Thiago Silva has revealed how recovering from life-threatening tuberculosis 15 years ago helped developed his renowned winning mentality.
The Brazil defender will make his Chelsea debut in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup clash with Barnsley at Stamford Bridge, just a day after turning 36.
The evergreen centre-back has been drafted in by Frank Lampard to help hone a steely edge in a youthful Chelsea squad, and Silva lifted the lid on his brush with death in 2005 that altered his outlook.
“That was one of the worst experiences in my life; you have a dream as a child to be playing as a professional footballer and when I got the tuberculosis it seemed that the dream would be over,” said Silva, who was playing for Dynamo Moscow when he developed the illness.
“Thank God that I had the strength to overcome it and get well. It is difficult to talk about it because it brings back these memories.
“I remember my last day in the hospital: the doctor told me that I had not been cured and that I needed an operation on my lung and that my football career would be over.
“But thank God, and to the specialist, little by little, I got better and got back. “Then, little by little, with dedication I managed to play football. It is difficult.
“Definitely it is something not many people have gone through in their lives and a lot of people have not recovered from a similar illness.
“So I think about it a lot at these moments – what I have been through.
“Thankfully I had the strength to overcome it.
“I feel very grateful to my family and my wife – at the time she was my girlfriend, just 17 – who was very supportive and gave me the strength to get over it so that I was able then to chase my dreams.
“Now I can say today that I am a champion not just in football, but also in life.
“I would like to send a message to the young people to tell them to really make the most of their lives.
“If somebody is playing football, they should dedicate themselves to football.
“Some people have football as a hobby but it is a professional vocation and a job. Life is short and goes by quickly.
“In 2005, my life could have been over but thank goodness I overcame that illness and today I can now say I am victorious both professionally and personally.
“It is a wonderful experience now to be 36 and a player in the Premier League and to pull on a Chelsea shirt. It is an immense responsibility and a great source of pride.”
Silva is undergoing a crash course in English to help boost his leadership qualities with the Blues, admitting he wants to master the language as quickly as possible.
“In relation to not speaking English, it’s going to be difficult, it always is with a new language, but you are speaking to someone who speaks Italian, French, Spanish and Portuguese,” said Silva.
“The tendency when you learn some languages, others come easier.
“I am going to learn English as quickly as possible. It’s quite uncomfortable for me, being here, giving this interview with someone else interpreting for me so I would like to give interviews in English soon. I’m studying Monday to Friday to speak English.
“With regard to leadership, anyone who has played football knows a little about communication, knows it’s a mix, it’s a similar language so looking at the basic of the basic terms and words – tracking back, changing sides – you prioritise the important words to look at and focus.
“The other players speak a lot of other languages as well and the players that we have are of an incredibly high, technical quality and can differentiate intelligence which is essential in football.”