is in the same vein as what he had previously said ahead of this campaign: ”I would like to finish my career in Paris, but it will depend on how this season ends.” As he said, it will depend on how the season ends. Meaning, “how far Paris will go in the Champions’ League”.

This parameter will be the major one taken into account by Leonardo when he will decide what to do with Silva. On one hand, getting rid of the Brazilian would probably look like a mistake when you consider his current form and leading role on the pitch, but on the other, it might be time for him to step aside in favour of younger blood. Furthermore, it would make no sense to offer Thiago Silva a one-year-contract extension and put him on the bench, considering the fact he has the fourth highest salary in the squad behind Cavani, Mbappé and Neymar (€14m/year).

French King, European flailing prince

During his seven seasons with PSG to date, Thiago Silva has never really stepped up during the big European nights. Apart from his incredible last-gasp header at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea in the 2015 Champions’ League Round of 16, the captain never brought the calmness and confidence at the back people that is required in Europe.

On the contrary, he has been regularly criticised for his lack of leadership as a skipper. Even though he is not the only man responsible for PSG’s multiple failures in the Champions’ League, he never acted like a real leader when his team needed it. His supposed inability to cope with pressure made him the perfect scapegoat when culprits needed to be found. It reached its height after the (in)famous “Remontada” at the Nou Camp (6-1).

Thiago Silva obviously had his share of responsibility in this defeat, being completely overwhelmed and unable to order his teammates to defend as a unit. As revealed in Paris United’s book “Revelations of a revolution” (2018), Unai Emery even thought about substituting Silva before half-time, as he wasn’t following his instructions. Emery’s assistant convinced the Spaniard not to do so by insisting on the fact Presnel Kimpembe wasn’t experienced enough to enter in the middle of such a game and hold firm without fouling Barça players in the penalty area. Silva eventually remained on the pitch and the game ended the way we all know.

The Brazilian defender lost a lot of credit in the eyes of the supporters and football observers that night and it highlighted his inconsistency with PSG. In other words, he is a king in Ligue 1 but somewhat of a flailing prince in the UCL, which probably stretches as a definition for PSG as a whole. It would be a lie to say that Thiago Silva has never performed in Europe with PSG, but he has rarely lived up to the billing in the knock-out stages. The split opinion on his contributions to the team were confirmed again last Wednesday against Reims, as PSG lost 2-0. Even if it was a reshuffled team on the pitch, Silva’s absence from the XI did not go unnoticed and it showed that Paris needed him more than ever in Ligue 1.

Replacing “O Monstro”

If Leonardo decides not to renew Thiago Silva’s contract, it will mean that Paris will lose probably its best defensive element. In that sense, his departure will have to be counterbalanced, at least numerically. So, what are Leonardo’s options?

Marquinhos is the designated heir to his Brazilian colleague at the back. The “little Marqui” will inherit the captain’s armband and looks set to become a club legend. He is on paper a perfect replacement for Thiago Silva, sharing the same set of skills such as speed, passing or placement. Furthermore, he has proven over the years to be a real leader. Tuchel’s love for switching between three or four players at the back will force Leonardo to reflect on whether he will have to buy a confirmed centre-back, meant to play alongside Marquinhos, or a younger player destined to enter the rotation and become a starter in the years to come.

On that point, Tuchel already has three players with this profile: Thilo Kehrer, Abdou Diallo and Presnel Kimpembe. The latter seems to be the logical partner for Marquinhos but he showed some limits, such as nervousness and concentration swings. A shame, as Kimpembe is intrinsically the perfect partner for Marquinhos. He is an “impact” defender, meant to do the dirty job and he is left-footed, which makes him even more complementary with the former Roma player. As for Diallo, he just arrived and still has not showed all his qualities, while Kehrer feels more at ease in a back three and remains a real enigma for a lot of football observers.

This lack of veritable quality alongside Marquinhos could push the Parisian board to find Thiago Silva a worthy replacement. But very talented defenders for sale are not a dime a dozen on the market. PSG failed to sign Matthijs De Ligt last summer and are left with few options. One stands out nonetheless, Naples’ Kalidou Koulibaly. At the age of 28, the big Senegalese centre-back could well be the big name Paris is looking for, as he established himself as one of the best in the world. Although he won’t come cheap, he would probably be worth the investment, being the only UCL-calibre defender currently willing to leave for a “bigger club”.

In any case, Silva’s departure would be the end of an era at PSG, as the Brazilian was amongst the first big signings of the QSI-era. But what will people remember from him? What will PSG supporters retain from his career in Paris? His elegance on the pitch, or his lack of leadership in the moments that mattered?

Thiago Silva still has an entire season to lead PSG to European glory, and at 35 years old, it is now or never…

A.D.

 

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