Blessed with pace, selflessness and a natural eye for goal, Dario Silva showed over the course of a long career in the Uruguayan, Spanish, Italian and English leagues that he had all the attributes needed to succeed at the highest level.
However, on 23 September 2006, at the age of 34, life presented the Charrúa striker with perhaps his biggest challenge of all when doctors were forced to amputate his right leg below the knee following a car accident in Montevideo. It was an especially cruel fate for a predominately right-footed striker, and even more so for one who had scored numerous vital goals for his country, including those that helped Victor Pua's side reach the finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™.
The fierce determination the player once exhibited on the field is even more in evidence now as he tries to rebuild his life without football, albeit with a host of new challenges and the support of a great many people.
While spending time with his family, the Uruguayan spoke exclusively with FIFA.com about his long career, how the accident has changed his life, his plans for the future and his dream of one day rowing at the Olympics.
FIFA.com: Senor Silva, how are you feeling at present, six months after the accident?
Dario Silva: To be honest, I'm very well and feeling calm. Strange as it may seem, a lot of things are the same as before. I mean I'm still the same person with the same old thoughts. Of course, I see certain things differently now, but I believe I'm the better for it. I have more plans than before and have modified a lot of things in my life - things I wouldn't have been able to change were it not for the accident.
I have so many more things now to occupy my time. Before all this I had opportunities to take on projects but, not needing them at the time, I let them pass me by. Now, though, I get up earlier and do more. When you retire from football in normal circumstances, that generally doesn't happen (laughs).
Tell us a bit about the kind of activities you are now involved in.
There are so many. For example, I want to dedicate myself to rowing, although I need to wait a little longer before I can get my prosthetic limb fitted and start training on the water. For now I'm training in the gym, certain in the knowledge that one day I'll make the Olympic Games. I'm also continuing my football projects, which involve training and representing several young Uruguayan players. In addition I have the chance to participate in a TV programme for a good cause, so all in all I'm pretty busy.
Now that you can no longer play professional football, what are you enjoying most in this new stage of your life?
Being with my kids. I really enjoy spending time with them, for example at the weekends. After the accident happened, I felt really bad as Diego, my youngest, would never get the chance to see me in a 'big stadium', as he used to call it. That's never going to happen now, and it's a regret I'm going to have for the rest of my life. In time though, he'll grow up and come to understand why I couldn't keep that promise. He'll be able to draw his own conclusions.
But he is sure to be proud of the bravery shown by his dad in a very difficult situation.
Well, a lot of people have said that to me, from journalists to folks who barely know me. Those nearest to me know I was always like that. I always face things with my head held high. I'm happy and working hard right now, and, though I might not have any other option, I feel that what I'm currently doing is important.
Looking back now, how would you analyse your playing career?
I've no complaints. I played in the biggest leagues in the world and scored in every one of them, and I also participated at a World Cup, which was my principal goal. Perhaps I'd have liked to have gone a bit further in that competition (Korea/Japan 2002), but it wasn't to be and there's no use rueing it now.
Are there are other things you would liked to have done in football?
Even though I never played with (European) teams who were winning league titles, I'm very satisfied with what I achieved in my career. It would've been nice to have played for Atletico Madrid. Their fans are like no other European club's: they sing from beginning to end, a bit like Argentinians and Uruguayans. There was the possibility of a move there at one stage, but I preferred to stay at Malaga, a club I had a lot of affection for.
Would you say that was the best club side you played for?
No question. Although we were a small outfit, we were really tight-knit, and we went all the way from the Intertoto Cup to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup. A lot of that was down to the coach (Joaquin Peiro). He was great. If occasionally I didn't feel up to training, he'd allow me to stay at home. He allowed us do what we wanted so long as we performed on matchdays. I remember we used to improvise set-pieces during games sometimes and, when they'd work out for us, the press used to say we must have been working on them all week in training (laughs). That's the kind of coach I'd like to be, always assuming I had players with whom that style would work.
A lot of people in France will remember you from the 0-0 draw at Korea/Japan 2002 - and maybe not all that fondly.
Now that was a tough game! (smiles) France had some really strong players like (Patrick) Vieira and (Marcel) Desailly, and it was no joke going running up against them. That said, all through my career I refused to be cowed by any defender. Anytime a player went in hard on me, I returned the favour at the next opportunity. Occasionally, however, I managed to get a dig in even before they got me.
Was that France game an especially important fixture for Uruguay?
All three games at that World Cup were very important for Uruguay, but taking on the reigning champions with all their stars was an added motivation for us. Unfortunately, neither of us did well at that tournament, with both countries being eliminated at the group stage along with other strong sides, like Argentina.
Looking back over your career, you were often asked to do the dirty work up front. You also liked exchanging a few words with your opponents, didn't you?
Always! It was a way to motivate myself. I talked a lot and used to stir up the atmosphere before and during games, especially when I was in Spain. I used to get opponents to lose their concentration that way. It used to drive them nuts. The press would get mileage out of it too, and I used to get messages from players telling me they'd be waiting for me on the pitch. More often than not, that would fire me up and I'd go out and perform well or score.
Can you tell us what kind of things you said to opponents on the pitch?
I used to taunt them, telling them I was a monster and that there was no way they were going to stop me. Some just laughed at me whereas others took it badly. But no question, it always threw them off. Just when they'd be thinking about what I said, I'd nip in and take advantage.
Is there one encounter you remember in particular?
Yes, I remember one with Fernando Hierro in a Malaga-Real Madrid game. As he was an ex-Malaga player, during the build up I said he hadn't done as much as I had for the club, and that his best achievements had come at Madrid and not Malaga. I said I'd be waiting for him out on the pitch and that I'd run rings around him as he was so slow. Fifteen minutes into the game I got past him and got a shot off that ended up shaving the post. In trying to stop me he injured himself and had to be replaced. As he was heading off, I said to him: "What did I tell you". We ended up winning 2-1, but that was the end of it. I had the utmost respect for him: he was a great player and a true professional.
Speaking of Spanish football, Sevilla, another club close to your heart have been flying high in recent seasons . How does that make you feel?
You could see things were coming right for them. When I signed for Sevilla, I said I was joining the best club in Andalusia, and now they've proving it. They won the (2006) UEFA Cup, they're in the race for the title and a spot in next season's Champions League. It's a place I'd like to have stayed longer, among other reasons for Jose Maria Del Nido who, as well as being club president, is also a friend. I've already decided to go to Spain to watch their final two league games.
Coming back to Uruguay, what is your opinion on the state of the country's football?
I think it needs a change. Personally, I'd like to see the presidents guarantee to put half a million dollars a year into the clubs. Without that, you get the current situation where the clubs have no money and are completely dependent on TV rights. The players are even having to do other work before coming to training. The fans then wonder why they cannot perform like professionals, but what can the players do?
Could you see yourself taking on a directorship at some stage?
No, no. I've been offered a managerial position with a second division side with ambitions of returning to the top flight. That's the kind of thing I'd be happy to do.
So what about a coaching position?
Not yet, no. That would mean returning to the same routine as before and having to go to training camps. Perhaps if they let me return home every night (laughs), but that wouldn't be very professional.
Finally, if we were to chat again in, say, five or ten years time, what kind of Dario Silva could we expect to find?
The same one. I hope I'll have gone on to win a dozen Olympic gold medals. I'll still be smiling, friendly and blessed with a sense of humour. That's how I've been all my life and nothing will ever change me.