Exclusive: Louis Saha ‘Baffled’ by Ronaldo Interview

Former Manchester United and France striker Louis Saha spoke exclusively with Compare.bet ahead of the World Cup following the pausing of the Premier League. The United legend spoke about Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest media outburst, Alejandro Garnacho’s potential, his picks for the World Cup and why this France squad isn’t as good as the side that won in 2018.

MB: What did you make of United’s win against Fulham?

LS: I think anyone who loves football would enjoy that game with the way it finished. We saw quality play from both Fulham and Man United. It was a professional performance from United and Fulham is a club with a huge desire to play in the Premier League and they showed that they deserve to be respected. They were missing Mitrovic and I think if he was on the pitch Man United would have lost this game because of the threat he provides.

MB: Following the game, an explosive interview with Cristiano Ronaldo was released in which he said he felt ‘betrayed’ by Manchester United. What’s your initial reaction to this?

LS: To be honest, I’m surprised by it, because it’s not going to benefit him in any way. If he wants a transfer, or if he feels like he’s been betrayed, this interview doesn’t help. It’s not the right timing because the manager is doing well, and it completely overshadows what Garnacho had done, winning the game against Fulham. Whatever the context, it’s bad timing. To speak to such a well-known journalist, he knew that it would be huge news. I’m a bit baffled by the timing. He’s shown he wants to be protected, to protect his legacy, but the club is not there for that, and the manager is not paid to do that. I don’t think its right for him. I’m confused by what his agent and his entourage wanted with this. When they watch this, any other club wanting to pursue him can see that when things aren’t going his way, it’s trouble. This doesn’t give credit to the guy, because he’s a terrific player and a great professional. At this stage of his career, of course he wants to protect his legacy and its difficult to have the right balance between the club and player.

MB: Surely he’s played his last game for United now. Has he destroyed his legacy at the club?

LS: He used to respond to issues on the field. Interviews dont help you respond whatsoever. I don’t expect any interview from Cristiano to be the solution, because he always proved people wrong with the way he played. This is the first time he’s using this kind of situation to get what he wants. Of course he should still be respected, he’s won five ballon d’ors and scored 700 goals! But I do think that this doesn’t give him the platform he deserves. Whoever gave him this advice to do this interview was wrong. I’m baffled.

MB: What do you think about Ronaldo saying there’s been “no evolution” at the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013, and that SAF agrees?

LS: It’s his opinion, and if he thinks it’s the reality then he’s entitled to say that, whether he’s right or not. Only he and Sir Alex Ferguson can say whether its true or not. Any fans who know the status of this club can ask about why the club has not advanced, but this wasn’t the right time to say these things. Maybe after he retired or signed for another club, you can speak, but he’s still a United player. I simply don’t understand. Whatever his opinions are, he has the right to say, but for his own good, it didn’t help.

MB: 18 year old Alejandro Garnacho has impressed of late, and grabbed a late winner yesterday – what is his potential, and should he be starting more games for Manchester United and be the future of the club?

LS: Yes, he is that good. He’s very good and can still really improve. His bodyshape helps him to disrupt the game, turning right or left, stop and restarting, attack at volume with intensity. He drives forward every time he can. At 93 minutes, with full confidence he’ll sprint forward so he’s shown that he can be an impactful player. Of course he’s only young so the guy can improve. He has strength, he showed that in the last minutes of the game. When he plays a 1-2, simple football but the determination that he shows, people like to see skills and difficult goals, but these simple goals are what fascinate me because you really have to believe. There’s 3-4 players in front of you defending the goal, but it came to nothing because of Garnacho’s pace and power. He’s unbelievable, I’m very excited about him as a prospect.

MB: Rashford has been revitalised this season, should he be starting for England at the World Cup?

LS: If he had played for England like he has for United, then of course. But with England he’s still building up his confidence. I think he can do a lot more for them, he’s just an amazing talent and I’m excited for England to have such a player on the big stage with nothing to lose. He’s come a very long way, so if he enjoys his football for England like at United, and is used in the right manner at the right stage of the game, when he is given freedom and finds balance in any side, he’s one of the most dangerous players in the World. He’s a player who can improvise and be difficult for any opposition at the World Cup. It’s going to a very interesting setup for Southgate, because he seems to be a steady one looking at the World Cup squad. There’s not many players who have the capacity to be unpredictable, Sterling of course and Harry Kane but you know their game and understand how they’ll play, with Marcus he can do pretty much anything, he can go in behind, get on the ball and dribble past everybody if he feels like it. Those types of players are unbelievable assets in a World Cup. You need to have a strong base tactically, but also have those players who can change a game in one second.

MB: We saw Luke Shaw perform well at the Euros last year but has faced criticism since – with injuries at left-back for England, how important is he for Southgate’s side?

LS: Yes, I think he had a fantastic Euros and that gave him a lot of confidence after he came back from injuries. He had moments where maybe he didn’t play as well but the Euros was a good tournament for him, and I think this can be the same for him. Any player is trying to be at their best and focused at a World Cup, looking after every element of your game. There are no distractions because you’re in camp so you can get the best out of players. England needs his type of quality at the back so he is an asset. When he plays well he can defend, and he can also pass the ball and find strikers. He has this confidence and calmness about him which is very helpful for the backline. He’s still a little bit frustrating because you feel like he can improve, but those types of players are very interesting for the manager so I’m looking forward to watching him.

MB: Can Harry Maguire kickstart his United career with a good tournament for England?

LS: That can help. He’s going to be starting and has done really well for the national team and in the previous World Cup. I’ve never seen any player suffer as much criticism as Harry Maguire. Anything that helps Harry I’ll be happy, because I don’t think that criticism has been fair. He’s been a loyal player, never caused problems, never said anything wrong, worked hard, even when on the bench you’ve seen he’s ready and available, it’s a very strong mentality and he’ll do anything he can to help his country. I wish him luck.

MB: Who is your favourite to win the World Cup?

LS: I like France, of course, they remain a favourite. But Argentina… for me they’ve got that kind of confidence. I would love to see Messi at his best. There is, of course, Brazil, not only because of Neymar but because of the quality they have in the squad. They managed to leave Firmino out of the squad, which is pretty scary. But saying favourites doesn’t mean anything in this competition, simply because no one knows how to play the World Cup in the winter. It’s never happened. Nobody knows how VAR’s introduction has changed the nature of the game, so I’m very curious about what type of football is going to be played there. We can’t predict who’ll win the trophy, it’s a difficult one.

MB: Jadon Sancho has been left out of the England World Cup squad, why do you think things haven’t worked out for him at United so far?

LS: He is at the point where he’s overthinking. I think he’s a player who came maybe with a fitness problem, so it took him time to actually adjust – strangely, because he’d come from England and he knows the intensity – but I felt like he was not at the same level as others. Maybe it’s because of the club that the team was not at the level of the rest of the Premier League. But I think there is a lot of overthinking in his game. I have seen him, like ‘Ok, you should be running at players, doing your dribbling, maybe missing a few but keep going’, and he’s thinking about losing the ball. And when you have that much quality you will be pressurised to actually perform, especially when the team is not doing well. So I think he didn’t have the fire in him to do that – the confidence to do that – and that’s what I think let him down, basically, because he has the quality. Lately, I think, he had a difficult time but maybe two months ago he was playing well, he was scoring some goals. But overall he seems, I’m not going to use the word shy, but yeah in some way not as aggressive.

MB: Many pundits have said that France have the strongest team at the World Cup. Is there any area of the team that you think could be an issue for France?

LS: To be honest I’m a bit surprised that everyone has easily named France as the best squad, because the best squad has the best players. They don’t have the best players. They’re missing Pogba and Kante, both close to being the best player in the tournament in any game, so I’m very surprised. They have the Ballon d’Or winner in Benzema, they have Mbappe, Griezmann, terrific players, but I think the midfield is weak. Defensively, you are basically showing that you don’t trust your defence as much when you have something like seven or eight centre backs in the squad. Digne hasn’t been included in this squad, and he is probably the only left back or right back who can produce a lot of good balls into the box. It’s very defensive. The midfield is very inexperienced, probably altogether they have 40 caps, I’m not sure, but it’s not the type of experience you expect, especially at the core of your football. If those guys don’t exactly know their position, it’s very difficult for strikers to operate and they might be asked to defend more than expected. The defenders don’t know how to defend because maybe two sitting midfielders are going too deep when they should not. While they are good players, they aren’t experienced players, so the squad is not as strong as they were in 2018.

MB: France’s world cup win in 2018 was in part due to Pogba and Kante being so excellent in midfield. Do you think Camavinga and Tchouameni can have a similar impact?

LS: They are definitely terrific players, both playing at the best club in Real Madrid, so I think they have the quality. It’s why they’re there, they deserve to be there, but neither of those guys have the experience. I mean, this is it. Tchouameni was transferred last year and was called a potential world class player, but he’s never played in such a competition. Camavinga is the same: great player, still very young. I don’t think the comparison is completely fair, they are still different players. Pogba is way more offensive, has way more quality going forward, and that was the setup. Kante was able to actually run the show in midfield, giving you the aggressiveness, the tempo, the marking as he was doing back in the day. None of these have this profile. None of these guys have the profile of Kante. They run a lot, they have quality on the ball, but I don’t know if they complement each other in the way Pogba and Kante did in 2018. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong, and I hope so, I really hope so, but I’m not sure. It’s not just about having those two players, in the tournament you physically need four very strong midfielders who know exactly what to do. At this moment in time the foundation of the squad will define whether you go to the last stage of the competition, that’s it. If those guys are unsure in some way… I doubt it.

MB: If England are to do well, who do you think their most important players are?

LS: Of course you have the core of your team and it has to be performing. The midfield is very important. But I would say you have to have a strong goalkeeper, and you have to pick one – Pope has done the last two games but Pickford will be, in my view, the number one because of what he’s achieved in an England shirt. His performance is good. Also with strikers – and in this instance the only guarantee you have is Harry Kane. He can score for fun, show a lot of confidence, he’ll bring a lot of youngsters in, he’s very easy to read, he picks the right passes at the right moments, so he’s the main guy. If you have Harry Kane on form, it means that he’ll score goals and England will get close to the final.

MB: What is the view on Gareth Southgate as a manager from outside of England? Have the French media said anything about his ability to lead England?

LS: It could be controversial but I don’t see much talk about Gareth Southgate. There is nothing obvious in Europe of people talking about him. He’s done quite well with the national team. If he’s still in the job, it’s because he had enough wins, provided results in some way – reaching the last stage of competitions and being in finals. Nothing like this has been achieved before so anyone who says “oh yes, I would have done better”, is just arrogant because he’s sitting on the sofa and he’s not making hard decisions. But football is really hard, being the manager in football is really hard. But to be in the national team as well, there is a lot of pressure. So I give a lot of credit to anyone who maintains his place for more than, say, three years. In the national team, it’s tremendous pressure – you have to deal with 60 million potential national team managers who think they know better. So no, I think he’s been respected and nothing obvious has been said.

MB: Is there a team that not many people are talking about that can be a surprise package in the World Cup?

LS: Yes, there are big teams in this tournament. I would love to see an African team going further. The World Cup means that any continent has countries that can win the World Cup, and I would love to see this happen one day, so who knows! But you have to be realistic. I look at Kevin De Bruyne and I would love to see the Belgian side be the surprise package because over the years they have shown that they’re improving and that they’re a good side, and it would be nice to see them competing again with France at some point.

MB: Who do you think United should target in the January transfer window? Maybe players who will have the chance to shine at the World Cup?

LS: I’m not sure. It’s really hard because first you have to identify your weaknesses. We definitely need a striker, and yes there are a few strikers that are going to be available to watch. But I don’t have big names in my head at the moment, Haaland isn’t available, I Mbappe isn’t available, and those two are the only players I am really excited to see, along with Messi and Cristiano. I say it because this is probably the last World Cup where we will see Messi and Ronaldo – two genius players – and I doubt that, with all respect, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland realise how much effort they have to put in to pick that up. It’s going to be an enormous task to do that, so I will try to enjoy those two players as much as I can in this World Cup.

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