Ronaldo’s determination, Messi’s ‘god-given gift’ & Zlatan’s MMA black belt: Chelsea & Brazil star sums up football’s top strikers

Neymar is a magician, Lionel Messi is “the best” and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s rise from MMA black belt to football icon inspires children – that’s the verdict of Chelsea’s Thiago Silva, who knows more than most about football’s icons.

Veteran English Premier League defender Silva has seen almost everything during an exceptional senior career that has lasted almost 20 years, leaving him arguably better positioned than any current player to assess who the greatest stars to have played the game in recent decades are.

From playmaker Angel Di Maria at Paris Saint-Germain – Silva reached the Champions League final with the French giants last season – to Chelsea legend Didier Drogba, the Brazil stalwart has offered a few insights into what makes several of the finest players of all time so special.

“Drogba [had] physical strength,” Silva told Chelsea about the targetman who won the 2012 Champions League and four Premier League titles at Stamford Bridge. “Despite being incredibly strong, he still had a lot of technical skill.

“Adriano, like Drogba, was an incredible physical force with an unbelievably powerful left-foot penalty shot.

“[I’d choose] Di Maria because of his technical quality and his incredible left foot, and [Kylian] Mbappe because of his speed and his technical quality.

“[Liverpool striker Roberto] Firmino has incredible technical quality. He is very intelligent in his movement. That leaves defenders a bit lost.”

Talk inevitably turned to the three most high-profile goalscorers currently operating in Europe. “Neymar because of his class, intelligence and magic,” said Silva, picking his toughest opponents.

“He is a player that impresses me with his technical quality and his ability to create out of nowhere.

“Cristiano Ronaldo because of his professionalism, his dedication and passion for football. He is a guy I really admire for his commitment and for everything he has achieved.

“Romario because of his intelligence in the box. He’s the best I’ve seen in the box. I’m going to say Ibrahimovic as the fourth [best] because he is a guy who inspired me and I think he has inspired many kids.

“He was a black belt [in Taekwondo] before he became a footballer and then, after he found himself, football [took over]. He’s a guy that I admire a lot.”

In the endless debate over who is the better of Ronaldo and Messi, Silva picks Barcelona’s all-time top scorer. “He has incredible quality and a god-given gift,” said the center-back, explaining that Messi is his number one “because of the professional he is.” “For me, he is the best.”

Silva is about to have the chance to go further than Messi again in the Champions League this season. Chelsea will start with a 1-0 lead when they host LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 second leg on Wednesday.

Also on ‘He is too expensive’: Ex-Juventus chief slams signing of Cristiano Ronaldo as ‘absolutely’ a mistake by Champions League flops

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