Dubai: As a child he understood the nuances of life. Raised in a poor family while living with his parents and three younger sisters in a single room, Gilberto da Silva thrived at life’s varied challenges to go on to become one of the best defensive midfielders.
Growing up on the streets of his native Lagoa da Prata in Mina Gerais, da Silva loved every bit of growing up playing football on the streets with his cousins and friends. In 1988 as a 12-year-old, he got his first chance to break away from poverty by joining America Mineiro in the youth team. When not busy with football, da Silva was taught furniture-making skills by his father.
But with his late father and sole bread-winner deciding to stop work as a blacksmith, the 15-year-old da Silva had no option but start supporting the family – a task made more difficult due to his mother’s ill-health with failing kidneys.
“I am what I am today because of what I went through yesterday. Quite honestly, I have no regrets growing up the way I did. I still think it was a great childhood. No doubt, we had a lot of financial difficulties, but this really didn’t matter as long as we were all together. We played and enjoyed on the streets, and we always found a solution to every problem that came up,” da Silva told Gulf News during a recent visit to Dubai.
“My father had to work hard alone and raise four kids. My mum got ill with kidney problems and she had to get a transplant later. I had to go and work and do my bit so that I could be financially independent. All this was just the base for me to educate myself for the future. I think I learnt through all this before going out into the world,” the 41-year-old added.
However, all along he never gave up on his football dream!
Da Silva had to cut short his playing at America Mineiro due to the low wages. His alternate sources of income was first as a labourer, then a carpenter and then a factory worked in a sweet factory where he earned the equivalent of around $60 a month.
After three years in the sweet factory, the 18-year-old once against decided to try his luck with football while enrolling with the America Mineiro youth academy. Once again his football ambition had to be put on the back-burner as da Silva re-joined the sweet factory due to his mother’s struggles with kidney ailments.
Finally, in 1997 he once again teamed up with America Mineiro, and within the next three years he managed to make a move to city rivals Atletico Mineiro where he thrived in the Brazilian Campeonato Brazilerio Serie A. “It was a long journey then and today when I think about those times I have no regrets at all. In fact, I would love to see my three children to learn and benefit from what I’ve been through. I speak to them all the time about my various experiences with the hope that they can learn to face life with my actual experiences,” da Silva related.
“This is one sure way of leaving them with some values. I think that if someone wants to build up a good future for oneself and one’s family then one cannot afford to forget one’s past. I do realize and understand that my kids can’t have the same kind of experiences that I have had in my time because times have changed. But I would be failing them if I did not tell them what built me up into being what I am today,” he added.
The highpoint of his career came when da Silva featured in all seven matches of Brazil’s triumph in the 2002 Fifa World Cup. Immediately after the global footballing showpiece, he was picked up by Arsenal for a fee of £4.5 million (Dhs 22.3 million) where he won the 2004 Premier League and two FA Cup trophies as part of Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’.
“It is due to football that my life has changed a lot. My kids and my family are much financially better off today. But the lessons of life have not been forgotten. Today I would love my children to have many experiences, perhaps something similar to what I’ve been through, so that they have a different idea of this world,” da Silva said.
“It is through my experiences that they can have a piece of me. This is the best way to teach them about life,” he smiled.
Name: Gilberto Aparecido da Silva
Date of Birth: October 7, 1976)
Place of Birth: Lagoa da Prata, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Height: 1.85m (6.1ft)
Playing Position: Defensive Midfielder
1997-2000: America Mineiro, Brazil
2000-2002: Atletico Mineiro, Brazil
2002-2008: Arsenal, England
2008-2011: Pananthinaikos, Greece
2011-2013: Gremio, Brazil