Silvestre: Qatar 2022 key for globalisation of football
Silvestre – who was part of the France squad that reached the 2006 FIFA World Cup™final – first made his mark on the international stage in 1997 at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Malaysia, and wound up his decorated professional career in 2014 with a season-long stint in the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League.
During a visit this week to the offices of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), the 39-year-old former Manchester United and Arsenal player also said the passion for football in the host nation of what will be the first ever FIFA World Cup™ in the Middle East has impressed him during his regular visits as guest speaker and media pundit.
The 2008 UEFA Champions League winner also reminisced about his international tournament bow in Malaysia, to underpin the strategic importance of awarding hosting rights of major tournaments to countries outside Europe.
"The tournament was a big success because of the huge passion for the game in Malaysia. A lot of future stars were born there. Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, David Trezeguet, William Gallas and Willy Sagnol were my teammates," he said.
"Malaysia was the first big stage for all of us. We were at the threshold of turning professional – some of us had almost signed professional contracts. Argentina also had a gifted generation coming through the ranks."
The man with 40 international caps and 361 appearances in a decorated nine-year career with Manchester United said Qatar, like Malaysia, is equally passionate about football.
"As a regular visitor to Qatar, I am amazed to witness the rich football culture in Doha concentrated in a compact geographical space," said the Frenchman. "I have been here in 2013 as a speaker at the Doha Goals event and visit the country periodically as a media pundit for beIN's live football broadcasts, and whenever I am here I admire the overwhelming passion for the sport."
Silvestre, who moved to Arsenal from Old Trafford in 2008 and spent two seasons at the north London club, also dwelt on his experiences in a third Asian country – India – which is close to his heart.
"Playing in India for Chennaiyin FC was a very enjoyable experience as the country has a fast-growing football scene," he said. "In addition to being the defensive partner of player-manager Marco Materazzi, I did a lot of Italian-to-English translation for my Indian teammates at the club," he said with a smile.
Silvestre said that the bond he shared with Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup™ winner Materazzi underscored football's role in bringing people together. "The incident between Marco and 'Zizou' in the 2006 final was unfortunate, but despite that I was able to have a great relationship with Marco in India. This shows that football is bigger than politics and war," he said.