Silvestre's extra-time fight on two fronts

French defender has perfect answer to fears that his career at the top is under threat
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The Independent Online

Mikaël Silvestre is ready to fight to prove he is worthy of his place at Manchester United. The alarm bells started ringing for the French international's Old Trafford career when Sir Alex Ferguson opted to spend £12 million on the defensive pair, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, during the January window.

As a central defender and left-back respectively, they offered a twin threat to Silvestre's first-team hopes and it was no surprise when Gérard Houllier moved in and offered the 28-year-old a move back to France with Lyon. Silvestre rejected the opportunity, partly because he was cup-tied for Europe and feared extended spells on the sidelines, but also due to his belief that his time at Old Trafford was not drawing to a close.

After being relegated to the substitutes' bench for three games, Silvestre returned to Ferguson's starting line-up for last month's win over Fulham and has kept his place ever since.

He appeared at left-back in last Sunday's Carling Cup final win over Wigan and was then immediately recalled to the France squad after an 18-month absence. Although France suffered an unexpected defeat to Slovakia in Paris, Silvestre was one of the hosts' better performers. Now he is determined to do everything in his power to ensure he keeps his position for both club and country.

"Competition for places pushes you forward," he told MUTV. "If you are prepared to fight, it is the best thing you can have. You cannot hide and you must always be prepared to give 100 per cent. That is all the manager can ask of his players. I am a bad substitute anyway because I need to warm up for a long time to get into the game."

During his period of isolation, Silvestre could hardly have expected to be setting a place at the World Cup as his long-term goal. But, after completing his domestic medal collection in England by helping United ease past Wigan, he now has 12 Premiership games - starting with tomorrow's trip to the Latics - to convince France coach Raymond Domenech of his quality.

France still have four friendlies before their opening Group G encounter with Switzerland on 13 June but all four come after Domenech is supposed to have named his 23-man squad. It leaves Silvestre with a double ambition as he also wants to extend his summer holidays by ensuring United avoid a third successive season in the Champions' League qualifiers by cementing second place in the Premiership at Liverpool's expense.

"I don't want to be left behind at the training ground during international weeks," said Silvestre. "I want to be part of the World Cup. At United, we are playing for second spot because we do not want to find ourselves in the qualifiers again."

Meanwhile, Wigan manager Paul Jewell is making plans to ensure his side are not labelled "one-season wonders". It would be easy to assume Wigan's debut campaign in the Premiership is effectively over with the team hitting their target of 40 points. But Jewell is determined that the club build for next season and beyond and gain further respect.

"I'm very, very happy here and with the progress the club has made and is making, but I want to continue to make progress next season. I don't want this season to be wasted, which can happen if you take your eye off the ball. We have made giant strides in the last few years, but for me that is not enough."

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