Sunday 05 August 2018, 07:58

Silvestre: World Cup memories stay with you for life

  • An adopted son of Rennes, Mikael Silvestre is thrilled to see Brittany hosting a FIFA competition

  • He played in an U-20 World Cup himself in Malaysia in 1997

  • Silvestre recalls that experience in an interview with

Mikael Silvestre was never going to miss out on watching the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018, not least because it is being held in Brittany. That particular region is, after all, close to the heart of a player who began his storied career with Rennes.

Then there is the fact that the former France international, who won 40 caps for his country and scored two goals in the process, also played at a FIFA World Cup in the U-20 age group, at Malaysia 1997. The ex-Manchester United and Arsenal defender has wonderful memories of that tournament, as he confirmed on interview with As an adopted son of Rennes, it must make you very happy to see Brittany hosting the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018. Mikael Silvestre: I am happy that Brittany is hosting the event and that Rennes is also one of the Host Cities of the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™. It’s great. They’ve made the right choice in both cases because the people here are welcoming and they just love football. And women’s football is growing fast in Brittany. It’s a huge success.

Are you a women’s football fan yourself? Yes. I got involved in it when I was playing for Portland Timbers in the USA, between 2013 and 2015. One of my daughters was ten at the time and it was through her that I really started taking an interest because that was when she took up the game. They have a great women’s team called the Thorns. We were lucky enough to meet Alex Morgan and the rest of the team, who won the league that year. The Portland women’s team have a huge following and they get crowds of 10,000 for every match.

What do you think of the women’s game in France? Les Bleues are one of the best sides in the world. I follow them closely and I’ll obviously be the first person supporting them at the World Cup next year. I watched them play Greece in Rennes a few months ago, when a record crowd of over 20,000 turned up at Roazhon Parc. France won 1-0 and I thoroughly enjoyed it. France are a high-profile team now and I hope they can win the major title that’s eluded them so far.

In the meantime there’s France 2018, which gets under way in Vannes on Sunday. You’ve played in an U-20 world finals yourself, in Malaysia in 1997. What does it mean to a player to take part in a competition like that? It’s a fantastic experience. You’re rubbing shoulders with the world’s very best players in your age group. It’s special, enjoyable, and you have wonderful memories that stay with you for life. When you play in a World Cup, you find yourself in a whole different environment. You’re on another planet.

Do you have any memories of Malaysia 1997 that stand out in particular? I’ve got a lot. Strangely, the one that comes to mind first is the heavy defeat to Brazil in our opening match. We had a fantastic team, with players like Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Nicolas Anelka, but that 3-0 defeat brought us right back down to Earth.

You also scored an own goal that day. I don’t remember that, funnily enough (laughs).

We’ve seen a lot of players, male and female, star at U-17 and U-20 level and then fail to make it in the professional game. What are the pitfalls they need to avoid? That’s true. It can sometimes be the peak of a player’s career. The danger is to start believing that you’ve made it just because you’re playing in one of those tournaments, when in actual fact it’s just the start. The players who break through the barrier are the ones who really want to fight it out with the seniors and reach the highest level.

What advice would you give to the 336 players getting ready to take part at France 2018? I’d tell them not to put too much pressure on themselves. There’s a tendency to set the bar higher than it needs to be. It’s true that you’re representing your country, that it’s the World Cup, and that there’s a lot at stake. But if you’re going to get things right you have to keep it simple.