Former Manchester United and France striker Louis Saha spoke exclusively with Compare.bet this week following the resumption of Premier League football after the World Cup. He raved about Rashford’s recent form, gave his assessment on Erik ten Hag at the halfway stage of the season, and agreed with Rio Ferdinand’s assessment on Ronaldo’s move to the Saudi League. He also backed Conte at Spurs, Newcastle to make the Champions League and said it wasn’t the right time for United to move for Cody Gakpo.
- Rashford can rival Haaland and Mbappe in 2023.
- ETH’s United at the halfway stage: ‘I see only improvements’.
- It wasn’t the right time for Gakpo at United.
- On Spurs’ struggles: ‘Conte is the right man for the job’.
- Newcastle’s great run: ‘They can make the top four’.
- Louis agrees with Ferdinand on Ronaldo criticism.
MB: What were your thoughts on the Brentford game Monday night – why do you think Liverpool struggled so much?
LS: There are always surprises in the Premier League. You can see there is so much quality in Liverpool’s side. They have a great manager and they do so many good things, but when you keep seeing the same mistakes repeated again and again, you think there needs to be a change in personnel or approach in some way. I think they are not far away, they have a great squad and have just made an exciting signing, so they should be back on their feet soon.
MB: Has this era of Liverpool football being dominant come to an end?
LS: It’s important to understand that you have to always keep reinventing and reinvigorating the team in some way. Staff, players, tactical approach, because things get understood by the opposition. You may have a three or four year span where teams don’t know how to cope with it but eventually you get figured out by teams who learn how to play against you. For a while, they weren’t dominating games a lot of the time. Many games were tight games and then they won thanks to some magic from Mane or Salah. And those moments where that happened seem to be over. I think they are getting a little bit less luck, and are making similar mistakes as before, but just getting punished for them. I don’t think we are seeing the same issues with Liverpool now than with Man United in the past, where we see less combativeness and desire. Those things are still there for Liverpool, they are just getting less lucky on both sides of the pitch.
MB: What are your thoughts on United losing out on Gakpo to Liverpool?
LS: He’s a great player, but this is a different kind of transfer market for both Liverpool and United. Liverpool are an established team with a manager who has been there for a long time and has a lot of respect, which makes recruiting a new player a lot easier. This is not the same with Manchester United. When a new player joins United, they are under pressure to deliver straight away, because that’s what they have been signed for. I think because of Klopp and the players Liverpool have there, new players have some time to settle there. He’s a terrific player, but I don’t think this was the right time for United as he went straight to a local rival. I think it’s a good move for Liverpool, but at the same time, not a bad miss for United. We need to get players who really want to join United.
MB: Darwin Nunez was a big summer signing for Liverpool. Do you think he’s been a good transfer for Liverpool? Where can he improve?
LS: I think he is a massively talented player, but the club lost one of their best players in Mane and Nunez hasn’t been able to replace him. He has come from a different league and the intensity has changed and the Premier League is a big step up. I think next year he will become a big, big asset for Liverpool once he is more comfortable with the tactics, his teammates and the league. It’s important to recognise the Premier League is a very tough league. That’s why I’m not a huge fan of jumping into transfers and expecting big things from them straight away, it takes time to adapt. He’s a great talent with a lot of pace and strength but he needs to improve in his calmness a bit. I think it’s great he’s got that fire in him but to be a great goalscorer you need to be calm sometimes.
MB: What’s your opinion on Erik ten Hag and his start at United now we’re halfway through the season?
LS: I see only improvements. Straight away he identified the weaknesses the club had, whether it be infrastructure, the structure at the club, the players – he has done that. He’s got it spot on. There’s obviously not the same formula for every player and the Cristiano Ronaldo situation was a difficult one, but he dealt with that well. He’s under pressure, because at United they need results. he had to deliver quick or after four or five bad games people can say it was a bad decision to hire him. He has been strong and has belief and confidence in his decisions. Half way through his first year I’m really impressed with him. He has changed Marcus Rashford’s life, and even Anthony Martial is smiling now and looks to have improved. There is still hope with Maguire and he has dealt with that situation really well. There doesn’t seem to be any players that are unhappy now, and they are working hard and getting the results their performances deserve.
MB: ETH explained that he started Shaw at LCB as he wants to have a left footed player in that position. Harry Maguire is of course a right footed player, but nonetheless, do you think it’s a bad sign for Maguire that a left back is starting over him?
LS: Yes, it could be a bad sign. The thing is Luke Shaw had a terrific World Cup and deserves to be playing for United. But that’s the nature of being at a big club, you have to make big decisions and the have to show commitment that you want to play. It’s not impossible for him to return, he has shown great spirit and professionalism while he’s been sitting out, and he’s a good player who deserves playing time. We saw how good he can be at the World Cup where he was one of the best defenders in the tournament, and has been the most consistent defender for England for the last four to five years.
MB: As Marcus Rashford’s great form continues, what can he achieve in 2023?
LS: He’s a player who can score 30-40 goals a season. There’s no doubt about it. He can do it all and why can’t Marcus Rashford do as much or even more than Haaland or Mbappe? Those two guys have great pace and awareness that very few players have. They’re so good at getting in the right areas and scoring different sorts of goals, which is what Marcus is starting to do. If he remains fit, remains confident, he is unstoppable. He can achieve everything. I haven’t seen a talent at United this good since Cristiano Ronaldo. He just needs that aggression and that belief that set aside players like Messi and Cristiano from the rest.
MB: What’s your advice to Jadon Sancho and how he can bounce back after his time away from the squad?
LS: I think that he has to work hard, you have to show that you are here to achieve greatness and show the talent you have. There is no one like Jadon in the world with his style and the way he plays. He hasn’t shown that yet. I also think he didn’t arrive fully fit and he has to work on his physique. He needs to watch the other players in the squad that have been improving and to learn from them.
MB: There have been reports in the media regarding a new contract for David De Gea and speculation United may look to move on – what are your thoughts on this?
LS: This is a touchy topic. David has been a terrific player for Manchester United and I hope he can keep putting in great performances in a United shirt, but after 11 years, anything can happen. You can see that a club of this stature is always looking for opportunities to improve, and that isn’t out of lack of respect for David, but they have to be thinking about it. They are in a similar position to Tottenham with Hugo Lloris. Yes Hugo is a little bit older but you can see both players have done so much for their clubs but it may be time to move on. Either that or David finds a way to finish his career with United and its a beautiful story. I’d be happy either way.
MB: Barcelona midfielder Frenkie De Jong has been linked to United the last few days, and is allegedly keen on the move. Is he someone United should go for?
LS: I’m not convinced in signing players in the winter transfer window. There is so much going on with the players, the clubs and the agents in January and it makes me really annoyed. If you like football and you want to play, you move on, but now the agents have so much control over where these players go or if they stay at their current clubs. The worst thing, we don’t know what these players want because all we know about them is what their agents say. Players should be playing for a club that suits them. I just don’t like how long these kinds of things get dragged out over time.
MB: What are you thoughts on the January transfer window from a players perspective?
LS: It’s not easy to move in January because you have to move in a period where it’s not made for that. If you have kids, you have to change schools. Fitness wise you have to adapt to a new club and a new setting. If you go abroad it’s adapting to a new culture and new language. Players like Vidic and Evra took three to four months to adapt before they became the players we now know them as. Only Bruno Fernandes is the only one I can think of that had an instant impact. Manchester United needs players that can have an instant impact to improve the squad and that’s so hard to do in January.
MB: Your former teammate Rio Ferdinand defended Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to the Saudi league – what are your thoughts on the move?
LS: I’m a bit disappointed because I want to see my mate enjoy his football but selfishly I want to see him play for a team where I can easily watch the games! The guy is such an icon and amazing player that so many kids around the world will be finding a way to watch the Saudi league. I am frustrated because the way this story ended with Ronaldo and United was horrendous. I can’t understand it because I don’t think he has been supported. People are saying that he was making things more difficult but he joined the club at a time when it was not in good shape at all. Cristiano was the best player and tremendous last year and for the first time in his entire career he asked for some support and he was not afforded it. Everyone was waiting for him to fail. Now, I just want to see him enjoying his football and being the enormous icon in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and Asia for so many people. What Rio was saying, many people are underestimating the Saudi league. Their team just beat Argentina and there’s a lot going on in the Middle East in football now – the game is growing there now.
MB: He had made it clear on the Piers Morgan interview that he wanted to play in the Champions League, so why did none of those teams sign Ronaldo?
LS: We’ll never know what his agents were negotiating behind the scenes, so we don’t know, but Cristiano can improve any club both on and off the pitch. Commercially, there is no one bigger. But on the pitch, he does have to be managed a bit, and the interview did not help him and his legacy at all. People are talking about his age and how maybe his fitness isn’t as good as it was but it’s not fair. People forget that last year, the club was not playing well at all. People were blaming him when he was scoring goals, while Rashford wasn’t playing well, Martial either wasn’t playing well or was injured. Also Maguire was making mistakes, De Gea was making mistakes, everyone was making mistakes. Bruno was not himself. But still Ronaldo was criticised? He had no support, so maybe moving away from Europe, where he wasn’t being supported is a good thing for him.
MB: Newcastle’s great form continues under Eddie Howe – can they finish in the top four?
LS: When you look at their recent games and their momentum and the way they are playing, of course they can make the top four. The future is in their hands. Of course United is doing well and can fight with Newcastle for that spot, but it’s all about consistency for Newcastle and staying healthy and making sure to stay focused. Time will tell but I think experience is very important at this point. By the time we get to April there will have been a lot of tough decisions and tight games, and they have to get through that. They are defending brilliantly and need to keep that up to finish in the top four.
MB: Spurs have struggled since the restart and Antonio Conte has been vocal in the media, with some fans starting to criticise the Italian – is it time for both parties to move on soon?
LS: For me, Conte is the right man for the job at Tottenham. He has the right mentality, he is a winner and he’s very honest. He’s not happy and he’s not trying to play any games with the fans. He’s trying to show them that the board need to be questioned. There has been three elite managers in Pochettino, Mourinho and Conte and why is it always the manager that gets the blame? I don’t know what their strategy is in the transfer market, he seems to want experiences players but the club wants younger players. When you want guaranteed success, you need to go for experienced, talented players but you have to pay for them, and the club don’t seem to want to do that. Maybe thats where the frustration is coming from for Conte, that he’s not being listened to. It’s tough for Tottenham because they deserve to be higher up, and watching Arsenal at the top of the table must be very tough.
MB: There’s a lot of anti ENIC/ownership sentiment amongst Spurs fans at the moment – do you think the ownership are to blame for Spurs not kicking on and winning trophies in recent years?
LS: Everyone knows that football is about both what happens on the pitch and also in the board room. If things aren’t working in the back end then it’s very hard to have any success. They have done a tremendous job in terms of innovation, the stadium, the infrastructure, but what is missing is always being mentioned by the managers, and that’s a lack of backing for the on field product. Mourinho and Conte have won everywhere they have been and they were saying the same thing, that they have no support. Yes there is the commercial aspect of football, and this is how they grow and survive, but since they reached the final in the Champions League, they have definitely made mistakes.
MB: Michael Carrick is doing an impressive job at Middlesborough. Do you see him a person who could be a future United manager?
LS: He was the type of player when you first meet him you may not realise he would be a great manager because he was quiet and wasn’t very vocal, but he is a very smart lad. He is a great learner and he loves to be involved in learning from the best. He analyses things very quickly and he is great at understanding people’s strengths and weaknesses. He was given a lot of advice from Sir Alex so why can’t he manage Man United one day? I’m sure that will be his motivation.