Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Becoming a champion is everyday work: Gilberto Silva

Gilberto Silva, Brazil's World Cup-winning footballer and part of the Arsenal Invincibles, on how to train your mind to be successful

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Apr 22, 2023 10:07:33 AM IST
Updated: Apr 21, 2023 01:20:25 PM IST

Becoming a champion is everyday work: Gilberto SilvaGilberto Silva, Brazilian former professional footballer Image: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Gilberto Silva wasn’t Ronaldo or Denis Bergkamp, his Brazilian and Arsenal teammates, respectively, when it came to the limelight. But his role in a football team was perhaps no less important. Leading Brazilian magazine Veja said the Brazilian midfielder “carried the piano for Ronaldo and Rivaldo to play their tunes on”. Silva was included in the starting eleven of the 2002 Fifa World Cup as a last-minute replacement for captain Emerson, who picked up an injury on the eve of the tournament, and ended up playing throughout, ending up winning the Cup. An expert on Sports18 and JioCinema's Fifa World Cup coverage panel, Silva sat down for a one-on-one with Forbes India. Edited excerpts:

The key to success is staying prepared

I wasn't originally supposed to be a part of the starting line-up of the Brazilian World Cup side in 2002. I was a last-minute replacement for our captain Emerson, who injured himself during practice on the eve of the tournament. Our coach Luiz Felipe Scolari came to my room late evening that day and told me I was going to play the next day. He asked me to move over Emerson’s injury and start thinking about what I should do on the field. and ended up playing in every match, including the final that we won. How did I cope with being on the fringes to being in the centre? By staying ready even when I wasn't in the team. It's the mentality you develop when you are at the top level. When you are part of a national team, you are playing with the best players in the country. So you keep honing your skill. In a country like Brazil, every kid plays football. So, if at any stage, you are not ready to grab the opportunity when it comes, it will slip through your fingers. I would always prepare, be it at the club level or the national level. That’s how you should train your mind, irrespective of whether you are playing.

Preparation gives you the confidence to deal with pressure

My World Cup performance caught the eye of then Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. I joined the Premier League side in the following year and managed to win the FA Cup in the first season. Then came the epic 2003-2004 season in which Arsenal won the PL title without losing a single game, earning it the moniker of ‘The Invincibles’. We started that season with a clear vision: To be a champion. We started to work hard with a clear focus on the goal. As you put in the hard yards, your confidence grows. Sometimes you don't have a good game, but you end up winning. The key is to have that confidence, which comes from preparation—it helps you handle pressure well. Arsene would always push us in training sessions, and we would always train as we were going to play. So, even when our opponents scored first, we never panicked and knew we could bounce back. We knew we could handle any situation.  

People management is key to team-building

The key to building a successful team is good people management. The Arsenal dressing room had a lot of leaders, including myself, Thierry Henry, captain Patrick Vieira, Jens Lehmann, and Sol Campbell, to name a few. We respected each other and also demanded the best from each other. A team doesn't do well if all the members don't contribute. I needed to match everyone's standards, and vice-versa. If someday, I wasn't up to it, my teammates would push me to do better, and I would push them equally hard if they fell short on some other day. And it helped that despite being a group of hardened professionals, we were, at the same time, good human beings. That's why our game was always focused on helping the team as a whole.

Also read: Don't fall on the first hurdle: Sol Campbell

You have to break stones every day to become successful

Becoming a champion is an everyday work. And it starts with your mind. You need to decide what you want to achieve. Then build a plan and act on it. Be patient with your goal and spend time to learn. When we are young, we want things to work out fast. It doesn't happen like that, learning takes a long time. Learn from those who are better than you. Watch their routine, observe their attitude, and ask them questions. Being successful isn't easy, you have to break stones every day. Behind every soccer star lies numerous sacrifices and hard work.

Go beyond your achievements

Success shouldn't be your ultimate goal. Your focus should be on getting better. Every time you achieve something, celebrate and then, after a few days, move on. Plan your next step, and move one step higher. To move on to the next level, you need to be even better than what brought you there. Take the lessons from your victory, and then seek improvement. That should be your eternal quest. Learn how not to listen to the critics, because it’s only you who can make a difference.