Thiago out to repay Renato

The date 25 June holds great significance for Thiago Emiliano da Silva. Exactly 13 years ago, he began the day as a Vasco da Gama fan yet finished it with his allegiance firmly sworn to another Rio de Janeiro side.

The catalyst in the youngster's conversion was one of the most illustrious moments in Campeonato Carioca history, an outrageous goal which settled a five-goal final between Fluminense and Flamengo in favour of the former. "I was a Vascaíno but I was overwhelmed by the goal Renato Gaucho scored with his belly," explained Thiago Silva. "That instant I became a Fluminense supporter and I'm delighted I did. It was all because of Renato - I owe him a debt of gratitude."

Thiago Silva can repay another huge slice of this debt tonight when O Fluzão face LDU in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores 2008 final in Quito. For while Renato Gaucho has acted as the conductor of the radiant symphony that has marched into a first-ever continental decider, Thiago Silva has been its heartbeat.

I have the best defender in Brazil in my squad. He is a monster
Fluminense coach Renato Gaucho holds Thiago Silva in high regard.

The defender was central to Fluminense keeping four clean sheets in six games, including two against tonight's opponents, and qualifying for the last 16 with the competition's finest record. Thereafter, he helped his team eliminate Atletico Nacional, Sao Paulo and finally defending champions Boca Juniors to book a date with the Ecuadorians. " ," declared Renato Gaucho earlier this year, referring to Thiago Silva.

The 23-year-old is, nevertheless, an atypically Brazilian centre-back who utilises brains over brawn to break up attacks. Think Lucio; a sharp decision-maker who exudes intelligence when reading the game and elegance when in possession, and it is easy to see why Thiago Silva is so revered inside the Laranjeiras gates.

The Fluminense followers are not alone in their appreciation of the Carioca. He earned a maiden Brazil call-up last year, and was again part of Dunga's squad for the recent 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers against Paraguay and Argentina.

And although he was not afforded his first run-out for the Seleção during the 2-0 loss in Asuncion or the goalless draw at home to the Albiceleste, Thiago Silva still felt the benefit of the experience. "It's a shame the results were disappointing but it was a great experience," he said. "I learnt a lot. This past year has been the highpoint of my career and it's satisfying to know my work has been recognised."

Japanese dream
Thiago Silva's career journey has not, however, been all plain sailing. He was discarded by several clubs in his youth, including Fluminense, before winning a contract at Juventude, where his stirring performances during the 2004 season caught the attention of Porto. Hindered by breathing difficulties, the Brazilian struggled to adapt to life in Portugal's second city and was consequently loaned to Russian outfit Dinamo Moscow in 2005, where pneumonia was to leave him sidelined and yearning a return to his homeland.

That return was granted by Fluminense in 2006, and their faith has been repaid with Thiago Silva playing an indispensable role in their Copa do Brasil 2007 triumph and charge to this year's Libertadores final. The No3 has, in the process, attracted interest from a series of European giants, with AC Milan, Benfica, Liverpool, Monaco and Villarreal reportedly among them, although his sights are already set of representing O Fluzão at Japan 2008.

If we win the Libertadores I won't leave, because it's the dream of every player to play in the FIFA Club World Cup
Thiago Silva reveals he will resist overtures from his European admirers and stay at Fluminense if they win the Copa Libertadores 2008.

"Of course I want to play in Europe in the future, but right now I'm just focused on LDU," he said. "We want to go there and get a good result to take back to the Maracana. ."

If Renato Gaucho's side place one hand on the Libertadores trophy and a ticket to the Far East tonight, it would solidify the deep romance between Fluminense Football Club and Thiago Silva that the coach inadvertently provoked 13 years ago to this day.