Nothing seems to fluster Mikael Silvestre. Not the ever bugging posse of scribes, nor the star-struck fans. Not even the brutal heat and the energy-sapping humidity of Bengal.
“I’m used to this heat… my father is a West Indian,” the France and Manchester United defender says while munching an apple.
At the peak of summer in India, the Frenchman finds himself in the midst of school children in Tikiapara, a bustling suburb in Howrah district. By his own admission, he says he is in India’s “football capital”, trying his bit to popularise the beautiful game amongst an enthusiastic bunch of young football lovers.
For every football fan growing up in the early 2000s, the names of Mikael Silvestre, Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were some that made football such an irresistable game and Manchester United an overwhelming favourite.
Now 37, the Frenchman was one of Alex Ferguson’s go-to man during his glorious decade at Old Trafford. Silvestre won five Premier League titles — a feat he concedes to be the high point of his career.
This was followed by a UEFA Champions League in 2008 and an FA Cup title to cap off an enviable resume. After United, he defied tradition, by switching to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal where he spent another two more productive years.
Having spent a dozen years with two world-class tacticians — Ferguson and then Wenger — not only boosted his profile, but was also a learning experience for him.
“At United, it was a great experience because we had so many talented players coming up at the same time under Alex. Wenger, on the other hand, was more tactical…. chalked out elaborate game-plans… so it was an entirely different experience. Both were very different personalities,” he says, when asked to compare Ferguson and Wenger.
Quiz him on United’s inability to win the Premier League this year, and Silvestre quickly retorts: “Wait for the next season… a few intelligent transfers and with a more bolstered back-line, United will go all the way.”
Despite his dizzying success in England, and his stint with Major League Soccer (MLS) in USA, Silvestre is placing big bets on Indian football. His visit to Tikiapara is a case in point. The defender has no qualms is admitting the immense potential India possesses.”India with its population has tremendous potential as an upcoming footballing nation. The talent I recently saw during the ISL was incredible. It is a great platform for Indian football,” he says.
Silvestre represented Chennaiyin FC in the first edition but is yet to get confirmation from them for the second edition. “Chennaiyin FC are yet to contact me. But I am willing to play for any team.”
Silvestre says he hasn’t given much thought to life after football. Coaching, he reckons, might be an option. “I am a UEFA B licence holder, so coaching is an option. Apart from that I am also involved with my charity work, which keeps me busy,” he says.
He says he is also mulling contracts with television companies in the USA and Qatar. “That way I will get to watch football on TV and get paid to talk on it,” he adds.