'What I like was the fact that he kept things simple. He can play all across the midfield but the holding role just in front of the defence is what he does best.'

Arsène Wenger

From The Boy Playing In The Streets...

An erudite, quietly-spoken student of the beautiful game he came to rule, Gilberto Aparecido da Silva was one of the finest defensive midfielders of his generation.

The Miniero from Minas Gerais in south-eastern Brazil grew up with his mother, father and three sisters in poverty, playing football on the streets with his cousins and friends. Recognising his talents, he took his opportunity to escape hardship and signed for América Mineiro’s youth team.

Fate played a cruel hand, forcing him to give up football at 15 to provide for his family after his father retired and his mother took ill but at the age of 18, when his peers were emerging as first-team regulars, he tried again.

...To The Best Defensive Midfielder in the World...

After re-signing for América Mineiro as a central defender and helping them to promotion to Série A at the end of the 1997-98 season, he signed for rivals Atlético Mineiro in 2000. After recovering from a stress fracture of his leg, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who went on to manage A Seleção to victory in the 1994 World Cup moved him to a defensive midfield role and he quickly became one of the hottest properties in Brazilian football, catching the eye of the coaches of Europe’s elite football clubs, including Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

It was in north London, after a stand-out display at the 2002 World Cup and a winner’s medal round his neck, where Gilberto Silva cemented his place as the best defensive midfield player in the world. A winning goal on his debut against Liverpool was followed by being an integral part of the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ who went the entire 2003-04 season undefeated. In a team full of beautiful self-expressionists including Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, Gilberto Silva carried the piano which allowed his teammates to play a beautiful concerto.

We were a poor family and had to work hard. That's why, as a boy, I had to take those jobs as a labourer and in the factory. But I'm glad I had that tough start. It makes me identify with people who are not so lucky World Champion

Called up to A Seleção in 2001 by Luis Felipe Scolari for the World Cup qualifiers against Venezuela and Bolivia, he was expected to play a minor role in the tournament but after injury to captain Emerson, Brazil’s new number 8 came of age, as he was destined to do. He played every minute of every game including setting up Ronaldo’s winner in the semi-final against Turkey. His dream was realised. He was a world champion and he wore the world-famous yellow jersey as if he was born for such a moment. No-one deserved it more than he.

Displaying typical Miniero values of humility and hard work allowed the Samba stars of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaká to dance and he went on to captain Brazil’s winning Copa América squad in 2007, sandwiched by Confederations Cup victories in 2005 and 2009.

After 93 appearances and three goals, Gilberto Silva called time on an international career that every young boy kicking a football on Brazil’s hot, dusty backstreets can only dream of.