“I almost died.”
That’s what Thiago Silva says of his first visit to Russia back in 2005.
He was 20-years-old and, after following the much-travelled path for talented Brazilians across the Atlantic Ocean, he joined Dynamo Moscow on loan.
Despite some impressive showings for Porto’s reserves, he failed to convince the coaches he was worthy of a place in the first-team.
And so the Portuguese club sent their new signing to Russia in hope he would gain invaluable experience.
The move was a shock to system, both figuratively and literally.
After complaining of chest pains, doctors diagnosed him with tuberculosis.
Silva spent six months in hospital, isolated from the outside world due to the contagious nature of his condition.
“The doctors would tell me to get up and go for a walk, but I couldn’t do it,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport in 2011.
“Every now and then a doctor would come in and give me an injection, three or four times a day, plus 10-15 pills.
“The doctors said if another two weeks had passed, I might not have been able to recover. I almost died.”
Silva never played a single minute for Dynamo Moscow and Porto had no choice but to release him from his contract.
Having evaded the reaper’s embrace, Silva returned to Brazil and spent lots of time with his family.
During this time he effectively gave up on football altogether but his mother persuaded him to pursue his dream once more.
Fluminense took a gamble on him and signed him in 2006 and, despite a poor season for the club, their tenacious new centre-back won plenty of admirers.
All over the country, fans began referring to him using a new nickname, ‘O Monstro’ — ‘The Monster’.
Fast-forward to modern day and Silva is the beating heart of a Brazil side trying to exorcise the demons of 2014.
Four years ago, expectation was mountainous as the five-time champions hosted the World Cup.
A flawed but charismatic Brazilian side made it to the semi-finals, almost through sheer collective will alone.
Then came arguably the most famous game in football history — Brazil 1 Germany 7.
Silva missed the game through suspension and while much was made of Neymar’s absence (through injury), the tragicomedy performed by Brazil’s defence proved it was their talismanic centre-back who was the most important member of the team.
In the build-up to 2018 World Cup, there were rumours that Tite’s first-choice centre-back pairing would be Marquinhos and Miranda.
However, Silva’s experience won out in the end and he’s been ever-present in the tournament thus far.
The onus is on the 33-year-old to prevent a football-mad country from suffering another humiliating defeat on the biggest stage of them all.
As is tradition, Brazil can be got at if the opposition are brave enough to commit men forward.
Their defending often feels improvised but in Silva they have a centre-back whose attributes rival that of any world-class defender of the last decade.
Questions have been asked of his leadership qualities.
He lost the armband when he asked to be the 11th penalty-taker for the round of 16 shootout against Chile in 2014.
Many saw this as a cowardly act, not one befitting a captain.
Silva has been labelled a ‘bottlejob’ by some harsher critics.
However, when you watch him play, he exudes confidence.
His distinctly South American intensity makes him a fearsome competitor, while his technical ability and innate understanding of the game make him a formidable one.
At 6ft 0in, he measures up a couple of inches shorter than many of the other top-bracket centre-backs of this generation.
And yet he seems to win every header — in either box.
Brazil’s fanatical fans will look to Neymar and Philippe Coutinho to sail them to glory.
But there’s a sense the players rely on Silva to guide the ship through the icebergs.
Silva nearly died in Moscow — victory in the same city on the 15th July could make him immortal.