Mikael Silvestre knows more than many about the magic of the Manchester Derby. Despite playing in eight of them for a vastly superior Manchester United side after the turn of the millennium, the Frenchman won just once; a 3-1 home victory in 2003.
Silvestre played for United between 1999 and 2008, before City became the force they are today. But form goes out of the window on derby day and less glamorous opponents often raise their game to new heights. Indeed, there is a pair of City strikers Silvestre hated facing during those very even battles.
"Darius Vassell was the toughest," Silvestre, who spoke to FourFourTwo in association with MyBettingSites, said: "He was pretty fast and strong. Craig Bellamy was also a very tough opponent. At that time, teams used to play with two strikers - two no.9s - so it was always hard to defend against two quick strikers who make you turn and run towards your own goal. It wasn't wasn't easy playing against players like Vassell and Bellamy."
During Silvestre's glittering spell at Old Trafford, it was Arsenal and Chelsea who they had to fight for the Premier League title. Yet the 44-year-old recalls how important the games against Manchester City were to everyone at the club.
"We had four derbies a season when City were actually in the Premier League. Two against City and two against Liverpool," Silvestre tells FFT. "Sir Alex used to just say, 'Boys, this weekend it’s City.' That’s all he had to say because we knew what that meant.
"Our approach to those games was pretty much the same as other games except that the intensity, the urgency; every challenge is going to be harder. We demanded more of each other during training that week. The manager’s voice would be different; more intense. You could tell how important these games were to people across Manchester. Even if City weren’t in the same bracket as us back then, they were still massive, massive games."
Despite his wretched derby record, Silvestre and Manchester United had the last laugh. During his nine-year stay in the north west, the defender won four Premier League titles, the Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup and two Club World Cups.
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