Premier League and Champions League winner Louis Saha, speaks with Freebets.com on Man United, who he’s backing for the top four spots and whether Everton are likely Relegation candidates.
Is the striker position the most important area for United to assess and improve this summer? Would you have a name in mind you’d like to see come in?
There are names like Haaland, Lewandowski, Mpabbe but at the moment these are all unrealistic. It all depends on United being in the Champions League next season.
If you want to attract those players, you have to remain in the Champions League. You can throw many names in the ring, but it’s going to be a tough situation to strengthen that position with no Champions League.
Newcastle have improved since the January window shut. Looking ahead to next season, what do you think their ambitions can realistically be?
The main thing is to create the foundation, they will have a better platform to build a new team, an entire new team, If they really go for it.
But this doesn’t guarantee them even to make the top 10! You’ve seen recently some really strong sides with a lot of experience struggling for six months and this can happen in Football.
So, the main thing for Newcastle now is to find some stability because this club has been up and down for so long. I expect one year of transition due to the volume of players they’ve signed and then once the squad is more settled, you’ll have the next season when you have the possibility of Europe.
It will be steady improvements year on year for them – you can’t build a team in just one year, it’s unrealistic.
What was your reaction to the Manchester Derby? 4-1.
The first half was ok – they reacted to going down, the first 20 minutes of any game are very important. I saw some nice pressing from Fernandes but overall, it was fine. However, the second half was shocking. I’ve seen some reactions and I try to be level-headed but I just can’t understand what happened there.
You have to commit and do way more than what we saw on the pitch. Yes, there is an expectation that City are very strong, but I find it disturbing to accept the body language of some of those United players.
They basically said, ‘ok, we’ve lost, let’s move onto the next one.’ I don’t think that’s right, that’s not fair for the fans. Playing against City, you have to accept you’ll have 60-70 minutes of the game where you’re not going to control it, where you might concede, but it was disturbing.
After the third goal, their heads dropped and that’s not normal. I haven’t seen a proper reaction from this squad. I feel it’s part of the personality of this group of players, I just don’t understand it. From my perspective, and those I had around me when I was at United, they couldn’t accept this. It is disturbing.
It’s largely accepted that Manchester United will need a striker in the summer, is there any player you would like to see join the club?
You can throw names, but I still see problems outside that position. United concede a lot and don’t create enough chances. The main problem at United right now is not even the scoring of goals, it’s about the leadership and how the team reacts to going behind.
I don’t know who they can bring in to change that. You can throw names in like Lewandowski as he’ll guarantee you 30 goals, but is he going to be attracted to a team where you feel there’s a lack of leadership?
Ronaldo was missing yesterday – would he have made a difference? How do you assess his second spell at the club?
He must be frustrated, but on a personal level I feel he’s done his part. Because of his reputation everyone expects him to score and assist every week, but he’s human, 37 years old and you can’t expect him to do that week in and week out, particularly in this squad.
It’s too easy to call out Ronaldo as he’s the biggest name in the squad.
Arsenal Beat Watford to move into the top 4 – where do you think United stand now in the race for the Champions League places?
Yes, it’s possible. Mathematically, United can still get that run together and Arsenal can drop points – there are fixtures for both teams that make it open. Obviously, with those types of results it’s not about the defeat, it’s about the performance and the performance against City was painful. It doesn’t matter about the result in that case.
I know I’m not the only one to complain about that. If you want to get the fourth spot and deserve to be in the Champions League, you have to understand that the top four places are not guaranteed or because you are playing for Man United.
You have to improve your standards. That was the strength of Sir Alex Ferguson, you win the Champions League and the Premier League, and he comes back to the first day of training like he had achieved nothing in his whole career. Nobody at United has done that so I don’t understand their current attitude.
What have you made of Ralf Rangnick’s time in charge so far?
I think the first half of his tenure, he’s done well to create that foundation and build up some confidence that was lost. However, the lack of performance from top players in defence, midfield and attacking positions on a consistent basis, turning up one day and the next disappearing, that’s not normal.
You have this foundation, and you should not allow yourself to be a 6 or 7 out of 10 when you know you can do perform to an 8 or 9 out of 10!
I feel like this inconsistency makes the job of the manager much harder as you can’t predict when your players are going to turn up. You need a foundation and all the top managers when they put their team out, they know their players will perform to the expected standards. Character gets you back into matches and gets you the results you need as a team.
Who do you think will be a fit as the next permanent United manager?
I think in this new era, I see the players having too much power. So, there’s a need for someone who’s used to handling big egos and has a track record of setting players straight.
I don’t understand it at United – they are an institution, but even when a big player joins its hard for them to be a big character. I haven’t seen this at Chelsea or Liverpool.
It’s really painful for me to say this as a former player as I love the club so much, but this is what we see. I don’t understand, there’s such a lack of respect for Man United from the players. And the new manager needs to fix that immediately.
Who was your favourite strike partner?
I really loved Van Nistlerooy as a goal machine, but my favourite was Wayne Rooney as you knew he’d do all the running for you and created so many goals.
Were you ever on the end of the hair dryer treatment?
Yes, I’ve been on the end of this, but when he gave you the hairdryer treatment, he did it because he wanted you to improve. He didn’t do it because he had an ego, it was because he was protecting the institution of Man United and how standards needed to be respected.
It was good for the club, it was good for the players, and it was good for his position as a manger, maintaining order with the players.
I remember, it was my second game, and I had a big hair dryer treatment as I missed two sitters and it was close as we almost lost the game. But getting that treatment was a positive, because he made us realise, we are messing around and there is no way you can accept such standards.
At the club now, the managers have the same body language as the players and just accept the result. Nobody is enraged and you build a culture that allows players to be the way they are.
Newcastle United Trajectory – Can they match Man City?
They can go as far as City but it will take them 10 years. Yes, you can get a team together in the next 2 or 3 years that is competing for the top 4, especially with signings performing like Trippier, but it will take time. You see clubs with massive histories struggling like United and Everton, so nothing is guaranteed, even for those with big budgets.
Should Sir Alex Ferguson have a say on who the next manager at Manchester United is?
I would always respect Sir Alex’s suggestions if I was a board member, or someone involved in this club – the only one who has the right to give advice is Sir Alex.
He knows and he understands the position better than anyone. He will try his best to help out with recruitment, we all make mistakes, but this era isn’t easy.
You have different types of players, different types of agents around them, so it’s a really tough position.
Manchester United are a different animal – whatever position Pochettino has managed at Tottenham or PSG, we need someone to address what is missing in that dressing room.
Solskjaer did great in terms of finding quality going forward but we’re still missing the aggressiveness that this club needs from the players.
Where Sir Alex got his recruitment right was selecting the players with the right attitude and who were consistent. We see it still to this day. All the players who used to play for the club and knew the standards expected of them are now questioning the current squad’s body language and asking, ‘what is going on?’
I like the idea of Zidane as he’ll get the respect from the players. But the Premier League is so difficult I’d expect even him to struggle at first.
Erik ten Hag has benefited from working at a well-run club in Ajax with a very clear structure. He’s got quality, he’s got people around him, the Dutch are very knowledgeable in football but I’m sorry, United are a different animal to Ajax.
Ajax is a trampoline for big clubs, they are respected in world football, but they are not in that elite group. They aren’t Milan, they aren’t Real Madrid, so most of the players won’t know about him. They’ll have heard of his name but that’s about it.
Managing United is a different beast, we have seen some big names come in and get chewed out. Mourinho is one of the biggest and he got the best results, but we claimed that his spell was unsuccessful.
I think Solskjaer did great to reign back some spirit that was missing, the addition of the new players were good, especially for the future but now we need aggressiveness and attitude from the players to not accept defeats like what we saw against Man City.
Like what Roy Keane said, it’s not about doing a post on Twitter or Instagram and saying sorry, we need to see aggressiveness and passion on the field.
Do you see Cristiano Ronaldo finishing the season as a first-team player?
Yes, definitely. I like Elanga what is providing, he reminds he a bit of Martial back in the day when he wasn’t thinking he was just trying to perform and trying to outrun people. But scoring the important goals week in, week out is different.
At Ronaldo’s age, we shouldn’t even be giving him the responsibility to play up front against Arsenal or Chelsea and expect him to score goals. With all the respect, I don’t think Rashford or anyone else in that squad is anywhere near his level, even at his age.
I’ve seen Ronaldo has had a so called ‘bad spell’ of going seven or eight goals without scoring – which is human – but people shouldn’t be focused on him, they should be focused on Rashford, Sancho, Elanga, those players who are here for the longer term.
Being in the first team, there’s no question about that – Ronaldo is still the main man for United.
Christopher Nkunku has been linked. Ralf Rangnick knows him well from his time with Leipzig. Do you think he is a player that may move to Manchester United?
Yes, but when you look at all the players in Europe, you have a tremendous amount of talent, but it’s how those guys gel and how those guys face up to themselves in the mirror.
How many have that attitude that of, ‘yes I can shine here’? He’s definitely a good player, there’s no doubt, but is he the one who is going to raise everyone’s levels? I don’t think so. For me, that’s the main problem United need to address, the accepting of poor performances and situations.
I love to see players reactions when they miss an opportunity, and you can see proper frustration.
Roy Keane was quite vocal on the City game – do you think his criticism is fair?
Yes, it is fair. We all know Roy; I had the chance to play with him as a player and he’s very honest. What Roy Keane wants is a reaction, he’s a fan of the club and Gary Neville, Scholes and Rio are all the same – they want a reaction from the players.
I’m not the one who’s best known for having a strong attitude on the pitch, but when I was playing, I was hearing those guys on my back all game. They wouldn’t let me breathe if I dropped my standards, so I totally understand their points.
I don’t think they’re calling out anyone in particular, what they’re saying is totally fair and they want a reaction. Some of the players in that current United squad have an attitude of acceptance and that’s not normal.
What was your relationship with Roy Keane like?
I loved the guy. He wanted to change his attitude towards the end of his career as he understood there was a transition in the club, there was other things happening at other teams with the likes of Mourinho, so he was going a bit crazy in some of the things he was saying; but he was just trying to get the most of out of us.
He came from a time when it was brutal from the older generation of players and he was just a really nice guy, a lot of jokes and sometimes he was even playing striker ahead of me in training.
He was a huge part of the enjoyment of training sessions, and this is what I see from his punditry – he wants to be involved, he wants to get a reaction from players and he will poke you, he won’t let you rest if you don’t have the right attitude.
Could you tell Ronaldo was destined for world class status?
Brilliant, he was younger, already a superstar but very confident and humble enough to control himself. A lot of the older generation of players couldn’t really accept what Cristiano was bringing to the team, so he was trying to defend himself all the time and show he had a part to play in the team’s success.
I had a great relationship with him and a really nice spell with him, myself and Wayne. I see him today as the ultimate striker, he’s unbelievable.
Who was the best opponent you’ve ever faced?
Because I’m a striker, One-on-One I was very confident, but I struggled against Rio Ferdinand and Vidic in training. They were really hard to play against.
Toughest opponent – the football hardman you came across?
Vidic was very tough, physically it was a big challenge playing against him – I can’t remember any other players from the Premier League who came anywhere near him on the pitch.
You played with some big characters in your time, who had the dressing room laughing and entertained the most?
Roy Keane back in the day was hilarious, we had Quinton Fortune, we had Patrice Evra, a few in my time who were super funny. At Everton, Osman, Jagielka were hilarious with funny jokes and had a great attitude.
Did Roy tell any jokes that stood out?
Roy was at his funniest when he was being very aggressive and you thought he was being serious, but he wasn’t. It’s a type of joke where you had to be on your toes.
What about Harry Kane, could this be the summer where he moves on?
It’s a possibility yes. You can see this transfer saga had an impact on him because he’s such a good player, such a professional but it took even him a good four months to come back to where he should be.
But he’s the type of player United should be going for and that Tottenham side, I still struggle to see how they can be stable. Most players who join are always looking to go to a bigger club so it’s never going to be easy to manage there.
Look, they’re not going to win the league and they’re not going to win the Champions League this season, he’s a top player and he deserves better. I would love to see him sign for United.
You played at Everton – not been a great season, what would you put their struggles down to?
I have no idea. I don’t understand this club. They have so much potential, a good squad, they had a spell with Ancelotti which didn’t quite work out and I don’t get it.
They have everything to be a great team. We’ve seen Leicester win the league so why not Everton?
They should be much higher up in the league, they’ve made some great additions, they’ve got a fantastic academy, the structure of the club is amazing so I’m completely at a loss.
Should fans be worried about relegation?
They can yes. Anyone in the bottom 7 places is in trouble. Everton have to be careful.
Spurs have had a 14-year trophy drought – what do you put that down to?
I’m very surprised, that’s a big number! I don’t understand it. There are teams like Spurs and Everton with a big squad, big manager coming in, some really good players and I don’t understand it. They have great fans behind them, and it makes no sense.
Spurs are ultimately very inconsistent, and I really think they should be doing more. It’s a result in my eyes of not having the right characters in the squad.
When you accept defeats, the missed opportunities from teammates, your form drops and poor performances become normalised and this type of attitude doesn’t win you trophies.
Anyone who’s ever won trophies will tell you, the main factor is attitude.
There were comments from Maurizio Sarri saying Ronaldo didn’t want to play as a number 9, but this is where he find himself at United. What do you think about this?
It’s easier physically to be a number 9 than a number 7, especially now where you have to defend and press more. I think at 37 he’s not a machine and it’s a clever move to use his knowledge and experience of positioning to exploit opponents’ defences. He reminds me of my own style.
Because now of the way teams play, there aren’t that many balls for him to attack. When I was at United, we had balls whipped in from Giggsy on one side and Ronaldo on the other and you’d have Van Nistlerooy, Tevez, myself or Rooney to put them in the back of the net. That’s not the case anymore.
How pleased are you to see David Moyes, your former manager, doing well at West Ham? Can his side break into the top four or is that beyond them?
Yes, he’s a top manager and a top guy. Whatever happened at Man United, I think it was ultimately good for him and we’re seeing the benefits of that at West Ham. He’s doing an amazing job and has the potential to make the top four.
I remember back in the day at Everton he had that same drive as Sir Alex Ferguson, he wanted to win, he wanted to improve. The setup at United was obviously different to Everton – United were more attacking and Everton weren’t known for that, so West Ham can be seen as a bit of a hybrid of the two.
I hope he makes the top four next year, when Man United are definitely back in it!
Any similarities between this West Ham team and your Everton set up?
There is yeah, definitely a strong mentality, they know how to set up a team, really strong players, particularly Declan Rice. They have a solid foundation and defensively they are hard to beat. This is the way Everton used to play.
There’s of course room for improvement, but yeah there are clear similarities between the two.
Man United got a good result in Madrid in the first leg. Can they go on a run and make it to the final?
The Champions League is a different competition. You can’t really predict it, it all depends on who is good on the day. If Man United can find a solid foundation in the next three or four games, then it could happen – football can be unpredictable like that.
We’ve seen teams not playing well for the first half of the season and suddenly they find a setup that works, and they go on a run. But when you have good players, anything can happen. I hope for the best for United but it doesn’t look likely at the moment at all?
Who’s your pick for the UCL?
PSG – Mpabbe is a key player and they have a super strong midfield and defensive setup. Of course, Liverpool and Man City are still in there, it’ll be between those three.
Antonio Conte – can you see him leaving this season?
It sounds like it. He’s a very honest guy, he’s not managing for the money. He’s doing it for the love of the game, and I felt during his recent interview he expressed his very honest frustrations. He won’t accept poor performances and I love this about him.
I’ve seen United accepting poor results recently and it would be interesting to see if he leaves as he’s a top manager who I respect. Let’s see where he goes.