This week former Manchester United striker Louis Saha spoke exclusively with Compare.bet. He spoke about Cristiano Ronaldo reaching 700 club goals and why Haaland doesn’t compare to Ronaldo, said Harry Kane was just what Man United need to take the next step, told us why Marcus Rashford needs to be on the plane to Qatar and talked about how he believes managing Arsenal is an easier job than Manchester United.
- ‘Kane Would Be a Great Signing for United’
- Mikel Arteta has an easier job than Ten Hag
- Saha backs Rashford to go to Qatar – ‘There is no doubt in my mind’
- Louis claims nobody compares to Ronaldo, including Haaland
- Why criticism of Sancho is not fair
- Liverpool will turn it around – ‘It’s just a matter of time’
DB: Ronaldo hit the 700 goals mark over the weekend – as a former teammate, did you ever imagine he’d reach such heights?
LS: No, I didn’t, because it’s such an unbelievable number. At the time, out of the players I crossed paths with, I’d only think someone like Ruud Van Nistelrooy would hit a number like that, because his game was all about goals. Cristiano was a different type of player, he was dribbling, he was crossing the ball to others as well as scoring goals. He had a more complete game. I saw the quality he had, but could never imagine that he’d achieve these kind of numbers. It’s an absolutely enormous achievement, especially because of that change in position. Early on, he didn’t have the striker’s mentality like a Van Nistelrooy, or a Trezeguet or a Batistuta. He was not a typical goalscorer and he managed to change the role of a winger, now you see so many goalscoring wingers. It’s an amazing achievement and I just can’t praise him enough.
DB: Considering how things developed over the summer, it does seem like his future lies away from Old Trafford. Thoughts on how the Ronaldo situation will be resolved? Which league will he end up in?
LS: It’s difficult to say, at the start of the season, you could see there was only one reason why he wanted to leave – to play in the Champions League. At United, there was no platform for him to build on his legacy in that competition and continue breaking records. You can understand that, in some way, when you see his peers, like Messi, playing in the Champions League with teams that have the potential to actually lift the trophy. You’d imagine that would dent his ego. He’ll be thinking about his future after the World Cup, because he’ll still want to achieve things and prove he’s an amazing player. Wherever he goes, I want him to be happy. He’s a tremendous player. As someone who got a chance to play with him, what he used to tell me was “when I’m good, when I’m really a terrific player is when I’m smiling”. That’s what I want to see Ronaldo doing, smiling. I think he can contribute to any squad. He’s got a different type of mindset than most – he wants to win trophies, he wants to be recognised as the very best.
DB: On the other side of Manchester, we see Haaland breaking records. Do you think he has the potential to achieve Ronaldo-like numbers?
LS: I don’t know, because what I see with Haaland, I don’t think he has the complete package like Ronaldo. I don’t think Haaland will change a position like Ronaldo did as a goalscoring winger. It’s not about numbers, it’s about your impact on the game and how much you achieve. It’s about how you overcome adversity and respond to difficulties. The numbers are important, but it’s more about the achievements alongside it. Alan Shearer, for example, has big numbers, but his achievements aren’t really recognised outside of England, across Europe. What Ronaldo has done is really unbelievable, I mean it. Nobody will be able to conquer Europe the way he did. Nobody should disrespect what he has done, I’m really adamant about that. No matter how many goals someone scores, we shouldn’t compare them to Cristiano.
Haaland will have to score 50 goals a season for 15 years to manage to catch that guy [Ronaldo]. It’s also about the way Ronaldo did it too – scoring overhead kicks, winning Champions Leagues.
LS: I don’t want to discredit what Haaland is doing, but I’m sorry, it’s a different era! As a striker, I’m seeing how defenders are struggling to defend. It’s really hard to defend against strikers at the moment. These guys are defending with their hands behind their backs, they can’t tackle. VAR is great in some instances, but it does gives an advantage to these terrific forward players. When Manchester City are playing the way they’re playing, Haaland is going to score thousands of goals. The way Ronaldo did it, with so much scrutiny, so much pressure, with defenders able to tear up his shirt, it was just incredible.
DB: As a former striker yourself, what advice would you give to defenders to stop a player like Haaland?
LS: Oh it’s an absolutely impossible mission. The guy is quick, he’s strong, he makes intelligent runs. He’s also very patient – it’s rare these days, for a striker with so much quality that’s happy without getting many touches on the ball. He’s very, very smart. It would have to be a team job to contain him. Manchester City are the perfect match for him, when he signed I said ‘Oh my god!’. If you’re facing City, you’ll be lucky if he isn’t on the scoresheet. Nobody can touch him. Even if he misses a few sitters, the guy is so positive, he continues to play with a smile on his face. He’s got great teammates and a great manager, so I think he’ll do great things.
DB: We saw Jadon Sancho substituted in the Europa League and benched for the Everton game, why do you think he’s falling out of favour with Erik ten Hag?
LS: It’s just competition. It’s totally normal – he’s not at a small club. There are terrific players – Marcus Rashford, Antony, Cristiano Ronaldo, Anthony Martial. Nobody is guaranteed a place, even Cristiano, we’ve seen him benched! I remember [Ryan] Giggs on the bench, Scholesy [Paul Scholes] on the bench – not all the time, but it does happen to big players. That’s totally fine. He [Sancho] has to work harder and when he has his next opportunity, he’ll have to grab it.
DB: Looking at Sancho’s time overall at United so far, do you think he’s been worth the 85 million euros they spent on him?
LS: It’s been difficult. It’s not only on him and his form. Maybe he wasn’t physically ready when he arrived. You can see there’s a massive improvement in the commitment. He puts his body on the line and there’s no problem with his attitude. But it’s about the squad, and I don’t think the team as a whole have performed well enough to allow the playmakers to express themselves freely, because they’ve had to defend, and there’s been fragility in the United team. We saw that against Man City. He comes from the West Indies like me, and we are relaxed, this is our style. When teams are struggling we want to see the warriors like Roy Keane and John O’ Shea, that’s not Jadon’s style. You can’t ask Sancho to do those things, it’s not fair.
DB: Marcus Rashford seems to be enjoying a return to form under ten Hag. England have a lot of talented forward players, do you think Southgate should take Rashford to Qatar?
LS: There is no doubt in my mind that Rashford should be at the World Cup. He is a terrific player. He would be great in any squad, but particularly in England. He’s really hard to defend. When his fitness is right, he’s one of the best. If Southgate didn’t pick him in the squad, he’d be saying they have an absolute monster ahead of him, and I don’t think they do. He’s doing great now after a year of not playing well. We all want to see Marcus with a smile on his face because he’s a terrific player to watch.
DB: Harry Kane’s contract is running down and he’s been linked with a move to Munich. His move to City didn’t work out last season – do you think he’d be a good Ronaldo replacement for Ten Hag?
LS: Of course Kane would be a great signing for United. For Tottenham, they’d be looking at it and saying ‘ hang on a minute, why would we sell our best player to a competitor for the top four’. That’s the situation. He’s such a great player. He will continue to improve in some ways, because speed is not his main asset, it’s his brain. If he wanted to move, he could go anywhere in the world, and he would shine. I would be very happy with him at United, because United need the kind of composure Kane has up front.
DB: Scott McTominay will be suspended, how big a miss will that be for United?
LS: I don’t think Mctominay will be a big miss when he’s out. This is why we bring players in, squad rotation and depth is important. It’s an opportunity to build confidence for Casemiro or Fred, to show the quality they have. The depth in the squad should improve everyone’s performances, because they will all want to play, especially with there being so many games, and the World Cup.
DB: What are your thoughts on Casemiro’s performances so far?
LS: He’s still adapting to the Premier League, but that will happen. He’s not a robot, even if he looks like it sometimes! He’s a very, very strong lad. He has a tiger in his eyes. You can see he’s very smart. With each game he will improve and he will have the same impact on the team that Fabinho had for Liverpool when he first arrived.
DB: He came up against Alex Iwobi playing in a central midfield role. Lampard has named his as one of the best midfielders in the league, do you agree?
LS: He hasn’t proved anything yet. He’s only been playing in this position for six months. I haven’t seen any stats that prove he’s up there with the best midfielders in the league. He’s shown a lot quality, but sometimes he still makes mistakes and loses the ball. I really like the player, he looks more composed and Lampard has done a great job with him. I would love to see him keep playing well consistently, and he will get the praise he deserves.
DB: United outcast Donny Van de Beek has been linked with Newcastle. Considering his relationship with ten Hag, did you expect him to feature more this season?
LS: Not really, no. I didn’t think his fitness was there. His brain, footballing intelligence and ability is absolutely there, no doubt about it. He’s a very talented guy but you need fitness in this midfield. We have a lack of physicality still, and until you solve this the players that rely on technical ability are going to find it difficult. When you see Christian Eriksen come in, Casemiro come in, I don’t think McTominay and Fred will give up their place and a lot of players are in good form. Donny will have to do tremendous things to get in the squad, so it’s nothing to do with the manager at the moment. When you have the chance you have to perform, it’s the same as Sancho, this squad is big. Some other squads are playing better at the moment, like maybe Arsenal, and you’ll see less problems with status and ego down there than with United. You don’t have to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo and scoring 700 goals or Maguire being club captain. Whereas Arsenal has a young squad full of talent and you can manage them. You can tell them to go and sit on the bench, players might not be happy but they can’t do anything about it. That’s not the case with United. It’s harder, there’s more politics and it can be a big challenge. So those players, they have to understand it’s not the same as a normal squad that you’d have to deal with.
DB: Bruno Fernandes has captained United in Harry Maguire’s absence. Do you think he’s shown the leadership qualities to maybe one day be made captain permanently?
LS: I think so. He doesn’t show anything wrong in terms of performances or commitment. I like his leadership, he’s running around and doing well. He’s always out there with a minimum 6 or 7/10, he’s consistent. I think his body language shows a lot of leadership as well. It’s always good to have three or four big leaders, you need to have big characters and I’m starting to see glimpses of this with a few players.
DB: Looking over to United’s rivals Liverpool who are in poor form as of late, not that you’ll be worried by that. If you were Jurgen Klopp, would you start to worry about the form?
LS: Of course, he wants to win the Premier League and if you’re losing games, specifically the style of the games, but it’s like they’re in second or third gear maximum. I don’t know why. They’ve had lots of unlucky moments in games, it’s very strange. The momentum does have to change. I don’t have the right formula and even if I did I wouldn’t give it to them [laughs]. I don’t know, it’s just football. They have the players, they have the manager, they have a tremendous fan base, it’s just a matter of time. It happens, the Premier League is tough, that’s it. People think it’s easy to always be at the top – no, you need to have exceptional players, exceptional commitment, sacrifice every weekend. People tend to think it’s easy because you won last year and it’s done, but no. Doing 12 kilometres a game and maintaining that precision over time is bloody hard, and people think issues can be solved just by talking to the players. But football is hard.
DB: We’ve seen the past few seasons it’s been Liverpool against Man City in the title race. Do you think Liverpool’s fall from this top 2 presents an opportunity for Manchester United to cement themselves as a top four club again?
LS: Yes it’s an opportunity when another club is dropping points. Any type of run for a championship you where you capitalise on opportunities and take those chances you deserve to win, you’ve lost less games and performed with consistency. I think today if Chelsea have a big run of form, they have the potential to catch up to anybody. It’s the same for Manchester United. If for the rest of the season those guys don’t lose a game until the end of the season, I think Man City would struggle. That’s the nature of the Premier League and why it’s the biggest league in the World and it’s so unique. There’s not just three teams, there are six who are able to have massive runs, it could be Arsenal, it could be Tottenham, they have the quality, they have the managers. So this league is very exciting, it’s great for the fans. The only team that has really shown consistency over the past eight years is Man City.
DB: Fulham are playing Villa this weekend. We’ve seen Tuchel sacked this season, given Villa’s form, do you think Steven Gerrard is under pressure at the moment?
LS: Every manager who is not performing well is under pressure. We all respect the managers’ capacity, he’s a terrific lad and communicates well but it’s still all about results. Football is about getting the confidence right in the game, and Steven Gerrard’s position is similar to many managers across the league. If you win two-three games in a row everything is forgotten. He hasn’t done things horribly wrong, Aston Villa are not a team who are guaranteed to make the European spots and being in 16th isn’t great. But you win two games and you’re in a completely different position, sometimes with the Premier League the expectations of the fans are too high, for any manager. Any manager is struggling and under pressure if they lose two games in a row, it’s absolutely crazy, insane.
DB: Fulham are 9th at the moment, are there any players in particular that have impressed you this season so far?
LS: The defence is a lot better than two years ago and they do have some terrific players. Upfront you have Mitrovic, then in the same way leading the defence you have Leno. New signings have played well but I think it’s more about the manager, that has provided a better guarantee, their style, they’re harder to beat. Even though they’ve lost two big games recently, I still think they show real ability in how they defend. I used to say they were too nice, now that’s not the case. The Premier League doesn’t allow you to be nice anymore. So I think Fulham have done well a few players like Mitrovic have given them a real foundation to believe in themselves.
DB: A lot of their success has come off the back of Mitrovic’s goalscoring feats, do you think they’re too reliant on his goals?
LS: At the moment yes, you could say that. Even when they’re not playing well, Mitrovic is capable of scoring from nothing. Gives others the space when holding up the ball, he has that character that makes you believe anytime you put it into the box he will be there. He’s massive for them. If you lose that, and you have another style that doesn’t provide you similar guarantees, then yeah, the way of defending is different, the way of attacking changes, your shape and energy levels are different. That can be dangerous if they’re not playing well. You can lose confidence as well and start relying on something that isn’t there anymore. You have to be very careful to maintain this type of strategy. But as I said, at the moment I think there is a good balance. Silva has done a good job to find that style. They build to finish around Mitrovic, but they are sleek, speedy, unpredictable, short-passing that can help anyone score those goals as well. It’s finding that balance that they didn’t have two years ago.