Louis Saha Exclusive: United Players Have “Too Much Ego”
Following the latest round of Premier League fixtures, former Manchester United striker Louis Saha spoke exclusively with Gambling Deals. The former French international, who also played for Fulham, Everton and Spurs, spoke about the incoming Erik ten Haag as well as the future of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba. Saha also shared his thoughts on the Old Trafford dressing room following numerous leaks to the press.
- “Some of the [United] players definitely need a wake-up call”
- On dressing room leaks: Sad to see that the United institution hasn’t been respected as before
- Hopes Ten Haag can have as much impact as “immense” Eddie Howe
- On departing Pogba: “I would rather see him stay at United”
- Saha on United’s squad: ”Most of the players have too much ego”
- Struggling Rashford needs to “go on a holiday, have a Las Vegas trip and enjoy himself as much as he can”
- Haaland transfer links: “That’s what United are looking for”’
DB: We’re in the business end of the season and there were more twists in the top four race as Man Utd lost to Arsenal. What did you think of the game?
LS: It was embarrassing at times. There were good spells in the game, they rallied when they conceded but there were still the same issues we’ve seen during the season, a lack of character when it was needed. It’s difficult, as Arsenal are a good side and when they play well they can beat anyone, but still, it’s frustrating because there is still great potential and great players when you look at United’s squad. If it wasn’t for the talent and goalscoring of Cristiano you think United wouldn’t be there. The frustration is that Ronaldo is the target whether United do or don’t play well, but you saw against Arsenal from everyone else it’s just not good enough and I’m disappointed. Only playing well for 45 minute periods in the game is not enough.
DB: We saw Fernandes take a penalty and miss. Do you think Ronaldo should have taken it?
LS: It’s tough as he didn’t play the last game due to personal reasons and so he may not have been in the right place mentally, it may have been something discussed with Bruno before. We’ve seen him score 7 goals in the last 3 games, so in normal circumstances, it would be logical for Ronaldo to take it. But with everything going on in the background, it’s a very difficult moment – if you’d have known Bruno would miss of course you’d be advocating for Ronaldo to take it, but you can’t predict it.
DB: Erik ten Hag has been announced as Manchester United manager. Do you think he’s the right man for the job?
LS: I think he brings the right profile. It’s a difficult choice for the board to make. United have tried different styles in the past, with Mourinho and Van Gaal bringing massive experience but it didn’t really work out. Ten Haag brings a style that’s recognisable and is inventive, he’s very effective with youth players, so he fits the bill for sure. But he doesn’t have Premier League experience, and perhaps he’s not got the pedigree of past managers United have tried. So there will be questions, but we can only wish him good luck with what will be a massive task. Pundits everyday are commenting on United and know how the club works, but they all agree that Ten Haag has an interesting profile. Sometimes the problems come from inside and outside the squad in different ways, so we need to recognise that Ten Haag is only one part of the revolution. It’s good they made the announcement now, as now the players can understand and anticipate what will happen with the club in the summer, so it’s a good appointment in that regard too. I’m very excited about that, as some of the players definitely need a wake-up call, some who are young and haven’t performed but think they have a high status could be kicked out or challenged, because it’s what the team needs.
DB: He supposedly will have control over the transfer strategy and recruitment. This is a departure from past appointments. Why do you think they’ve changed their mind here for ten Hag, who is relatively inexperienced in comparison to the likes of Mourinho and Van Gaal?
LS: It’s an evolution. When you’re in transition and it’s taking more time than expected, you have to try things and it might be uncomfortable for fans and those who love the club because we want to win things as quickly as possible. It’s especially painful when you see your biggest rivals on top, it’s really hard so you get tempted to rush things a bit. Things did move in the right direction with Ole, there were some bad things mixed with the good, but it’s an evolution and the interim with Ralf was needed because it did get to the point where Ole was struggling. But now the evolution and logic makes sense because Erik is well known, he comes with a certain style and is very offensive, I see similarities to Ajax and Arsenal in the way they attack and that’s what we want to see. It will take time, but we need a foundation and identity players can adapt to and get behind. Things need time to gel, but it’s appropriate moving forward and I think he’s the right choice. His communication is good, he’s speaking really well – he will have challenges from the British press, it’s a different animal and Manchester United is the biggest club in the world. Anyone managing Ronaldo will find it challenging because of the media attention, putting United and Ronaldo together is like a bomb because those two names will always attract attention and stories. So it’s something you have to manage well and it’s not easy when you have some displeased players with aggressive agents.
DB: Ralf Rangnick was supposed to assume a consultancy role, but he admitted he’s uncertain about that at the moment. Do you think the club would benefit from him sticking around?
LS: I think so, in any situation with staff remaining there it helps to progress. As an individual, he may recognise he made a few mistakes, but he can learn from those, adjust and help the new manager to not repeat these, give Erik useful feedback, there’s Sir Alex’s presence and experience that can help as well so it’s always beneficial to have that. I think it’s useful for Ralf to not answer every question prompted by journalists, it can drag you into a vicious circle where too many doubts start to arise. Things are going to be more settled in the summer when Ten Haag arrives and he has time to make decisions in the meantime. It’s about taking time to decide on how things will work as it’s going to be a big mission for all of those guys.
DB: Rangnick recently said that United may need to sign as many as 10 players in the transfer window, suggesting that there are going to be plenty of departures as part of a squad refresh. Jesse Lingard has been linked with a move to many clubs, including Newcastle and West Ham. He’s 29 now and is still yet to have a full season as a guaranteed starter. Where do you think he should go if he wants to rejuvenate his career?
LS: I think Jesse is a top player and he showed that at West Ham. But to have a guaranteed place at United you need to be scoring 20 goals a season. If you’re in the bracket where you want to play with top-class players, you have to adapt and accept this and perform when you have the chance. At 29 you have to make sacrifices and do what’s best for you. I do think the team needs a refresh and Jesse is one of those players who needs to answer these questions on his future in the summer. There will be plenty of evolution and revolutions as time goes on, and it’s not easy – from my own experience, this club is very hard to leave and if you do leave it does get you down. It’s been very sad to see that the United institution hasn’t been respected as before, and this is why you have this internal situation with players unhappy and things leaking to the press. I feel this doesn’t help the cause of anybody, especially the players as they are not focused and not performing. So I think in the summer this strategy really needs to be looked after. Players may have to accept they won’t play every game, whoever they are be it Cristiano or Messi or whoever would come in, you have to understand this is a big club and competition is totally normal. If you are not happy, change club.
DB: I mentioned your first English club there – Newcastle. They’ve now won six home games in a row under Eddie Howe. They’ve shot up to the top half, now in 9th. With their transfer budget, do you expect them to take a step further and compete for a place in Europe next season?
LS: I think so yes. United should look to Newcastle with Eddie Howe as an example and hope the impact with Erik will be the same. When you look at how Eddie has created the foundation, especially at home with those fans behind him, anything can happen and you can beat anybody. You need a fortress where you are hard to beat if you want to win Championships and reach the Top 4. It is very important to recognise the immense impact Eddie has had, I want Newcastle to take those next steps. It’s not going to be easy as there are a lot of clubs like Tottenham, Everton and Leicester that have tried and found it’s not easy. Having a big budget is helpful to attract bigger players as you have the luxury to offer bigger wages, and also Newcastle is a lovely city so I think there’s a lot of potential for them to reach the top five next year if they get off to a good start.
DB: Do you think Howe should win Manager of the Season for the job he’s done in turning around Newcastle?
LS: I think so yeah, when you have competition like Guardiola, Klopp and Tuchel, it’s hard, but it shows he’s done an amazing job. When he arrived, they were favourites for relegation, and he’s built a dynamic team, played some very exciting football and defended well. The players he brought in had an impact and credit to him, and to the club who had the guts to make that decision at the right moment.
DB: As well as Lingard, another star who looks set on a departure from United is Paul Pogba. His contract expires at the end of the season and recent headlines suggest he’d be open to a move to another Premier League club. Mourinho tried to bring him to Chelsea back in 2014. Could you see him moving to Chelsea to play alongside N’golo Kante?
LS: I think if you look at transfers, Pogba will always be linked with the best clubs. There is a tendency from him and his entourage sometimes to get headlines and talk about him and I really don’t like that. He’s a player I really love and I would rather see him do his talking on the field. It hasn’t helped the club, the club I support, but he has the potential to play for any club in the world. Pogba will always be under the spotlight, maybe until he signs a 10-year deal with a club. I would rather see him stay at United.
DB: Speaking of Chelsea, Tuchel has confirmed that Rudiger will be leaving the club. Jules Kounde has been linked as a potential replacement. Do you think he’ll succeed in the Premier League?
LS: He’s a very smart lad, he’s been a top defender for his club side and the national team. He’s proved himself as a top defender and his main quality is his intensity. Both Jules and Tony have different styles, Rudiger is a bit more aggressive on 50/50s, but Jules would definitely be an exciting player for the Premier League and I’m sure he’d love to play in the Premier League at some point. I wouldn’t be surprised if he joined Chelsea, as they are always looking to strengthen and he is a fantastic young player. He wouldn’t have any issues adapting to the league, maybe a few months but he’d be a great addition.
DB: Anthony Martial has struggled with an injury out on loan at Sevilla. Do you think he has a future at Manchester United?
LS: His future depends on how damaged he is in terms of his mentality. Because if you’re not playing well for a long time and you’re not getting the belief or opportunity from the Manager it’s hard, plus some bad luck and it’s nearly a year since he’s been at his top level. But with a new manager and a full pre-season, anything can happen. Maybe he can score some goals and with new players joining and a new dynamic at the club, who knows. His ego needs to be put behind, and he has to get back to working hard. This is the problem with the current United side, most of the players have too much ego and they don’t understand that they have to just work hard, stop speaking so much, stop their entourage from speaking so much, because this is the problem, all the talking in the press, it’s not normal.
DB: Marcus Rashford is another player who has struggled with injuries over the last year or so. Since returning, he hasn’t been able to find his feet and is often left on the bench. What advice would you give him going into next season?
LS: I think he needs to go on a holiday, have a Las Vegas trip and enjoy himself as much as he can! He should not be dropping in confidence at all. This guy is an amazing player, for me, he just needs a rest and some time to think about his career and what he wants next. He has a massive future at United, yes he’s struggling, but when you look at his potential and ability, its nothing that dramatic that he can’t recover from. He just needs to get back to where he was when he was 19, not overthinking, or thinking about his status. Just work hard, play with a smile and everything will be fine. There is no one with his qualities, this guy has it all.
DB: With a fair few players looking likely to leave, there’s been plenty of talk about who could be joining United this summer. Harry Kane has been linked with a move to Old Trafford. Benzema seems to be a popular choice when people are asked to pick the world’s best striker. Would you say Harry Kane is in that conversation too?
LS: Kane is one of the world’s top strikers. His numbers speak for themselves. He’s delivered for England and Spurs under pressure. I had the chance to train with him and he’s improved massively in all areas of his game. His link-up play with Son is brilliant and he can adapt to any club because he’s so, so intelligent. His movement is incredible. Players like him and Benzema are a nightmare to defend against because they can arrive late, link up play, be aggressive and be great finishers. That is why they are world-class players.
DB: Haaland is another striker who is staking his claim for a place in that conversation. He’s obviously a much younger option than Kane at just 21 years of age. He’s been heavily linked with a move to City. Do you think United are still an attractive destination for some of the world’s best young players, like Haaland, who has been playing Champions League football for Dortmund?
LS: Yes, they will still recognise that United is a huge club, and the club will get the respect it deserves. Haaland is young and ready for a step up, at the moment there are obviously bigger destinations where Champions League football is guaranteed, where trophies are maybe more likely. I understand that. But the player [Haaland] is smart enough to understand that United will be back at the top, that’s for sure, and he will fit the bill. That’s what United are looking for someone who can guarantee goals, will definitely play for many, many years and who knows, could even break records. He’s the same type of striker that we mentioned before. He’s really hard to mark because he’s a unit – he’s very big, but he can link players because he goes outside of the zones where a central defender would follow him and then appear from nowhere. That’s really hard when you’re 6 foot plus, you come with speed in that box and you destroy everybody. This is the new kind of striker and these guys get you 30 plus goals when they’re on form. I think United is still an attraction. Of course, the market is difficult at the moment because they are sixth. The league is very tough and playing for United I would still think means a lot for any player in the world.
DB: Haaland would fill that out and out striker role that’s been vacant since Aguero was last playing week in week out. At one point, it looked like Gabriel Jesus would be his successor, but he’s struggled for game time and has refused to commit his future to City. The Athletic have reported that Arsenal are in talks to sign him. Do you think Jesus can become one of the league’s top strikers with Arsenal?
LS: Yeah, those players have a quality, sometimes he’s been criticised because he doesn’t have the ‘killer instinct’, something that Ruud van Nistelrooy had, or Lewandowksi and all those players. He’s been working hard for other players, but this is the style of Manchester City. If he goes to a club where he’s required to remain in those positions where you can score maybe 25 plus goals, he can do it, because he’s a decent finisher. He’s maybe not as deadly as some of the world’s best, but he can improve. If he works hard in front of goal. [Currently], the emphasis is on him to link play, be very diverse, going left or right, because that’s what City needs. They need a lot of movement and he’s not really been able to play as a number nine. The only one who managed to do that was Kun [Aguero], and he was an immense finisher. When you have that quality, Guardiola will say, ‘ok, put Kun on the field, he will do this [finish chances]’. That’s not the best quality of Gabriel, but he may be able to adapt to a different style with Arsenal, they definitely need a striker if Lacazette is leaving.
DB: Midfield seems an obvious area for reinforcement for United. United have been linked with a variety of names, including Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Aurelien Tchouameni. Is there anyone you’d like to see join United in the middle of the park?
LS: To be really honest, I really like the potential of McTominay and Fred. I have to defend them. They have improved, they kept up their work ethic and worked hard. But the approach is not on them. United’s approach has been a bit defensive. I was thinking that maybe some of the instructions were a bit too defensive for them to actually improve and move forward. When they have done this, we as a team play better and created more chances. These are the types of player that we need. Jude Bellingham is the number eight that the club require, but we also need a defensive midfielder that is way more capable of defending, so you need to find the right balance. United in some games, like in the first five minutes against Arsenal, for some reason, had two sitting midfielders playing so narrow in front of Varane and Lindelof. I don’t like that, it stops the defenders from defending. It’s quite negative, and I like the courage to defend 10 or 15 metres up the pitch and press higher. Let the defenders defend and you, as a midfielder, provide more support to the forwards, because you should have the belief that you can hurt more than you can receive punches. This is more about the philosophy than the players. I feel that the instruction was not right.
DB: There seems to be a gulf in quality between the top two and the rest of the ‘big six’. It looks like the title race is going down to the wire, who do you think will become Premier League champions this season?
LS: It’s really difficult! Those two teams are amazing, they defend really well and are unbelievable on the attack. I haven’t seen anything like this. They play a type of football that is envied by every team in the world. It’s very fast football, it gives credit to the Premier League. That’s why I think the competition for even the top four is really hard. Yes, those top two spots are done, in some way, and the other ones are trying to challenge. I don’t see any winner at the moment, but City and the way they defend, they have an edge. But it remains very open. When you have a strike force like Liverpool, it’s crazy, it’s impossible to predict.
DB: At the other end of the table, your former club Everton are in the midst of a relegation battle under Frank Lampard. They have spent £500 million on players since Farhad Moshiri arrived as owner back in 2016. Why do you think such an expensive squad has been dragged into a relegation battle?
LS: That’s the million-dollar question. I have absolutely no idea. Yes, mistakes have been made, but to point out what the problem is and where it went wrong to the point where they’re in a relegation battle, it’s a mystery to me. I recognise that the Premier League has improved, a lot of teams have improved. Even the promoted teams haven’t been easy to beat, so it’s tough. You look at the addition of the players and managers in this time, for example, Ancelotti, who has got all the experience in the world to improve this squad and did it for a spell of three to four months, then suffered from inconsistent form. Conceding silly goals at home, making silly mistakes. I don’t understand those mistakes. Sometimes it’s individuals, but sometimes the spirit of the team is not the same. I remember my time at Everton, it was really tough to come to Goodison Park, you were not going to have an easy game because we were able to play a very scrappy style of game, very aggressive. Now they look to play on the floor, play nice football, but sometimes you have to play in a more dirty way and I think that’s been lost a little bit. Anyone who has followed Everton can recognise they need to go back to the basics. I feel for Lampard, I don’t think he’s been helped by injuries or referees. Last week [in the Merseyside derby], it was a horrendous decision, even if Liverpool were stronger. It’s an odd one.
DB: Burnley grabbed a win this weekend, while Everton lost to Liverpool. This means Everton are now in the relegation zone. Do you think they’ll go down?
LS: I feel like it will be a very sad moment, but they need to feel the pressure. Whatever fixture it is, they need to get points, especially against teams they’re fighting against at the bottom. Those teams at the bottom, have the spirit, where they don’t feel entitled to those points, whereas maybe Everton has been more privileged over the years, where they don’t need to fight relegation battles. They’re maybe not experienced enough when it comes to relegation battles, so it will be a big disadvantage. Lampard hasn’t experienced that as a player. As a manager, he’s had some great performances with Derby, in Chelsea, it wasn’t the case for long. Sometimes these clubs go for an experienced manager to save them, Sam Allardyce for example, has rescued a few teams. But I think it’s too late and the best move will be to give their full support to Frank Lampard, his staff and his team.
DB: Another of your former clubs, Fulham, have been promoted. They’ve been a bit of a yo-yo club, going back and forth between the Premier League and Championship. What do you think they need to do to establish themselves as a regular Premier League club again?
LS: I think they have to get it right in the transfer market. You definitely need to have a balance. Those guys have done tremendously well to come back, as you say, they’ve been a bit of a yo-yo team. That’s quite an achievement, because you could feel that this year would be harder. They’ve done amazing and improved the style of play. It’s really balanced, they know how to defend and know how to maintain their form. In the Premier League, you need a strong foundation. In the transfer market, they’ll need to strengthen without stripping the foundation that they’ve built. They need to think really hard about the mentality of the players who are going to join and leave. When you start next season, you want to make sure the momentum is still there from this successful Championship season. Let’s hope they manage to do that [stay up]. If you look at the history of Fulham, they didn’t start well, whenever they came up, they’d go down, but that’s a history they should avoid.
DB: It’s a long way away now, but we’re already looking forward to the World Cup. The World Cup hasn’t been won back to back since Brazil did it in 1962. Are France the favourites to win it again?
LS: I really think they have an amazing squad. They have the two best strikers at the moment in Mbappe and Benzema who are absolutely untouchable at the moment. The only thing that will be kind of a surprise for everyone, will be the first World Cup in winter. It’s not going to be the same. Form could be completely different, the dynamic will be different because teams will have just started their season and be on their second or third month. I’m excited for any international competition and I think it’ll be very interesting. France for me are favourites, but the World Cup is a very, very compressed competition, so anything can happen, but yes, this event will be very surprising, because so many aspects change. For example, we saw so many changes such as the introduction of VAR at the last World Cup. There were no teams from South America in the quarter-finals, perhaps because they couldn’t grab shirts in the box! So maybe we’ll see something similar due to changes in the timing of the competition.