It was the night Pep Guardiola reached his first Champions League final as a manager, and it was also the night Sylvinho’s inner-coach came bursting out.
The former Arsenal, Barcelona and Manchester City defender still puts his hands to his head as he retells the story from May 2009. Andres Iniesta had just scored at Stamford Bridge in the 93rd minute.
In the midst of the pandemonium on the Barcelona bench Sylvinho grabbed Guardiola by the lapels reminding him to use his last two changes to eat up the final minutes.
Andres Iniesta’s last-minute winner against Chelsea in 2009 prompted Sylvinho’s reaction (R)
Guardiola put Eidur Gudjohnsen on for Iniesta and then Sylvinho on for Samuel Eto’o as Barcelona saw out time.
‘When the Iniesta goal goes in everyone starts running all over the place,’ Sylvinho says.
‘I didn’t know what I was doing. Something clicked in my head: “boss, there are two changes”. I could say now: yeah, I was calm. I knew exactly what to do. But it wouldn’t be true. It was all crazy. We were all going mad.
‘The next day when I saw the footage I just thought bloody hell he is my boss. It was spontaneous, it just came from somewhere inside.’
Guardiola hasn’t reached a Champions League final since leaving Barcelona. Sylvinho would love him to do it at Manchester City, the club he signed for after he left the Camp Nou.
Ebullient and expressive, all the old energy he displayed as a player is now channelled into building a managerial career.
Asked about the ambition to become the first Brazilian manager in the Premier League since Luiz Felipe Scolari at Chelsea in 2008-09, and just the second overall, he doesn’t hold back. ‘I’m preparing for that,’ he says. ‘That’s the challenge.’
He’s already seen how tough it can be. He left a good position as Brazil manager Tite’s number two to take the Lyon job last season.
Sylvinho became the manager at Lyon in May 2019, but was sacked just five months later
But after winning his first two games 3-0 and 6-0 and beating RB Leipzig in the Champions League, form dipped and president Jean-Michel Aulas showed no mercy replacing him in October last year.
It hasn’t made him doubt his ability, and those who know him well are still believers too.
‘[Arsene] Wenger sent me a message when I left Lyon and it really touched me,’ he says.
‘You did everything you could have done and you’ve gone with your head held high as a sir and a gentleman. That was more or less his message. Apart from being a great manager he is also a fantastic person.’
There was a message of support from Brazil coach Tite as well. Sylvinho would have taken Brazil’s under-23s to the Olympics had he not got the Ligue 1 job offer.
Sylvinho was at Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, who messaged him after the Lyon sacking
Coaching Brazil has brought him closer to two players who have just won the Premier League with Liverpool. Of keeper Allison, he says: ‘Technically he is one of the best in the world. I loved working with him.’
And of Firmino he admits to having been smitten the first time he saw him. ‘When I started working with the national team in 2016, the manager told me: “there’s a Burnley v Liverpool that it would be good if you could go to”. It wasn’t easy to get to Burnley from Milan, but it was worth it – he was incredible.
‘The ball’s on the other side of the pitch and you see the way he moves, the way he’s looking to get away from defenders, the generosity with which he connects with team mates.
‘I left there in love with him. I went to Rio to do the report, and Tite said to me: “you’re in love, I can see it”.
Tite and Wenger are bound to be influences, as is Roberto Mancini who he played for at Manchester City and then was assistant coach to at Inter.
Sylvinho hugs Guardiola (R) after Barca’s victory in the 2009 Champions League final in Rome
But it is current City coach Guardiola who seems to have left the biggest mark. ‘It’s not just the possession of the ball,’ he says.
‘At Barcelona he gave us an aggressiveness; the hunger to say “f***, that ball is mine, I’m going to win it! It’s the work ethic and the passion he inspires.
‘You can pin a methodology up on the dressing room wall but how to get players to put it into action? The answer is work, lots of work.’
Of the famous ‘Rondo’ passing drill, he says: ‘Players from other football cultures say: “well, that’s for the warm-up”. But Guardiola’s rondo is not a warm-up, it’s work.
‘There are concepts in those drills that you apply to matches. And I tell you something: without soul, without passion, it’s very hard to make it work.’
The influence of working under Guardiola for just one season left a huge mark on Sylvinho
He always had those qualities as a player. It’s one of the reasons why he ended up at Manchester City after winning the treble in his final season at Barcelona.
‘City were at the Camp Nou for a pre-season friendly,’ he says
‘I got a call from an agent telling me he was at the Hotel Rey Juan Carlos where he was with Mark Hughes who wanted to speak to me. Hughes said to me: “Silvio I know your situation, I know you are 35-years-old but I need a winning mentality in that dressing room. I want to sign you”.
‘They always sell the club to you and sometimes the reality is very different. But when I got there I soon realised that yes, it was exactly as it had been sold to me. There was a calm patience; we knew where we wanted to get to, but there was no rush.
The Brazilian defender (R) at his Manchester City unveiling in 2009 alongside Joleon Lescott
‘Later, Roberto Mancini came in and we finished the season in fifth. Khaldoon (Al Mubarak) came down to the dressing room, a gentleman, and spoke to all of us at the end of the season.’
Mancini wanted Sylvinho to become one of his assistant coaches but he felt after 12 years away from his parents in Sao Paolo, he needed a break back home.
‘City carried on winning with league titles and signing important players. [Manuel] Pellegrini came in and then Pep. I love the way the club works. It’s not just the usual four-month plan. There is a lot of money at a lot of clubs, but building something is still not easy.’
It all could all culminate this month with them winning the Champions League. ‘We would love that,’ he says. ‘But first we have the return leg against Madrid.’
Sylvinho lifts the Champions League trophy in 2009 after a memorable season with Barcelona
His former club Barcelona, and Lionel Messi, who made his competitive debut aged 16 in the same year Sylvinho joined, could also stand in City’s way.
‘He was the same then as now in many ways,’ he says. ‘He didn’t speak much, he was relaxed, he would just train and go home. He has a great family behind him.
‘We didn’t know how far he would go. We knew there was a lot of potential there. We knew he was something different, very different. But it’s a lie to say we thought: this guy will win six Balón d’Or prizes, you never know what will happen.’
Barcelona have been below par this season but Sylvinho says: ‘Even a little bit of Messi is mucho Messi. He’s still the best. He can change a game in the seconds. He gets the ball, bluh, bluh, bluh, bluh, goal! A team with a player like that, look out, maybe they can win it.’
A Neymar-inspired Paris Saint Germain would be another contender he knows plenty about. ‘I can only talk about the Neymar that I have worked with when he plays for Brazil,’ he says.
‘Technically, physically, tactically he is Spec-tac-u-lar! He is a terrific kid. Of course he’s Neymar! And Neymar is Neymar! But he never gave us any problems. Like anyone he needs managing. I needed managing as well. A young Silvio needed Wenger!’
The experience of coaching or playing alongside the best in the world will serve him well as he starts out as a coach. And the tough experience at Lyon is also something he intends to use in his favour.
‘I’m not going to cry over what happened. There is no time for that,’ he says.
Sylvinho described Neymar as spectacular after coaching him during his time with Brazil
‘We knew what the deal was – we had to win games and win more games. You have to work hard and then Andres Iniesta shoots in the last minute and the ball goes in or it doesn’t.’
It feels fitting to end on that Champions League memory. He was almost apologetic about having taken charge in the technical area as delirium reigned that night, but it showed the emerging coach.
‘The timeframe we are not in control of,’ he says. ‘What we can control is how motivated we are and how hard we work to get where we want to be.’