Mikaël Silvestre on Arsenal's title hopes, Manchester United's future & Mbappé transfer reports
Mikael Silvestre has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, making appearances for Arsenal, Inter Milan, Werder Bremen, and, of course, the small matter of 249 appearances for Manchester United.
That makes him a player who knows a lot about the Premier League, and we sat down with the former France centre-half to talk Arsenal's title chances after their FA Cup exit, the future of Manchester United under its new ownership structure, and much, much more.
The hype surrounding the 2025 release of Grand Theft Auto 6 continues to grow after the first trailer was released in December. Were you ever a player of the franchise back in the day and were any of your former teammates obsessed with it?
I didn’t play it myself and I don’t remember any of my teammates playing it either. It wasn’t a big thing in the dressing rooms I was in.
What games were your teammates more focused on?
FIFA was the main one. A lot of the players also played Mario Kart on the Nintendo too. It was a lot of fun.
Who do you believe are the current favourites to win the Premier League title this season? Do you believe Arsenal are still firmly in the title race?
I believe Arsenal will bounce back and manage to stay in the Premier League title race. I think they’ve got enough quality in the squad and they have the mentality to dig deep. Other teams are going to drop points along the way, so I’m expecting them to be in the race for the most part, but I believe Manchester City are the overall favourites.
They strengthened in the summer, they’ve got Kevin De Bruyne back from injury and they’re not losing any players for the Asia Cup or the Africa Cup of Nations, so they’re going to have a full squad to choose from in January and February. They’re getting stronger and I believe they’re the favourites to retain the crown.
Do you believe Arsenal need to make signings in the January transfer window and if so, which areas of the squad should they prioritise for strengthening?
Considering the lack of effectiveness from the front three or four, I believe a striker will be the priority for Arsenal in the January transfer window. They’re covered in every other area of the squad and it’s all working quite well. Yes, they may be conceding a few goals recently, but your defence is always going to be exposed when you’re not leading in games and chasing a victory.
Ivan Toney reportedly wants a move to Arsenal in January, but Brentford’s asking price is said to be around £100 million. Do you believe Ivan’s worth that sort of money?
£100 million is extremely high. I know goalscorers are very rare, but that’s too much money for Ivan. I don’t believe that price is a true reflection of his quality. Brentford clearly want to keep him and that’s why the price tag is so high, but if I was Arsenal, I wouldn’t even consider a move for that amount and I don’t believe they could even afford to pay that much for a player in the January window when you consider Financial Fair Play.
Napoli’s Victor Osimhen is also being linked with a move to Arsenal, but Chelsea are currently the bookmaker’s favourite for his signature. The release clause in his contract is said to be £112 million, so if Arsenal did make a move for him, would he be a better ‘value for money’ signing than Ivan Toney?
Yes, I think he would be. In my eyes, Victor’s a more complete striker than Ivan Toney. I believe his style would be better suited to Arsenal too. As soon as Osimhen joined Napoli from Lille, he needed six months to adapt and then after that he became a real threat and scored a lot of goals. He was key to Napoli winning the Serie A title last season and for the reasons I’ve provided, I would prefer Arsenal to sign Osimhen over Ivan Toney.
The Athletic has claimed that Arsenal are interested in signing Bayern Munich defender Matthijs de Ligt in the summer. Despite his enormous reputation, De Ligt’s failed to hit the heights at both Juventus and Bayern Munich, so would that concern you from Arsenal’s perspective? However, he’s still 24 years of age, so in that sense, would you like Arsenal to sign him for his enormous potential alone?
I haven’t had the chance to see a lot of De Ligt lately and assess his current form, but it’s evident that he’s not realising his potential. He was unbelievable for Ajax when they reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2019, but since then we haven’t seen a great improvement from Matthijs in terms of his development and that raises some questions. Can he go to the next level? Can he get to the same level as Virgil van Dijk? When you show so much maturity at a young age, like he did as the captain of Ajax, you expect these players to kick on. However, as he’s still only 24 years of age, it may be a case of wait-and-see.
However, he could compete with William Saliba and Gabriel at Arsenal and improve them defensively. He would certainly provide good competition, that’s for sure.
Should Arsenal be hesitant about getting rid of Aaron Ramsdale in the January transfer window? Are you fully convinced by David Raya?
I don’t believe in a club having two number-one goalkeepers. You need certainty in that position as goalkeepers need to prepare, be ready and know that they’re going to play. It looks as if David Raya and Aaron Ramsdale have a good understanding, a good relationship and it’s important for them to both support each other. However, the reality is that only one of them gets to play.
If Arsenal allowed Aaron Ramsdale to leave in January, then they’re going to have to go out and find a replacement for him. It creates a domino effect. I believe that Aaron should stay at Arsenal, but I do sympathise that this situation could be tough on both him and David Raya.
In your opinion, do you believe Erik ten Hag is the right man to make Manchester United successful again?
I believe that Erik ten Hag deserves time. There are still players to come back from injury and he deserves to be given the opportunity to show what he can do with an entirely fit squad. He’s also had to deal with the situations surrounding Mason Greenwood, Antony and Jadon Sancho. Marcus Rashford’s confidence has been another issue for him, but ultimately this season, he’s not had a full squad to work with and that would be a disadvantage for any manager.
Erik needs to be given a good structure to work with and he needs to be allowed to improve the team again. If he’s given the time to do this, then this should enable him to play the sort of football that he expects from his team. He still needs to be given time.
It’s been reported that Erik ten Hag has a clause in his current deal allowing him to ‘veto’ any potential transfers. It’s said that Ten Hag is demanding to still be able to do this once INEOS’ deal is fully approved, but considering Ten Hag’s transfer dealings to date, do you believe he should no longer have such an influence over Manchester United’s transfers?
Regardless of whatever’s been put in a contract, the manager of a football club needs to be influential in deciding which players are coming to their club. At the end of the day, if the manager isn’t convinced by a potential incoming transfer, then they have every right to have a big say in whether the deal goes through or not.
Erik ten Hag is the man in charge of Manchester United’s team and he’s the one that’s responsible for whether they win or lose. His neck is on the line if his team doesn't perform, so he should be able to give his opinion on incoming transfers. The decision should be a consensus between himself and the other individuals that are responsible for making signings.
According to the Evening Standard, Manchester United want to make Crystal Palace’s Michael Olise one of their first signings of the Sir Jim Ratcliffe era. A move isn’t expected in January however, but do you believe Olise is destined to play for one of the Premier League’s biggest clubs?
100%. I first saw him when he was playing for Reading, so I’ve witnessed him developing in England and with the France under-21 team. He’s an exciting player who has the potential to easily attract offers from the top six clubs in the Premier League clubs, but the question is, why would he choose Manchester United right now? I’m not convinced that the club is capable of attracting a player like Michael at the moment.
Do you believe Michael Olise would represent an upgrade on Antony? Are you optimistic that the Brazilian could still have a successful future at Old Trafford?
When Antony first joined Manchester United, his performances were good, he was scoring goals and then he faded. I think his problems outside of football have knocked him down and it’s a difficult time for him right now. At this moment in time, his character is being tested.
Can he turn things around? I don't know. I don’t know him well enough to judge his personality and whether he’s capable of turning things around. He’s a talented boy, but his effectiveness and ability to turn a game around are not always there, but Olise looks like he’s ready for this level right now.
Tottenham-bound Timo Werner was reportedly tracked by Manchester United, with the Red Devils wanting the German international on loan. Do you believe Timo could have been a good short-term signing for Manchester United and why do you believe he chose to join Tottenham instead?
Hopefully, it’s second time lucky for him in the Premier League because his first stint at Chelsea was tough. However, I don’t necessarily believe that Timo would have been a good signing for Manchester United because right now, I think any striker would struggle at the club because of the form of the team.
Yes, we are in January and there can be something done, but I think it’s a very tough moment for Manchester United to do good business because there aren’t many strikers available and the team isn’t doing well.
Players aren’t daft. Timo is an example of a player that wants to play at Euro 2024 and these players will want to play for a team that’s at the peak of their form because they would have a greater opportunity to showcase their talents and they'd have a better chance of being selected for their national team. You couldn’t guarantee that if you moved to Manchester United at present.
Raphaël Varane’s future at Old Trafford remains up in the air. If the decision was yours, would you do everything you can to keep hold of Varane in both the summer transfer window?
I think Raphaël Varane still has a lot to give to the team. I think he can be a starter and he could be influential for the other players in the squad. If he’s fit, then for sure, he can lead, especially whilst Manchester United are trying to rebuild. The club has a lot of young faces and he is one of the senior players with the capacity to perform for this team. I think Erik ten Hag should keep hold of Varane as he’s an important player for Manchester United.
Wayne Rooney was sacked as Birmingham City manager last week after 15 games in charge. Do you believe Wayne still has a potentially successful future in management and do you think he should take a break in the short-term instead of immediately jumping straight back into work?
I think it would be wiser for Wayne to go into a football club before pre-season, not during the season. It’s a tough enough challenge starting at a new club with six weeks of preparation, nevermind going in mid-season. You need time to prepare and when you don’t have that, it’s an even tougher task. If I was to give Wayne one piece of advice, it would be to wait for a job that’s available in either June or July.
What’s your prediction for Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday?
I think Tottenham are a very good team at the moment but without Son Heung-min, Manchester United could have a chance in this game. Hopefully, they can win this time.
The Times has reported that Kylian Mbappé is potentially considering a move to the Premier League this summer after it was suggested that Real Madrid have offered him less money than they did when they pursued his signing in 2022. Liverpool are said to be one of Mbappé’s most ‘credible’ suitors, but Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United have all been linked with his signature. Can you seriously see Kylian making the move to the Premier League in the summer?
He will want to be in a position where he can pick the best team and the best manager to give him the greatest chance of winning the Champions League and the Ballon d’Or, which are two things on his wishlist. He won’t rush his decision. If PSG win the Champions League this season, then he may consider staying in Paris, but we need to wait and see how they get on first against Real Sociedad in the round of 16.
With Real Madrid and the Premier League teams, I think he’s going to wait and see. Kylian will want to know who each team's manager will be for the next few years because he will want as many assurances as possible before choosing his next destination or deciding on whether to stay in Paris. To get those assurances, he will have to wait before deciding his future.