Mikael, what did Fiji mean to you before you made this trip? What did you already know about the country and the culture?
It was a journey into the unknown for me, other than the image that I had in my head of the sport they play to a very high level there – rugby sevens – the sandy beaches and palm trees. I was welcomed by warriors with songs and a ritual when I got off the plane. There was a ceremony where I was seated and given a potion made of spring water and roots from which they had extracted the juice. It was all very traditional. I was thrown right into the Fijian culture and given local dress – the “Bula shirt”. I soon realised that “Bula” is a word that is used a lot… Hello is “Bula”. When you see someone, you say “Bula”. If you see them several times the same day, it’s “Bula”. There’s no good morning, good evening, good night: it’s “Bula” tout le temps! (laughs. “Bula” literally means “life” and is used as a shortened form of the local greeting “Ni sa bula vinaka”, which means “I wish you happiness and health”).
You visited local schools while you were there. How did you share your experience with the kids and what important messages did you try to get across to them?
I spoke a little bit of my experiences but what I like most is to have conversations with them, so I let them ask me questions, which means that we get to the point straight away and they can ask me exactly how my experience as a player can be of use to them. Sometimes they asked me about what’s happening in football at the moment, how they can stay motivated, how I managed to get to the level that I played at. I tried to give them my impressions and share what I can recall from the various stages in my career. It was interesting. The thing that kept coming up again and again was how to have a successful international career. I told them that there was no secret, it was simply hard work. Motivation is important but on its own, it won’t get you very far. You have to work hard and draw inspiration from those who succeeded before you, take them as your model and try to go beyond them.
Conversations like these mean a lot to the kids, but what do you get out of them?
I came home with memories of smiling faces. I make them happy and they give me plenty back in return. They smile, we take the time to sit and have a chat, and I also got to discover the local culture. I have relatives from the Caribbean, from Guadeloupe, so the countryside didn’t surprise me, but what I really found interesting was to see the difference in cultures and the blend of India and Oceania. This cultural aspect was fascinating.
Mikael Silvestre’s career to date:
- FIFA Legend, former defender, 41 years old
- Domestic career: Rennes (FRA), Inter Milan (ITA), Manchester United, Arsenal (ENG), Werder Bremen (GER), Portland Timbers (USA), Chennayin FC (IND)
- International career: 40 French caps (2 goals)
- FIFA World Cup™: 2002 (group stage) and 2006 (Final)
- Winner of the FIFA Confederations Cup (2001, 2003)
- UEFA EURO 2004 (quarter-finals)
- European U-19 champion 1996
- Winner of the UEFA Champions League 2008
- Five English Premier League titles (2000, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008)
- FA Cup winner (2004)