Louis Saha is a Premier League legend with 288 appearances and 88 goals.
Playing with footballing icons such as Ronaldo and Ruud Van Nistlerooy, Saha has won the Premier League, the Champions League and the Football League cup.
Saha sat down and spoke to 101greatgoals.com about his thoughts on Manchester United’s current struggles, how Cristiano Ronaldo is impacting the current squad and how long it will take the Red Devils to get back to the summit of the Premier League.
Why do you think United have chosen Carrick over Mike Phelan?
I don’t know on that! It could be that Mike expressed that he did not want to be considered. It doesn’t surprise me that Carrick has been given the role.
What was Carrick like in training? Did he show any managerial qualities?
Yes, he was always a very smart lad. He was eager to learn and he’s very patient in the way he goes about things. He doesn’t create any mayhem and he’s very diplomatic. He’s perhaps not the most vocal but he’s very analytical and was always analysing everything – you can see he always wanted to learn and on he learned from the very best so he’s a great asset for the club.
What did you make of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking? Who do you think should be the next permanent manager?
I was very sad, he showed that he is a good manager during his time in charge. Ultimately, he was not able to deliver exactly what the fans wanted to see and, in some ways, perhaps he was too stubborn from changing some of his methods. It’s so hard in that position though with that much pressure. In the end, when you lose against Liverpool and Watford the way they did there’s probably no other outcome.
He will still do his best to support the club, but I feel for him.
In terms of the next manager, there is speculation on Pochettino, Valverde and Zidane amongst others. They are all big names, but my personal choice would be Zidane due to his pedigree as a manager, not just because he was a great player – that’s not enough alone.
Management wise, he’s one of the best, one of the only world class players to become a world class manager. He’d be the obvious choice in my eyes, but he’s not publicly made any statement and reportedly those close to him said he was not interested. It’s not the most promising in that respect but who knows.
I know he wants to win; he wants to take over great challenges and United is a perfect place to progress as a manager. He’d be great for the Premier League if he joined.
Where can United finish this season? Top four predictions?
Because the Premier League is a marathon, I still believe they can pick up form and go on a run. And when they do, they will be unstoppable because those front 4 players are one of the best in the Premier League. Of course, they will need to defend and ensure there’s the right balance.
But when they eventually find the right formula and things click – especially in their heads where are the minute there’s too much over thinking – when it becomes natural, those players are unstoppable.
On their game, no-one can touch that front four or five. Martial, when he’s on top form, he is unplayable. Putting them all in the right position and conditions and they’ll fly. But it comes back to humility and mindset. I’m sure they’re confident guys but they need to have the mindset of doing the things they don’t like to work hard for the team.
Chelsea vs Manchester United prediction?
It’s going to be very hard for United. Especially after Chelsea’s result against Juventus. Chelsea are finishing everyone off at the minute and not even with a full strength squad – they are unbelievable.
They’ve got Lukaku on the bench so imagine what they’ll be like when he’s back? The team shows a lot of strength, they work as a unit so it will be very difficult for United to get a result.
United haven’t won a trophy for 3 seasons now – when do you think the next one will be?
When you look at the additions made this summer, you would have thought this would have been the season. They’ve made a few semi-finals, a final but they’re in a bad patch at the moment.
However, as bad as things look, they’re not that far off. In terms of winning trophies, this season is definitely possible and for the League, I’d say they’re another one or two seasons away from the title coming back to Old Trafford.
What do you make of Roy Keane’s criticism of Harry Maguire?
I think there has been some fair criticism, what’s surprised me is what appears to be a lack of internal criticism within the squad. It seems like nobody within the United camp is calling anyone out for poor performances. I would have liked Ole to create that.
Players who act like leaders with a lot of years under their belts aren’t calling others out and it can have a positive outcome.
I think that’s why Roy Keane is very harsh as he knows everyone makes mistakes, players missing chances, having poor performances and you feel pain. But it’s more about the attitude and not simply accepting the result.
At the minute it seems players let things slide saying oh its ok – no, it’s not OK! I feel really uncomfortable about that and maybe that’s why some of the fans are frustrated.
It’s also why Roy Keane, who was the heart and soul of the spirit at United when I was there, is fuming with Maguire. I really do believe it’s not against him personally, but the overall team and it’s why I think overall it’s fair. Maybe it seems harsh because it’s against an individual, but Maguire is the captain and representative of the club. Keane’s criticism is I believe directed predominantly on the whole group.
Who do you believe will win the Premier League?
Liverpool and Chelsea look the strongest, but there’s City as well. The Premier League is so competitive this year and as it’s a marathon it can go to any of them. And it’s painful for me to say but Liverpool looks the strongest of them all. They have such a good system and can cope with injuries like the others can’t. They have such a strong strike force too.
What do you make of Arsenal this season, and can they finish in the top four?
I still don’t believe they can. It’s great they’ve picked up some form, but you can see they are still fragile and when they are pushed to the wire, they struggle. The overall quality of the squad still isn’t there, but you can see the project going a clear direction and that Arteta is picking things up. But the Premier League standard now is so high, I don’t see how they can make the top 4.
It’s all about consistency – you can’t play well for three or four games, beating teams you should and make it in like you used to.
With Newcastle now boasting the wealthiest owners in world football, what realistic signings do you think they should be going for?
The best strategy for Newcastle (If I was running it), would be to loan players. Top players who want games and aren’t getting the most game time at the minute. They can definitely find those, and it will help with the transition. You can’t go out signing world class players with the situation they’re in, fighting relegation. Those players wouldn’t perhaps be the best option anyway as they won’t be used to the stresses of a relegation battle.
For now, they need to simply focus on avoiding relegation as no top player will want to join a Championship side. The Winter transfer window is very tricky too. I can’t see a huge amount of business there.
I worry for Newcastle, and I can certainly understand why they are amongst the favourites to go down at present.
With the World Cup a year away, who are your early favourites to win the trophy?
When you look at the French squad, with their strike force and midfield it’s scary. You’ve got N’Golo Kante, Mbappe, Pogba, it’s not just because I’m French but they are so strong, they look unbelievable and are the clear favourites to win it in my eyes.
Some are blaming Cristiano Ronaldo’s addition at centre-forward for United’s struggles this season. Do you think the change of system to accommodate Ronaldo was too much for the team to handle?
For me that’s ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous statement. The players are all professionals, some are world class, and they are here to improve, and they need to adapt. I don’t see how a world class player on the pitch is a negative.
It’s impossible to say Ronaldo is at fault. Maybe you could make a case for tweaking a few things tactically and finding a way to get other players working a little harder but that’s part of your job as player and as a coach.
I just don’t get it. In terms of mentality if you’re not prepared to do the work for the team, when you know that alongside you, you have a guaranteed goal scorer who is going to keep scoring goals, then there has to be a lack of humility with those players.
It’s frustrating to see that some critics from the outside people keep using Ronaldo’s name against the team. He’s not the problem – trust me.
Given your experience with Ronaldo, what advice would you give to Rashford, Greenwood and Martial about how best to play with him?
They need to focus on their own game and try to improve, whether it’s on creating chances and/or their ratio of scoring goals. They need to all relax and believe. There will be bad moments and bad patches, but there’s not enough relaxation about the overall situation – they seem to be forcing it.
When you have a player like Ronaldo in your squad, you can rely on him. It can help you with confidence and your performance. The mindset should be, ‘if he doesn’t score then that can happen to me’.
That was my approach when playing with Van Nistlerooy. I said to myself this guy is a machine, if he doesn’t score, then that can happen to me too. So, I knew I had to work hard to create my chances and eventually I will have confidence, score goals and win games.
The whole thing comes down to humility. There will be patches where it’s Greenwood, sometimes Martial, sometimes Rashford, could even be all four of them, including Ronaldo. Extraordinary things happen but there needs to be humility and working hard for the team, no matter how you’re feeling as a player.
If you were advising Luis Diaz on the prospect of signing for Everton what you say to him about playing at Goodison Park in terms of atmosphere and the support of Toffees fans?
Everton is a great family club, I felt welcome, I felt like they wanted to win trophies. They’ve got a great squad and he will improve as a player by joining them. He will feel enough under pressure as Everton have high standards, they want to see commitment from their players and team spirit.
As a player who has so much quality, like Richarlison, he’ll do well there. I’d recommend any player to go to England and experience Goodison Park, it’s unbelievable.
How good a partnership can Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison be? Do you think under Benitez they could fulfil their ambitions with Everton, or would they have to move away to reach their potential?
I think it depends, you look at the squad and you can see they have the capacity to do a lot of damage. The players are still young, and it could be that they have ambitions to join even bigger clubs later down the line. But they need to prove their worth first.
Those two players have the squad around them to click and in many leagues a partnership of those two would be enough to win trophies. But the Premier League is so hard, it will be difficult for them.
They’re both hugely talented players and so I do worry that it may be that they’ll have their heads turned in due course and perhaps their long-term futures at other, so-called bigger clubs.
You made some great comments about Ole bringing back the spirit of United to the club – is there a manager out there you would nominate with the same humility willing to adjust his tactics to keep to the traditions of the club?
It’s important to have right people there to keep the club traditions alive. Manchester United is such a big institution you need people there to understand that and use it as a strength.
I see the staff Ole had, but I didn’t and don’t see an obvious figure to confront the board, to confront the players saying they’re not happy with certain things.
Of course, I’m not at the club every day, I don’t know the specific ins and outs, but they need to have clear leaders who speak the truth. Looking back on his time in charge, I believe the biggest mistake Ole did was not speaking out enough, calling people out.