7 August: Gilberto Silva joined Arsenal from Atlético Mineiro

7 August 2002: Gilberto Silva joined Arsenal from Atlético Mineiro

Gilberto joined for £4.5m despite Atlético Mineiro being placed on a transfer embargo because of unpaid wages and difficulties for him getting a work permit.  Prior to coming he had twice given up football to work in a sweet factory due to financial difficulties at home.

But he became The Invisible Wall both for Arsenal and Brazil.

And on 1 June 2007, Gilberto captained Brazil against England at the first senior international match at the new Wembley Stadium. I remember sitting in a hotel bar watching the game just thinking over and over, “an Arsenal man is captain of Brazil”.

At the time he was not everyone’s favourite at Arsenal but he was so missed during the long absence with a back injury that after that fans seemed to love him more and more – I still remember the cheer when he came back from the long lay off.  And quite right too.

Gilberto started as a footballer in 1997 with a tiny team, and by 2002 he was playing all of Brazil’s games in the World Cup finals.  It was quite a rise to success in five years.

And then he came to Arsenal for just £4.5 million.  What a coup by Wenger.

And after that, he was an Invincible winning the 2003/4 League.  On 19 August 2006 he scored the first league goal at the Emirates.  He also won the cup twice and played 170 games in all before moving to Panathinaikos in 2008.

Gilberto played his first game for Arsenal on 11 August 2002 as a sub in the Community Shield, and he scored the winner.  Not a bad start.

But we also had Edu and at first it was unsure who would be the top man in midfield.   Eventually Gilberto won, Edu moved on.

He played 32 of the 38 unbeaten games as an Invincible but it was at the start of the next season that things started to go wrong… the things ultimately diagnosed as a fractured back.   It looked like he would never play again.

But by September 2005 Gilberto, having fully recovered from his injury which affected him for 18 months said he wanted to stay at Arsenal for the rest of his career and despite problems earlier in the season he then played in the Champions League final.   But the problems intensified after Henry left and Gallas, seemingly disruptive where ever he went, moved in, and up to captain (rather than Gilberto who was vice captain).

That seemed to unsettle Gilberto, and matters were worse when in came Flamini,  and Gilberto found his place was under threat.   But Flamini jumped ship refusing to sign a new contract, preferring to move to AC Milan for a higher salary but (as it turned out) far fewer games, and by 2007–08 Gilberto was back in favour with 36 appearances, although many of these were in Cup competitions.  Thus the captain of Brazil was not always picked for Arsenal.  It was bizarre.

Privately he became a patron of The Street League, which organises football matches for homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers.   It is a patronage which, it seems to me, reflects his own humble beginnings.    And he’s a mandolin player and a guitarist – he is reported to have played in his local pub while playing for Arsenal.

And as you may have guessed from the tone of this little piece, he is perhaps the Arsenal player I would most like to meet, the Arsenal player I admire hugely, and the Arsenal player I was so sorry to see leave.  I think he should have stayed longer and I remember him at Arsenal so fondly.

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