The Brazilian Invincible Gunner that never was……


Unsung Heroes!

Insomnia has a lot of side effects. My father suffers from it, I have had bouts of it but neither of us have ever signed Arsenal’s first ever Brazilian player because of it. explains how Silvinho dropped onto (then) chief Scout Steve Rowley’s radar:

 “I couldn’t get to sleep one night,” Steve remembers, “it was about 3am so I turned on the TV and there was a Brazilian game on.

“I was just watching it for a bit and I thought that the left back was good- very clean with his passing. That’s what I noticed first, he was so precise with his passing. Anyway I watched the game then the next day I got a few videos of him and said to the boss “this player doesn’t look half bad.” So he looked and agreed, and told me to go and watch him. Then the boss went over to watch him and decided to buy him.

“That was it. It all stemmed from me turning the television on by chance in the middle of the night. I had never heard of him before. So you do need to get lucky every now and then, although at the time we didn’t have a Brazilian scout. Now our scout out there would know all about a player like that.”


Silvinho was a very capable left-back, signed for a not-inconsiderate amount of £4m from Corinthians after the heart-breaking disappointment that was the 1998-1999 season, he started the influx of Brazilian players who would wear the red and white with varied distinction; Edu, Juan, Gilberto Silva and Julio Baptista being among the Samba stars welcomed to N5 following Silvinho’s lead. Silvinho’s debut season didn’t end well – despite his classy displays propelling him past long-term left-back incumbent and Arsenal legend Nigel Winterburn in the pecking order – as Arsenal crashed to a penalty shoot-out loss to Galatasaray in the UEFA Cup Final.

His arrival was overshadowed by the ‘will-he, won’t-he?’ Nicholas Anelka leaving saga, as well as the arrival of Real Madrid striker Davor Suker and a young, whippet-like French forward called Thierry Henry. He was one of two defenders signed that summer, with Arsene Wenger clearly laying the groundwork to replace Lee Dixon and Winterburn; as Oleg Luzhny was also snapped up from Dynamo Kyiv.


Silvinho was arguably a better defender than 1st choice Brazilian leftback Roberto Carlos and he did a very good impression of him going forward as well. However, he only won 6 caps for his national side, failing to displace the aforementioned pocket rocket. Silvinho’s link up play with Marc Overmars in his debut season (Overmar’s last in an Arsenal shirt…) and Henry was often as fluid as you could ever hope to see along a flank and had the three of them had more time together, Silvinho could well have left Highbury with a trophy to his name. His debut season saw Arsenal exit the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup on penalties, and dumped out of the Champions League after a certain Golazo from Gabriel Batistuta at Wembley that had David Seaman clutching at air.

It is in Silvinho’s second season when things get interesting, Interesting and murky. It was another season of heart-break; Liverpool somehow beating Arsenal in the FA Cup Final in Cardiff on a glorious Welsh Summer’s day, a day when blatant handballs and penalties went un-noticed and wee young scamp Michael Owen helped commit a daylight robbery with 80,000 witnesses.

His glory last minute goal at the Bridge

It was all change at Arsenal after Euro 2000. Overmars and Emmanuel Petit upped-sticks to Camp Nou, Suker and Winterburn headed east to West Ham United and Arsenal had raided France for European Championship winners Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires. Silvinho was struck down by a calf injury that autumn and a young English left-back, who’d been at Crystal Palace on loan during Silvinho’s debut year, stepped into the breach, wearing #29 and after being on the brink of being sold. That player was of course Ashley Cole.

Sadly for our swashbuckling Brazilian that Ashley Cole never looked back. He became Arsenal’s first choice left-back for the next five years and arguably the best left-back the club had seen since Kenny Sansom. Cole was a seriously class defender and his link up play with Pires and Henry was absolutely vital in the trophy winning years that followed his promotion to the first team.

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Silvinho, meanwhile, was having problems as e told the (now defunct) News of the World in late 2001:

 “At the start of January I started thinking about my future at the club,” said Silvinho. “I came back but suffered another injury with my calf and then, after I returned, I couldn’t get back in the team.

“I talked to my wife and she told me: ‘If you’re not happy here you have to move. I don’t want to see you upset all the time’.

“I was very unhappy and it was only because my wife was so supportive that I pulled through. I cannot blame Arsene Wenger. He needs to do what’s best for Arsenal and I thought with Ashley being very good I wouldn’t have the chance to play anymore. I spoke to him about it. I didn’t tell him: ‘Oh I have to play’, because I always respected Cole. We had a conversation before I left for holiday late in May and I said to him that I preferred to move. When I left for holiday I said to Wenger: ‘I will probably not come back here.’ He didn’t try to change my mind.”

Silvinho left Arsenal for Celta Vigo in the summer of 2001, after the FA Cup Final bitterness – where he didn’t make the bench. However there may have been a very good reason for this fact. Silvinho appeared to be holding an invalid Portuguese passport…

The 2000-01 season saw several players getting caught up in fake passport scandals. When Silvinho signed for Celta Vigo, he was registered as a Brazilian, and only received EU status in 2004 after spending three years in La Liga. Speaking to the NOTW:

“I don’t know why Arsenal had to register me with a Portuguese passport,” said Silvinho. “This is a problem for the president at Arsenal and some people at Arsenal.

“I don’t remember. Two years ago I didn’t know anything about the registration or English football. I had nothing to do with getting a Portuguese passport. I think I had it a few months before I went to Arsenal.”

The silky smooth midfielder Edu was another Brazilian who Arsenal had tried to sign at the same time as Silvinho. He was turned away at Heathrow after being found with a fake passport; which delayed his arrival and upset both of the Brazilian compatriots. It goes without saying that fake EU passports were a real problem at the turn of the 21st Century.

But Silvinho’s loss was Arsenal and Ashley Cole’s gain. Well up until a meeting in a London hotel with a certain Jose Mourinho…

Silvinho will be remembered for some truly awesome long range goals from his attacking left-back slot and a smile that seemed to light up the pitch. We’ll forget the fact that he was in FC Barcelona’s Champions League winning squad in Paris and his late career dalliance with Manchester City! It was at City that he met Roberto Mancini and he is now assistant to the Italian at Inter Milan.

Silvinho today at Inter

Silvinho today at Inter

Thanks for reading.




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