Meet the Invincible
Gilberto Aparecido da Silva is a Brazilian former professional footballer.
Born and raised in in the Brazilian municipality of Lagoa da Prata, Gilberto joined the youth academy at local club América Mineiro, where he made his senior debut as a centre-back in 1998. After starring the following season, where he helped gain the club promotion into the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, he joined city rivals Atlético Mineiro. During his time at Atlético, Gilberto transitioned into a defensive midfielder under head coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, and flourished in his new role, gaining a call-up to the Brazilian national team for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he featured prominently as his country won the tournament.
As a result of his World Cup performances, Gilberto made a move to the Premier League to sign for Arsenal that summer for a fee of £4.5 million. During his six years at Arsenal, Gilberto gained a reputation as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, and starred in a midfield duo alongside Patrick Vieira. He would feature as a member of the Invincibles, where he captured his first top-flight league title as his team went undefeated the whole season, as well as winning two FA Cups. Gilberto also holds distinct records at Arsenal, recording their first goal at the Emirates Stadium, as well as their fastest ever goal, scoring in 21 seconds from kick-off against PSV Eindhoven in the 2002–03 UEFA Champions League. After departing Arsenal, Gilberto relocated to Greece, playing for Panathinaikos, where he won a domestic double. He then returned to Brazil in 2011, signing for Grêmio, where he remained for two years, before returning to Atlético to win the 2013 Copa Libertadores prior to retiring.
Gilberto featured at senior level for much of his international career, representing Brazil over a period of 9 years. He enjoyed a period of sustained success with his country, as he featured prominently in their victorious campaign at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, as well as being a core component as the team also won the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, while also featuring as captain in their Copa América win in 2007. After retaining the Confederations Cup in 2009, Gilberto expressed his desire to prolong his club career, which coincided with limited playing time for Brazil. He retired from international football after the 2010 FIFA World Cup, having made 93 appearances for Brazil.
Gilberto is often called "the invisible wall" in Brazil. His play often goes unnoticed as he positions himself between the two centre backs and the rest of midfield, breaking up opposition attacks before they gather momentum. In this role, he is a part of the defensive unit for both club and country. When playing, he is more passive than most players in defence. Rather than tackle an opponent, he is more likely to shadow him, thus pushing him back. As a result, he has an unusually clean record for a defensive midfielder: he has twice gone 45 games or more without receiving a single booking during his Arsenal career.
Gilberto is good at helping to defend against opponents who play a long ball game because he often man marks the opposition's attacking target-man. This cuts off the opposition's supply to the strikers, and thus forces the long-ball team to play through the midfield, something to which long-ball teams are not particularly suited.
According to ProZone (a data analysis system used by football managers) figures cited by The Sunday Times in January 2007, Gilberto was, together with Paul Scholes of Manchester United and Frank Lampard of Chelsea, one of the few midfielders in England to attain "the elite Champions League level" of performance.
Outside of football, Gilberto is a patron of The Street League, a UK based charity which organises football matches for homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers. In June 2003, he travelled to Brazil on tour with 17 Street League players. The tour included a visit to his home town Lagoa da Prata and games against local shanty town teams at the Maracanã stadium.
In May 2016, Gilberto joined Panathinaikos as technical director. He left in December, after seven months in the role.
Gilberto is a keen musician. In his spare time, he plays the mandolin and the guitar. When he first moved to England he took up mandolin lessons and played publicly at his local pub in St Albans. He later started learning the guitar instead.
He has a giant anteater named after him at London Zoo. Gilberto is an adoptee of the animal, which he received from a London Zoo competition winner. The footballer described the South American animal as "my slightly more hairy brother!"