Louis Saha spoke to Compare.bet this week following the return of the Premier League after the international break. Louis discussed why Wout Weghorst is not the answer at striker and United’s need for a new number nine, how Scott McTominay can transfer his Scotland goalscoring form to United, why he ‘enjoyed’ scuffles in United’s dressing room as a player, Harry Maguire’s ‘wrong comments’ and the managerial potential he saw in Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Michael Carrick whilst playing with them.
He also spoke about the sackings of Graham Potter and Brendan Rodgers, the ‘annoying’ contract negotiations regarding David De Gea, and why the ‘dinosaurs’ at the French Football Federation should be ’embarrassed’ by not allowing players to break their fast during Ramadan.
- Saha critical of Weghorst
- Louis ‘enjoyed’ scuffles and arguments in Fergie’s dressing room
- Saha critical of Maguire’s mentality
- Louis downplays Ansu Fati United links
- Slams Chairmen with big egos after Potter sacking
- McTominay could benefit from playing further forward
- French federation are ‘dinosaurs’ over Ramadan
MB: What’s your reaction to United’s defeat against Newcastle at the weekend?
LS: It’s a painful one but at the same time, many people have been a bit harsh on them. I heard the manager saying that he felt that Newcastle wanted it more. I think that’s maybe true, maybe not, because I felt it’s just a level of energy. I think Newcastle showed more legs, a lot of energy and heart. Runs were offered to Man United to actually defend against, and it became obvious that Newcastle wanted it more – those guys had more in the tank in my opinion. So after 60 or so minutes, yes you started to see that if they hadn’t scored before, if you weren’t maybe punishing them when they made a mistake, it was a difficult one to win. So it’s painful because yes, you look at what you have done in the transfer window and you think ok, where are those elements of improvement in the squad that actually allowed us to get six points more than we have now, the ten goals more than we have now. Thank you to Rashford but that’s not enough so where you have some players, like Bruno and Sancho sometimes, is it enough to actually grab those points to go above other teams? No, it is not. If you put someone in for like 15 games and he scores two goals, it’s an easy target but that’s the reality of it. I am more annoyed about maybe those factors that are obvious because they are here to actually get you out of a situation like this.
MB: Who are the players that aren’t good enough for United at the moment?
LS: Yes, that’s obvious. Maybe it’s because of injuries but with Weghorst, you can’t be the number 9 of this team and play that amount of games and just provide pressing and nothing else. I don’t get it. I am consistently coming back to this, like everybody else – it’s an easy target but that’s the reality of it. I’m not being harsh because it’s more than eight or nine games where we’re asking the same question about him and saying ‘hang on a minute’. When you aren’t performing for a team like United, you should be challenged a bit more because he’s not at the moment. I’m not only on him because at the moment Rashford is the only one who is consistently providing goals at the moment and that’s not enough. You can’t blame the team for actually being where they are, I think they’ve definitely made a good step up. But some of the stuff they’ve tried hasn’t worked – sometimes it’s just bad luck, sometimes it’s quality. I saw it with this opposition yesterday because I think that Newcastle, going forward, were stronger. There were more options, more legs – it’s not about determination on this.
MB: Luke Shaw signed a new contract on Friday, what do you make of his performances this year and can he play at centre-back consistently moving forward?
LS: He’s definitely a left-back. He’s a good option in case we’re missing a player there – he can adapt because he’s such a good player, good in the air. And I think he’s been more consistent, his body language has helped a lot because you can see his focus is there and he’s proven himself at an international level. So I’m very pleased and he deserves his new contract. I think he represents the future if he aligns with Ten Hag’s energy, and I do think he’s doing this. I think he can still improve – more assists, more goals. So I’m pleased to see those types of comebacks because he struggled – we’ve seen it with Rashford and other players, hopefully, Sancho can do it as well – there is potential there. This season we have seen a massive step up, even with this loss, I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen individually with players.
MB: Scott McTominay has been scoring goals for Scotland recently – should United perhaps be playing him in a more advanced role?
LS: Yes, I’ve always been a big fan of McTominay. He has lots of quality on the ball, but also lots of spirit, which is very important for United in terms of the counter-press. He has good feet for a man of his size, and if he improves his passing and composure a little bit, then playing him higher up the field could definitely be something to explore. He certainly has the potential, and not just because he’s done it with Scotland, but because he’s been playing in those kinds of advanced roles since he was young, and with his size and aggression he can be a real goal threat. He just needs a bit more confidence and less defensive responsibility. Bruno Fernandes is definitely a good example for him to follow in terms of mentality and fitness, and physically he is already able to provide some better options in terms of challenging in the air and winning headers. I think McTominay could really benefit from playing with the likes of Casemiro, Eriksen and Bruno, and could become a far more dominant player than he is at the moment – not because he’s not playing well, but because he just lacks that little bit of confidence. At present, he’s predominantly a defensive player, whereas he could easily develop into a box-to-box midfielder who scores goals and gives his manager more attacking options.
MB: Brendan Rodgers and Graham Potter were both sacked this weekend, making it 12 sackings for the season, which is a Premier League record. Why do you think we’re seeing even more managers being sacked year-on-year now, and do you think managers need to be given more time?
LS: Definitely, but this is the state of the game today, and it’s not going to change any time soon. These days, top chairmen come with massive egos and think that making fifteen big-money signings is going to solve all the club’s problems. It doesn’t work this way, and I’m astonished that so many chairmen seem to make the same mistake. They treat clubs like companies, and players like investments, but these are human beings and sometimes they take time to gel and work well together. The Premier League is full of top teams that can punish you every week, and yet still the biggest clubs and their owners think that they can just splash hundreds of millions on expensive players and then dominate these sides. I love football because of the connections it forms between human beings, not products. Of course, as we’ve seen with Manchester City, it can work, but in most cases – like at PSG for example – spending lots of cash on the world’s best players doesn’t mean anything if they don’t know how to play together. Football, and transfers in particular, is all about how you connect the dots, how you build confidence and how the players understand their manager’s philosophy. More and more, however, we’re seeing chairmen intervening in the football side of the business.
MB: Michael Carrick has done an exceptional job at Boro and continues to be linked with Premier League jobs. What do you make of this/were there any signs as a player that Carrick could become a successful manager?
LS: Carrick had a big challenge ahead of him when he joined Boro. They are a big club – which comes with lots of expectation – and they were in a really bad place, which is a difficult situation to deal with, but Carrick is smart. As a player, he had a reputation for being quiet, and he was a little bit introverted, but he was always learning, and he learnt from the best at United with Alex Ferguson. Now, he’s built on these strong foundations and has managed to develop his own winning formula, and I’m not surprised. One of the things that made him among the best midfielders in the world was his decision-making. He was always producing winning formulas on the pitch, and now he’s managed to apply that to management. The communication between the board, the manager and the players seems good, and they’ve found a strategy that works. And what’s more, this has nothing to do with money – it’s all about man management and having a clear philosophy. It’s a tribute to how football should be, and it shows how much players can improve under the right manager, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Premier League soon.
MB: Ruud Van Nistelrooy has been linked with top clubs as a manager. Did you see him as a future top manager when you played together?
LS: Yes, more than Carrick. He was very intense with his game, and very obsessed. You might think because he’s a family man, someone with massive value and honesty in the way he played, he took the time and years on the bench and at the academy level to learn his game, and he was always very smart. He knew where to go, and how to connect with players. When you’ve been doing that for many years, you have the ability to spread that knowledge, how to communicate it. How to help players be very efficient in their decision-making process. I’m not surprised at all. He’s a good guy as well, has a lot of principles and is very honest. When you connect correctly with players, you have the right formula. You might make one or two mistakes in games because you’re learning, but you won’t make them again in the future. These guys like Carrick and Ruud are animals in trying to progress. I saw it when we were playing at Manchester United, the way they were scoring or winning trophies. All they want to talk about the next day is improving – improve, improve, improve. So they will improve – they may have bad moments, but will continue to improve.
MB: RvN and Neville said they almost came to blows on the overlap, not the first time we’ve heard this from the United dressing room e.g. Keane vs Schmeichel. Was it common for tempers to flare in such a competitive environment?
LS: You can’t win without that competitive environment. Everybody wants to improve. I was in the middle of those things and I enjoyed it – I’m not saying I enjoyed it the wrong way, but that it was an expression of passion. It was an expression of obsession to be better, and if you aren’t able to cope with that, I’m saying listen change up, because this is not just a Sunday game where you want to enjoy it. Those guys are animals when it comes to winning trophies, they want it so bad. So in some moments, you don’t have control and don’t know how to communicate things in the right way at the right moment, you’re very passionate. So you can make mistakes, but at the end of the day, you view it correctly, you say ‘hang on a minute, those guys are very passionate, just like my father, they want me to do well. They’re going to be on my back for my own good.’ If you’re left timid at the back of the room, it’s not a good sign, people don’t care about you. It was that sort of expression, all the big leaders at the club were trying to communicate it as improvement into greatness and that’s it. You’re trying to imitate Sir Alex Ferguson, you want to do the same because you understood that’s why he was so successful. Every player was trying to mimic him, and say ‘listen, this is the standard of Manchester United.’ I haven’t seen this at United until Erik ten Hag. I’m starting to see a bit more of that – I’m not asking for fighting inside of the dressing room, but the more people you have who are extroverts, like Bruno Fernandes, those types of players who show you inside and outside they want to progress, fine. Scholesy may not have spoken when he was a player, but on the field you’d still see how much he cared. It’s about expression.
MB: Speaking about mentality, recently Harry Maguire said he has nothing to prove – considering he hasn’t achieved much with Manchester United, is this the wrong mentality if you want to be one of the very best?
LS: From an outside perspective, I think these are the wrong comments. No one, not even Ronaldo or Messi should be saying these comments because there is always more to achieve so I don’t know why Harry would be saying this. I understand in a way, because he has to defend himself with the way he’s been treated and talked about the last few years, and he is a good player. But he must know that he can do better and he can improve. He should be asking ‘why am I on the bench’ and working hard with a point to prove. Leaders shouldn’t be saying this because other players will jump on you and ask what you mean.
MB: There have been lots of rumours regarding Ansu Fati at Barcelona – would you welcome him at United? He has fallen down the pecking order a lot of Barca.
LS: I don’t know. There are a lot of really good players out there. He had the confidence to take the number 10 shirt after Lionel Messi [laughs], I don’t know how you can cope with that. It’s like taking the number 23 from Michael Jordan. It’s a big one. The guy has got obvious quality, but I like to pick ‘guarantees’ for United at the moment. Being a massive talent isn’t enough. I want people who really want to play for the shirt, like Bruno Fernandes and Lisandro Martinez. You could see it straight away with those two, they were great signings. All this speculation is good for journalists, but not for the club.
MB: United are said to be stepping up Rashford’s contract talks. How important is it that a deal gets achieved soon?
LS: It’s massive. For me, he’s in the top five in terms of massive potential in 2024, 2025. He’s always had Ballon d’Or potential, but now he is the identity of Manchester United, of course, being from the academy, the guy really wants to wear the shirt. It’s very important for the club, but I think what happened in the previous three years for Marcus, it would have been sad to see him leave because of the financial aspect of the negotiations. He’s higher than that, he’s got massive heart. I think he just wants to play football and enjoy playing football. I don’t think he’s the type of player that would just look for the biggest contract. If he does want that down the line, he’s got enough time ahead of him to look for the biggest club in his mind, if he is to find one. At the moment, for United, continuity and the way we play, Marcus is very important. There is a lot of potential in this squad, but the only player you can mention straight away is him.
MB: David De Gea still hasn’t signed a new contract. Do you think it’s time for United to move on and sign a new keeper?
LS: Yes, I’m not totally torn on this one. I think he proved in the last few games that he is still a good fit for the club. He hasn’t shown that nervousness when the ball is at his feet that was his weakness previously over the years. I’ve seen a very focused goalkeeper at the moment. People always talk about the length of the negotiation, it’s very hard, the club wants stability to prepare for next year. It’s annoying, but there are a few options for the club. Whatever they decide, they should not be bullied because of high salary expectations. I think it’s one of the highest salaries at the club already. When you are a good servant to the club, there are other important aspects other than finances. Easy for me to say because I’m retired and not in the squad. You can visualise your role at the club, and not at an amateur level where you just compare what you earn against others. I think it’s the respect you earn, and just wanting to play for the club. You want a decent salary, but come on. That’s just me, that’s just how I see things in life. For David and for Marcus, it’s their life and their choices, but similarly, the club will have their own options.
MB: How would you grade Antony’s first year?
LS: He’s a top-quality player with a lot of potential. People have said he’s only been okay and I get it because he should have scored more and assisted more, but it’s only his first year. The Premier League is not the Dutch league. It’s a big task and a big step up and I think he has adapted physically very well. When he came in he helped provide something for the team. What I see is in terms of his skills and his options, there is a lack of variety in his game. He can be very predictable for such a skilful player. There is a lot of work to do but there is potential and that’s a good thing for United. After one year, it’s fine. If it’s like this in two or three years, then there is a problem. The manager has to be patient with him because he isn’t the finished product yet. He absolutely has to work on his right foot though, that’s for sure.
MB: Kylian Mbappe was named captain of France and this apparently upset Antoine Griezman. What do you make of the decision?
LS: Griezmann would have been an excellent choice for the captaincy but at the same time, Kylian Mbappe is the best player at the moment, definitely for France and probably in the world, so there is a desire for him to take more responsibility and be a vocal leader in the dressing room. The guy is there to protect his players, and he’s really worked on his communication skills which I really like. It’s understandable for Griezmann to be upset but they want to play for France and that’s the main thing.
One thing I would like the opportunity to speak about is about players being able to break their fast in the game during Ramadan. The French Federation has sent an email to referees banning players from eating during games and that is just so sad to see. They aren’t thinking about the health of their players or their values. It’s just 30 seconds to one minute of the game and it’s so sad to see. The French Federation say they don’t want to be political but then they do things like this. They act like dinosaurs and should be embarrassed by their recent comments. Let’s open up the conversation before sanctioning or questioning referees. They operate the same way they did 60 years ago and this needs to change. We need to move forward.