Although he is now an indispensable part of Arsenal’s midfield makeup, and was a key member of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup squad, it nearly never happened for Gilberto Silva. As a youngster with local club America-MG, his father retired from his job, leaving the 17-year-old as the sole provider for his whole family. Gilberto was forced to quit the game, beginning work in a sweet factory for around 50 a month.
Eventually he was persuaded to return to the sport, rejoining America in 1996. Playing mostly as a centre-back, he helped his club to promotion to Serie A in his first full season. Even when he transferred to Atletico Mineiro, one of the region’s giants, he broke his leg and missed a lot of football. It wasn’t until the relatively late age of 24 when he switched to a defensive midfield role that his career really took off.
From this point on his fame rocketed. By November 2001 he was an international, playing his first game against Bolivia. Expected to play only a bit-part role in the following summer’s World Cup, Emerson’s unfortunate injury led to Gilberto playing in every match of Brazil’s march to their fifth crown. He was described as the man who carried the piano for Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo to play their tunes on.
What a vital role his was, and it fully earned him the nickname the invisible wall the man who is rarely noticed on the pitch but whose work is indispensable. After the tournament he was a hot property, wanted by clubs all over Europe. Arsenal eventually won the race to sign him, and his quiet displays alongside Patrick Vieira winning him a lot of praise, as well as the quickest goal in the history of the Champions League against PSV.
His second season with the Gunners was a roaring success, the London side going through the entire 38-match league season unbeaten. Gilberto played 32 of those games, and scored 4 goals. Although his 2004/5 season was hampered by injuries, he was back in fine form this season, helping Arsenal reach the Champions League final as well as adding to his total of international caps during Brazil’s qualification run for Germany 2006. Brazilian fans can rest assured that even if Emerson is unavailable, the invisible wall will be there to silently protect his defence.