Mikael Silvestre on Pogba impact, Manchester United draws and England’s overly cautious tactics
Mikael Silvestre has been there and done it. At Manchester United, he won the Premier League four times and the Champions League in 2008. He also played for the likes of Inter Milan and Arsenal and internationally for France in a distinguished career that totalled over 500 games.
Ahead of the knock-out stages of Euro 2020, Mikael sat down with us to discuss Paul Pogba’s impact, what he’d like to see Manchester United improve and what he thinks is missing from the England team.
When Pogba’s at the top of his game, his level is something else
The problem with Paul Pogba is the consistency – or lack of. When he’s at the top of this game, his level is something else, but he finds it difficult to repeat that game after game.
I look at it this way; he’s a world-class player, he’s got world-class attributes for sure. The question is, can he repeat it every three days? I’m not sure he can. He hasn’t done it for Man United, I’m not sure he can do it for France either.
I’m always happy to see him on the pitch for club or country, because he’s been unlucky with injuries. The frustrating part is that we haven’t seen him reach his levels week-in, week-out. I don’t know whether it’s a psychological thing or a physical thing. I’m a Man United supporter and a France supporter, so I’m always hoping that whoever he represents, we see the best of him, because we saw against Germany just how much he can give to the team.
Too many draws cost United last season
I don’t want to criticise the likes of Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, or even Axel Tuanzebe. We’ve seen what other teams have been doing in terms of bringing in centre-backs. It’s important to have a very good partnership, and the Manchester United team has been very strong defensively since Harry Maguire came to the club.
You want to bring the best players to the club, but the question is more about who do you bring in, and what is that partnership going to look like? You want to improve all areas of the pitch, but that’s going to cost you. Right now, if Jadon Sancho is one of the targets, you know that kind of player is going to be expensive to sign, so after that, it won’t be easy to just go out and bring in even more world-class players.
The title wasn’t lost last season in defence for Manchester United. There were far too many draws, and throughout the course of the season the team struggled to kill off the lower sides in the division. Man City were able to gather momentum and go on that winning run, which was amazing, whereas United slipped up too many times and that’s why there was such a gap.
There was a real limitation in what Ole could do last season in terms of team selections, and the higher the competition is for places, the better the players will be. The team needs to raise the bar, it’s as simple as that.
Liverpool need ‘fresh blood’ this summer
Obviously Manchester City are going to be up there in next season’s title race, as will Manchester United – those two are obvious for me.
I don’t know about Liverpool; they’ve lost Gini Wijnaldum and I don’t know how they’re going to improve that area of the pitch. They have to, for sure. I think they are running out of steam. Even if Virgil van Dijk comes back as strong as he was before his injury, they need to add some fresh blood in other areas of the pitch.
Off the back of their Champions League success and Thomas Tuchel’s work with the players, I think Chelsea should be there or thereabout next season, and that’s pretty much it for me as far as the title race goes next season.
The three players who helped me settle at United…
There are two sides to joining Manchester United in the summer of 1999; the first is that you’re wishing you were there last season!
When I first moved to England, it was the Scandinavian players who helped me settle in, so the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ronny Johnsen and Henning Berg. It was easy to communicate with those players and spend time with them because they were nice guys. They were all really friendly with me and helped me to settle in at the club.
But it was so easy to integrate into a team that is working that well and that is winning things, because there’s a lot of confidence around the place. It was easy to connect with the guys and there was a great understanding between us. It was a real pleasure to join up with those players.
Straight away when I signed for the club, the gaffer told me he knew I could play in both positions, either centre-back or on the left. I started out at left-back for the club, and naturally moved into the central position with Jaap Stam, but the option was always there.
The fact that I could play two positions was a bonus for myself and for the gaffer, for sure.
Why I chose Arsenal over Man City in 2008
At the time, Arsenal were in a different dimension to Manchester City, so when it came to leaving Manchester United, although I was sad to leave, it was always going to be Arsenal I chose.
Even Mark Hughes, manager of City at the time, understood when I spoke with him about my decision. He said he’d have done the same himself if he was me.
Some players stay at the same club for their whole career, but I’ve played in a few different countries now and I’m always following how my former teams have got on. I was at Arsenal for two seasons and I enjoyed my time there.
Southgate could be more adventurous
I think the game against Croatia was a good start for England; it’s not easy to head into a tournament like this with the expectation England had, playing in front of a home crowd as well. They coped well in that game but, like France, their second game was a bit flat.
I’m not sure the combination of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice puts England as a dominant force in midfield. They’re too similar in style, and I think England should be dominating that area of the pitch, perhaps by playing more of a box-to-box, more offensive option in there.
I think Gareth Southgate could be more adventurous in midfield, rather than playing two defensive midfielders, and maybe he’s just being cautious. There are 70 million managers in England watching from home, and even more around the world, and so it’s sometimes easy for us to talk about who should be playing.
England have to step things up a gear moving forward in the tournament now. We’ve seen players like Harry Kane struggling, but you can’t put all of the responsibility on him. It’s similar to Karim Benzema of France – both are capable of scoring goals for their country; hopefully it’s going to come soon.