Kylian Mbappe may only be 21 years old but there’s no doubt in Mikael Silvestre’s mind that France rely on the Paris Saint-Germain forward without whom, he claims, they wouldn’t be world champions.
“He’s the best striker we have and without him we wouldn’t have won the World Cup in Russia,” the former Manchester United defender told Sport360 at the 14th edition of the Dubai International Sports Conference at the Madinat Jumeirah on Saturday.
Mbappe emulated Pele in becoming only the second teenager after the Brazilian legend to score in a World Cup final as his 25-yard strike helped France to a 2-1 win over Croatia. With four goals during the tournament, the former AS Monaco man was also named Best Young Player.
“We really count on him. He’s going to grow as a leader. He’s already a leader in attack, but within the squad also he’s going to take the lead very soon.”
That’s a lot of expectation to place on the youngster especially when France’s attack also boasts seasoned strikers like Antoine Griezmann and Alexandre Lacazette. But when you score 44 goals in 49 games for club and country in 2019 alone, expectations will only grow.
“We just want to see more,” Silvestre says of his compatriot’s form. “It’s a real pleasure to see how he takes on players and just enjoys his football. We want him fit and to be able to continue and it’s a challenge because today players are playing so many games. But he’s young so hopefully he’ll be in good shape for Euro 2020.”
Meanwhile, Paul Pogba is arguably just as pivotal to Les Bleus’ attacking ambitions and is a natural leader in the dressing room but has spent much of the current campaign on the sidelines through injury.
While Silvestre believes no one’s place in the squad is guaranteed, he admits that a player of Pogba’s calibre and accomplishments will be difficult to exclude.
“If you ask Deschamps he will say that nobody is irreplaceable. But when you’re world champions I think you have the first right of refusal [laughs]. It’s a business term but for the players who were part of that squad, as long as they play and they maintain that standard then they will be picked because as a collective they’re giving what he wants and what the team needs.”
The former France international believes that improvements have been made at Old Trafford even in Pogba’s absence and despite United’s current league position.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side has spent the season so far impressing with great results against top opposition only to falter in the face of weaker opponents.
“There is improvement in the way that they have won the massive games. Against the top six they have done really well. They’re top of that ‘mini-league’ but there are question marks over the lower key games. Three points is three points, it doesn’t matter if you beat Chelsea or you beat Sheffield United, no disrespect, it’s as important.”
United have pulled off wins against Leicester City, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham this season while drawing against Arsenal and remain the only team in the league to take points off run-away leaders Liverpool with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
However, they’ve failed to beat Bournemouth, West Ham, Aston Villa and Watford who are all in the bottom five.
According to Silvestre, the solution lies in having the right mentality and tools to break down oppositions who set up defensively. He insists though that the signs are good for the future.
“It’s all mentality and also to find the keys to beat those compact teams who are protecting the goal and not finding so much space. There’s still some work to do but the attitude and the togetherness of the players is a good sign.”
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