• ​Mikael Silvestre appeared in two FIFA World Cups with France, in 2002 and 2006
  • The former defender spoke with FIFA.com about his world finals experiences
  • He is hopeful about Les Bleus’ chances at Russia 2018

Mikael Silvestre went through virtually every emotion on the FIFA World Cup™ stage with France: from disbelief and disappointment as the then reigning world champions went out in the group phase at Korea/Japan 2002, to hope and then sadness at Germany 2006, when they missed out on the Trophy to Italy.

“Excitement” is the word that best sums up the current state of mind of the former international defender, who won 40 caps and scored two goals for his country and played for Inter Milan, Manchester United and Arsenal in a successful club career. The reason for that excitement is Les Bleus’ imminent bid for glory at Russia 2018. Speaking with FIFA.com, Silvestre discussed his expectations for the upcoming world finals and his regrets from his own World Cup experiences.

FIFA.com: What are you expecting from France at Russia 2018?
Mikael Silvestre: I’m right behind the team, like any good fan. The fact I am a former international doesn’t change anything: I’m a Bleus fan first and foremost. That’s the most important feeling. When I talk to friends, players, coaches and football experts they all say that we’re among the favourites. I hope we can hold our own and reach the last four.

The Bleus squad features Ousmane Dembele, who you saw break through at Rennes during your time there as director of football. What can you tell us about him?
He’s a great player. I’m not surprised to see him at this level. When someone’s got the talent that Dembele has, you can’t help but notice them. He’s had a meteoric rise. He has things very clear in his mind and he doesn’t overcomplicate it all, which is a characteristic he shares with Kylian Mbappe. They really learned their trade at club level and when they stepped up to the national team it was just another phase for them. It’s a difficult step for some to take, but not for them. They’re ready. They’re amazingly talented, and it doesn’t surprise me at all to see Ousmane playing as well as he has been. He needs to keep it up now, which is the hardest part.

Though there are a couple of definite starters in defence, Didier Deschamps has had to juggle his options on the flanks in recent months. Is that a cause for concern?
The coach hasn’t been able to field his first-choice defence for any length of time, which is always a bit of a worry heading into a competition. But the players who are competing for places have pretty much got the ability to establish themselves and make the same contribution for the national team that they do for their clubs.

You played at left-back for France. How do you think the position has developed?
It’s a demanding place to play because of the contribution you have to make in defence and attack. You have to get the balance right but it’s difficult to find that balance, which is what makes it so challenging. I think full-backs are becoming more and more important when it comes to creating play. They’re like auxiliary wingers. Teams are increasingly relying on the individual performances of their full-backs.

You could play in the centre of defence too.
I think I divided my time between the two positions. Being that versatile helped me in my career and I really enjoyed playing in both of them. When you’re a full-back you’re a little bit dependent on the other defenders, but when you’re in the centre, you’re the leader. That’s what I loved about the position: being the leader of the four at the back and having a bit more authority when it came to saying things. You’re more involved in the game when you’re playing in the middle of defence.

You played at two World Cups, in 2002 and 2006, and they could hardly have been more different. One was a disaster and the other pretty much a success story.
Yes, though they both left a bitter taste in the mouth for me – 2006 maybe more so than the other one. I played in a make-or-break match against Togo, but losing on penalties was really tough [in the Final against Italy]. It was cruel. It’s the biggest cause for regret I had in my career.

How is it possible to have experienced two such different World Cups with largely similar squads?
In 2002, I was a rookie in the side. I think we lacked humility. We did our preparations in South Africa and Chile and we’d already qualified. We didn’t prepare as well as we should have done. What shone through in 2006 was the character of our big-name players. We had to show that 2002 was a slip-up. We had to bounce back and prove that we were better than that group-phase elimination. And we did that.