Chelsea’s Thiago Silva keeps calm and carries on with one eye on World Cup

<span>Photograph: Ian Walton/AP</span>
Photograph: Ian Walton/AP

Thiago Silva is acutely aware of what is to come. The World Cup is the ultimate obsession for every Brazil player but for a senior figure like him, somebody with so much history, the man who is expected to wear the captain’s armband in Qatar, the intensity is ratcheted up even further.

It is no exaggeration to say that Silva has felt the countdown to the finals, which will get under way on 20 November, since his nation was knocked out of the 2018 tournament by Belgium in that epic quarter-final. It has certainly been the case since he joined Chelsea in the summer of 2020, the sense at the club pretty clear that everything has been building to this point for him.

The Chelsea manager, Graham Potter, is not kidding himself. “Everyone has got half an eye on the World Cup,” he said. “We’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t think that was the case, no matter what country. But it’ll be his fourth one for Brazil so there’s a half an eye, definitely.”

And yet one of the things that elevates Silva is his ability to compartmentalise, to retain that aura of control. It was stamped across his performance in Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League win at Stamford Bridge over his former club Milan – a display that had the home crowd purring, jumping out of their seats and singing his name.

Related: Chelsea outclass Milan in Champions League to ignite Graham Potter era

Potter has a decision to make on Silva for Saturday’s home game with Wolves, even though he will be without another of his central defenders, Wesley Fofana. Silva played the 90 minutes of last Saturday’s 2-1 win at Crystal Palace and he came through the full match on Wednesday, too. At 38, he surely needs a breather here and there. Potter has ruled out Fofana for a “few weeks” after the Frenchman damaged a knee against Milan.

But if Silva plays, there would be no Chelsea fan who did not expect to see that trademark icy smoothness, which stands to be more pronounced against the fire of Diego Costa. The former Chelsea striker hopes to feature after his free agent move back to the Premier League last month.

Silva against Milan was broadly in keeping with what he has produced this season and there were a couple of moments defensively that not only energised his team but seemed to deflate the visitors.

First, the tackle on Rafael Leão in the 19th minute with the score 0-0 and Chelsea still to ignite. Leão was Milan’s dangerman, an explosive presence, but Silva snapped in to defuse him with impeccable timing. Then, before half-time, as Rade Krunic looked to release Olivier Giroud, there was Silva stretching to intercept.

Between times he popped up at the other end to threaten on set pieces, helping to force the breakthrough goal for Fofana with a powerful header. At full-time, Silva made a bowing gesture in front of the Matthew Harding Stand as he took the acclaim of the support.

“He was outstanding,” Potter said. “He’s 38 years old, 38 years young and, when he’s playing like that, he’s an impressive person. He’s a character, a proper guy, who’s got a fantastic experience but has a humility to just do the job.”

If it is half about what is around the corner for Silva, Potter made the point that it was all about what was most immediate – in other words, the preparation for Wolves.

“He’s competing in the Champions League and the Premier League – you don’t get that by thinking about something that’s six weeks away,” Potter said. “You get it by being in the moment. It’s how he prepares, recovers, rests and focuses. It’s why he’s so good and why he is going to play in the World Cup.”

Silva was an unused squad member at the finals in 2010 but, four years later when Brazil hosted, he was the captain and there were times when he seemed overwhelmed by the emotion – most notoriously when he sat alone after the last-16 tie against Chile had finished 1-1 and, with penalties looming, sobbed his heart out.

Related: Brazil’s Tite: ‘We reached the World Cup – now it’s time to be champions’

Silva, who was suspended for the 7-1 semi-final humbling against Germany, lost the captaincy to Neymar after the World Cup and Tite, who took over from Dunga in 2016, has passed the armband around, rotating it among his key players at the 2018 tournament. It is an approach he could continue in Qatar.

That said, Silva is regarded as the regular captain – more than Casemiro and Marquinhos, although it will be interesting to see what happens if Tite names Dani Alves in his squad. Silva was the captain at the 2021 Copa América and he has worn the armband in 15 of his past 18 starts.

Either way, Silva – with 108 caps – is a leader and the pressure will come for him. How is he wearing it at present? “With responsibility, pride and respect,” Potter said. “All the things you’d expect because he’s so professional. That’s the impressive thing. It gives him a chance to be in the games now and be ready for the World Cup.”

Potter revealed that the Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly had watched training on Friday and the pair had a catch-up chat in the afternoon. The club are close to appointing Christopher Vivell, who has been sacked by RB Leipzig, as their technical director. There was a time when the presence of the owner on the touchline at Cobham would have been a major news story. Not now. This is a new era. Silva remains a constant.