Louis Saha interview: Frenchman shares thoughts on former clubs

Louis Saha interview: Frenchman shares thoughts on former clubs

Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford for the first time since being sacked a year ago when Tottenham take on Manchester United in the Premier League on Wednesday night.

In an exclusive bwin interview, Louis Saha shares his thoughts on the game between two of his former clubs.

The former France international also discusses the fortunes of Everton, whether Fulham can return to the Premier League and latest developments in the top flight of English football.

Manchester United vs Tottenham

Who do you think will win?

The game will be very difficult to call but with Mourinho at the helm, Tottenham have the edge. United can beat any team on their day but they are currently struggling to play with freedom and Tottenham will be too strong for them.

If United are to have a chance, they need Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to perform and take advantage of Tottenham’s defensive issues. When Rashford and Martial find space in one-on-one situations, they are deadly. The problem is they don’t seem to do it enough.

Also, United are too predictable with the way they play so Mourinho will be able to set up his team to stop them. Still, Tottenham will need to be on their best form to reduce the number opportunities for Rashford. He is a really top player, very active, so it’s really hard to defend against.

Do you think the result is more important for Man United or Tottenham at this stage of the season?

[Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer could lose his job if he doesn’t win against Tottenham, so the result of this game is bigger for Manchester United than it is for Tottenham. Mourinho has just signed and isn’t in any sort of danger of losing his job, he has come off the back of three wins and will have developed confidence with the fans and his squad.

United have been struggling now for four or five years and they need to find the momentum and confidence to start bringing the fear factor back to Old Trafford. A result against a big team always helps breed confidence, aggressiveness and consistency which will be incredibly important for this Man United team for the rest of the season.

What kind of reception do you think Jose Mourinho will get at Old Trafford?

Mourinho will get a good reception. He left the club with respect and the United fans will appreciate him for that. When he was at United, he gave his all, he made mistakes but I think a lot of the failures during his time were down to the players as well as him, so there is no reason for the fans to give him a bad reception.

Looking back, do you think he actually overachieved at Man United considering the squad that he had and were Man United too quick to get rid of him?

Mourinho did a good job at Man United but it was the right time for them to part ways; he wasn’t the right man to rebuild Man United. He won trophies and picked up results but some players were afraid of him and that affected the spirit in the camp. As a footballer, that can be really damaging. You can see that when Solskjaer came in, that was something that changed almost immediately.

Man United needed someone with a long-term vision who could rebuild the side, get the academy running in a certain way and bring back a style of play that the players felt really comfortable with. Mourinho had the winning mentality to get short-term results but he probably wasn’t the right man for the job that Manchester United needed.

Do you think Man United should be approaching Mauricio Pochettino to take over in the summer?

Mauricio Pochettino would be a great appointment for Manchester United but any manager in the world would struggle to achieve results with this squad. That’s why I think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is still the best person for Man United.

He has a rebuilding job, and improving doesn’t necessarily mean getting right to the top. He knows Man United. He needs to get this team playing the United way again and most importantly needs to connect them with the fans. Any other manager would find the challenge too difficult.

Manchester United

What do you make of Man United’s start to the season so far?

Manchester United’s start to the season has been difficult to watch, there is no fear factor and the team’s approach has been all wrong in some games. When you look at the team, it looks completely different to what a Man United team used to be; the team looks like 11 individuals rather than a group playing together.

When I was playing, even though there were a lot of cliques, there was a solid group of players that stuck together and that created team spirit. You need characters to hold the team together and react positively.

Solskjaer’s toughest job is bringing the spirit back to Manchester United and that has started already. But Man United isn’t an academy, it is one of the greatest football clubs in the world so they need to start delivering strong performances and results.

What would be considered a successful season for Man United at this stage?

The best that Man United can achieve this season is Champions League qualification but that’s going to be incredibly unlikely for them to achieve at this stage of the season.

If they are going to have a successful season, United need to discover some momentum, a spirit and identity and a level of consistency to start delivering results. At the moment, United are a long way away from this; they need to take a look at themselves, accept the criticism and work to turn results around. I am sure that Ole and the boys are working hard towards that.

Man United face Tottenham and Man City this week.  Do you think they’ll be able to take any points from those fixtures?

Man United can beat any team in Europe on their day and I’m confident they can win both games this week against Tottenham and Man City. To get anything out of the games, they need to start strongly and stick to a game plan. Then it comes down to determination and application. United have a young team but this is as good opportunity as anything to stand up and show their quality against Tottenham and Man City.

If they struggle against Tottenham and Man City, do you think that Man United are in danger of finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League table come the end of the season?

If Man United lose to both Tottenham and Man City, there is every possibility that they could finish in the bottom half of the table. In the Premier League, you need to be consistent and keep going the extra mile; you need to draw games that you are set to lose and win games that you are drawing.

This United team needs to start building momentum and a win against a big club can create that. If United take maximum points from the games this week, they have a chance to do something with their season but if they don’t get a win they will struggle for confidence which will make it harder for them improve throughout the season.

Do you think Solskjaer is the man to take Man United forward?

Solskjaer is the man to take Man United forward, he has a big job to do and he needs time to make that happen. He needs more buy in from the players themselves, they need to be willing to run more kilometres than anyone else, make those tackles and interceptions, work hard for each other and then the results will come. That is the first part of the job. If the team can do that, they will start getting the results under Solskjaer and fortunes will start to change.

Is Solskjaer right to play his young players in the Europa League?

Solskjaer has shown that he is courageous by using the Europa League to play his youngsters. Solskjaer will be under pressure to get results but it is clear that he cares about the future of United and wants to develop a long-term plan that is committed to United’s traditions of developing youth. It’s very important that he develops a philosophy, every player at United needs to know who they represent.

How highly do you rate Marcus Rashford and does he have the qualities to become one of Man United’s all-time great strikers?

Marcus Rashford has all the qualities to become one of Man United’s all-time greatest strikers, the only thing that is holding him back is the lack of competition in the squad. The boy has it all. He’s super-fast, he’s great on the ball, he is unpredictable, plays on instinct like all great strikers and can win you games on his own. He has the kind of drive that Man United are famous for. He is also already performing on an international level which is incredible.

The lack of competition around him will be a problem for his own development as, ultimately, this is what is going to motivate him and push him to become a better player. But for someone of his quality, even without the competition, he is good enough to achieve greatness and is now at a stage where he can reach 30 goals a season.

How big of a boost is it for Man United to have Paul Pogba back from injury?

Paul Pogba is a world-class player; any team would miss him and it is no surprise that Man United have struggled without him. For me, he is United’s main asset. He is a confident player, he understands the tactical game, motivates those around him with his presence and has the charisma to take the team up a level. Paul Pogba is absolutely vital for Ole’s plan and it will be a massive boost to have him back from injury.

How impressed have you been with the performance of Scott McTominay this season?

Scott McTominay is an amazing talent and has to be one of United’s stand-out player so far this season. He still needs time to flourish but he is a power house in central midfield. He can run all day and has the ability to pick a final pass. Most importantly, he plays with aggression which is so important for a player in his position. When you have McTominay pressing on the field, it creates a quick turnover and allows more opportunities for United’s attacking players to cause havoc where it matters most.

What do you make of United’s summer signings Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James and the impact they’ve had on the team?

Out of all United’s summer signings, I’ve been most impressed with Daniel James; he has come in and done a brilliant job at Man United. He’s already very important to the side as he is a consistent player, he provides a constant threat. He is still learning, you can’t compare him to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or even Nani yet, but he has the quality to become a very important player for United in the future.

I’ve also been impressed by Harry Maguire but for me he isn’t a world-class defender yet like Rio Ferdinand or [Nemanja] Vidic. He still has a lot to improve on but he is a top defender who has come into the team and helped make a difference.

How important is Anthony Martial to Man United?

Anthony Martial is instrumental for Man United but the team are too reliant on him, he needs time to learn and develop his game to become an even better player. Like with Rashford, the lack of competition is will effect Martial.

When I was at United, I had so much competition from the likes of Ji-sung Park, Carlos Tevez, Nani, Cristiano and [Wayne] Rooney. We all pushed each other on to become better players but we also knew that each player had a different energy they could bring to the team.

At the moment, United are too reliant on Rashford and Martial so they don’t have time to develop and learn the game because if they don’t play, United have no attacking threat.

Tottenham

Tottenham have had a revival under Jose Mourinho. Are you surprised with the job he’s doing already?

I’m not surprised at all by the great job Mourinho is doing at Tottenham, it was a perfect match. Tottenham are a very strong team with brilliant players in every department; you have to remember that they were a team who reached the Champions League final last year.

We know what Mourinho is like when he works with a strong team, he will bring the best out of them. He doesn’t have to focus on coaching – these players know how to play football together, they just need confidence and Mourinho is perfect for that. He is the best manager when it comes to knowing what needs to be done to win trophies, so he is the right manager to bring a winning mentality to Spurs.

Do you think Tottenham can still finish in the top four this season?

Tottenham have made it difficult for themselves but they can still finish in the top four this season. We saw last year with United when they changed manager and went on a 10-game winning streak, things can change quickly. Tottenham are capable of doing this under Mourinho and that will put them in a really strong position.

Do you think with all of his European experience Tottenham can go one better than last year and win the Champions League this year?

Mourinho is an exceptional manager and he can help Tottenham win the Champions League this season. Last year, Tottenham surprised themselves by getting to the Champions League final and it will be very difficult for them to repeat that, but Mourinho can do exceptional things and can achieve things that don’t look likely.

Can Tottenham challenge the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City for the Premier League title under Mourinho next season?

Mourinho will have Tottenham challenging Liverpool and Man City for the Premier League title next season. They already have the players but Mourinho will bring the experience, the tactical awareness and the stability to take them up a level.

Harry Kane is the best striker in Europe and he is supported by the likes of [Heung-min] Son and Dele Alli who are tremendous players. With those three players, Tottenham have enormous power to achieve great things.

What went wrong for Mauricio Pochettino and do you think Tottenham were wrong to sack him after the success he’d brought to the club?

After what Pochettino achieved at Tottenham, it was harsh for Tottenham to sack him, he deserved more time. In football, people are quick to point blame at the manager but he did a tremendous job at the club and he took them to another level.

He was going through a bad moment and the chairman was quick to act. But that is football. Tottenham now have a manager in Mourinho who knows what it takes to win games and how to win competitions. Sometimes clubs need a change to bring back confidence and it seems to be working under Mourinho.

Where does Harry Kane rank in the list of all-time Premier League goalscorers?

Harry is a striker that has surpassed my expectation. When I was at Tottenham, he was good but he has developed into the most instrumental striker in Europe. He is phenomenal.

Dele Alli has already discovered his form under Jose Mourinho. Is he still one of the best midfielders in the league? 

Dele Alli is playing brilliantly under Mourinho but I think the criticism that he faced earlier in the season was harsh, the only thing that was missing from his game was goals.

People can get very focused on some players and pick up on small things to criticise them. Alli was struggling in front of goal but all other aspects of his game were still there. He was working hard for the team but people don’t pay attention to that. He’s not a robot, he will go through periods where he won’t score goals.

Tottenham have a number of key players out of contract this summer, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen. How important is it for them to keep them at the club?

It is very important for Mourinho to keep the like of Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Eriksen at the club. They are strong core players and can all still bring something to the club.

Tottenham need to find a way of keeping them as it will be difficult to find better replacements. With Eriksen, Mourinho has the opportunity to put everything that has happened in the past, make him the maestro again and revitalise his performances. He is a brilliant player and is someone that Tottenham should be looking to keep hold of.

Which player have you been most impressed with at Tottenham this season?

Son is the one player that I have been most impressed with . The way he has been playing has been incredible. He runs all day for the team, but at the same time he always seems to be free and in good positions. He’s just a very clever player and is a joy to watch. I’m an admirer of his fair play as well.

Former Fulham player Ryan Sessegnon has struggled for first-team action this year. Do you think Sessegnon will be given more opportunities under Mourinho? 

Ryan Sessegnon has the opportunity to progress under Mourinho and kick-start his career at Tottenham. Every manager will come in and want to make their own mark on the team and Sessegnon has the opportunity to take advantage and show his talent. He has all the qualities and skills to help Tottenham, he can give them something different and refreshing.

Everton

How surprised have you been with Everton’s start to the season?

After spending a lot of money in the summer, Everton’s start to the season is surprising and saddening. Goodison Park is usually such a fortress and they need to get that back.

The club has seen some major investments in terms of players, stadium and infrastructure, backed by their heavy club history, and they should be flying high in the Premier League, instead of sitting just above the relegation zone. They will need to evolve in order to change their fate this season, but I am confident they can overturn their current form and become a force in the Premier League again.

How much did the weekend result against Leicester improve Marco Silva’s chances of staying in the Everton job?

Marco Silva needs to work fast and take the confidence from the Leicester game into every game moving forward. Everton can’t afford to lose any more games. The table moves quickly but Everton and Marco Silva need to get the results to move up the table.

The spirit shown over the weekend was great to see but Everton must be more clinical, they can’t afford to let people off easily and their midfield is too weak at the moment. Looking forward to Everton’s fixtures against Liverpool & Chelsea, any manager would struggle but Silva needs to build on the Leicester performance. Two or three good results could take Everton back up to the top half of the Premier League table, but they need to work hard to get these results.

How important are the big games against Liverpool and Chelsea?

The next two games against Liverpool and Chelsea are make or break for Everton, a result against both teams will raise confidence and lift them through the rest of the season. Everton will need determination, confidence, and a bit of luck if they are going to win. The discussions behind closed doors will bring confidence and trust in every player that they can get the job done and that is what they need going into two important games.

Eddie Howe has been linked with the Everton job, do you think he’d make a good replacement to Silva?

I’d like to see Silva still managing Everton for the next few months, or at least wait until the big games are out the way and then the board should decide.

Eddie has done an incredible job at Bournemouth but moving to a different club is a completely different animal; it will be difficult challenge. It’s logical to wait until after Everton have played the big upcoming games before making any sort of decision.

David Moyes has also been linked with Everton, do you see him returning?

David Moyes coming back to Everton would be a logical move. Moyes had the spirit, aggressiveness and skill when he was at Everton previously and he did a great job with the club. Since he left, the club has continued to grow and now attracts better players. With the players that Everton have now, David Moyes would do a brilliant job.

How would you assess the current Everton squad; where do you think are the problems?

This Everton squad is experiencing problems but the players have the quality to overcome them and have a good season. At the moment, the team isn’t decisive enough in attack. Defensively, they need to press better and recover the ball quicker. They need a solid base to get the best out of their attacking players; they played well against Leicester with five defenders and they should keep that formation moving forward.

How big of a blow is Andre Gomes’ injury?

Andre Gomes is integral to Everton and his injury would have been a double blow that would have been felt across the team. Firstly, Gomes is important in the way that Everton play. His injury means they’re lacking leadership in midfield, which is a worry for a team with such a weak midfield at the moment. But it is also the psychological blow to the team, the effect of his injury would have had an effect on the whole squad.

Are you disappointed with Moise Kean’s starts for Everton?

I’m disappointed with Moise Kean’s start to the season but he will improve; he needs more game time though for that to happen. At the moment, Everton need the results so Silva can’t afford to give him the game-time that he needs.

Coming from Italy to England means a change in intensity and style and it will have been difficult for Kean to adapt but I’m sure the staff at Everton will be supporting his development and building his confidence.

How important is Alex Iwobi for Everton?

Alex Iwobi was a massive signing for Everton and he will be very important for Everton’s success. He is an intelligent player, but there is room for improvement. He needs to be more clinical and consistent, only then will we see his true quality.

Everton boss Marco Silva

Fulham

Will Scott Parker lead Fulham to automatic promotion?

Scott Parker has done a brilliant job at Fulham, he is one of the most exciting young English managers and looks destined to take Fulham back up to the Premier League where they belong. Parker has always been a leader, is very professional and has taken time to learn the game. I’m not surprised to see him doing so well at Fulham.

How impressed have you been Aleksander Mitrovic and can you see him leaving Fulham in January?

Aleksander Mitrovic is an amazing striker, he’s been brilliant for Fulham this season. He reminds me of Yakubu while I was at Everton, feed him and he will score every time. If Fulham want to gain promotion, they need to keep hold of him; if they sell him in January, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.

Saying that, Mitrovic would have attracted a lot of attention from Premier League clubs; the top five clubs already have great strikers but he would walk into any other club in the league. For me, the best option for Mitrovic is to stay at Fulham, score more goals and look to get a better transfer in the summer.

Premier League

Can anyone stop Liverpool winning the Premier League?

The only club that can stop Liverpool winning the Premier League are Liverpool themselves. Manchester City are struggling defensively, they need to sign a defender or two to have any chance of challenging. Leicester are playing brilliant football and are Liverpool’s main challengers, but the title is Liverpool’s to lose.

Do you think this could be Pep Guardiola’s last season at Manchester City?

This could be Pep’s last season at Man City. If Guardiola doesn’t see himself getting anywhere with Manchester City, he could make the decision to leave. He could be tempted to another project. Whatever happens, he has had a huge impact on the Premier League and to lose him would be a blow for the Premier League as whole.

How impressed are you with Frank Lampard at Chelsea?

Frank Lampard is doing an amazing job at Chelsea; it is crystal clear what he is trying to achieve and his players are seeing the benefit. He’s brought the best out of his players. Players like Jorginho and [N’Golo] Kante are now playing with life and that is down to Frank. He’s also brought through the youth which is very important for a club like Chelsea.

Lampard has also shown that it is important to take your time in management. Your first job as a manager is so important and Lampard got off to a great start at Derby. Of course, they are a different animal to Chelsea but he proved himself there and gained the confidence to manage. For such a small squad, Lampard has done very well.

Who do you think will come in as the next Arsenal manager?

I would love to see Patrick Vieira as Arsenal’s next manager; there are other contenders for the job but none as suitable as him. I’m not saying that because he is my friend, he has done a great job in management over the years. He has the heart of an Arsenal player and that’s what the club needs. He is the perfect fit for this Arsenal squad.

I’ve always been surprised that more ex-Arsenal players haven’t been involved with Arsenal as coaches under [Arsene] Wenger. When I saw Patrick at Man City, it didn’t make any sense to me – he would have been perfect at Arsenal. I used to hate Arsenal and that was because of Patrick and his team-mates; they were impossible to play against. Arsenal need that character back and he would be the best fit to take Arsenal forward.

Leicester have had a brilliant start to the season under Brendan Rodgers, can they challenge Liverpool for the Premier League title?

Leicester are the only team that could challenge Liverpool for the Premier League title. Brendan Rodgers has done a tremendous job at Leicester, he has created a tremendous chemistry.

There is a great team spirit running through the team. You can see from when the whole team celebrated {Kelechi] Iheanacho’s goal against Everton together. Their spirit shows amazing emotion and you can see that the squad is working really hard together, on and off the pitch.

Which Premier League club needs to strengthen the most in the January transfer window?

Manchester United are the Premier League team that need to strengthen the most in the January transfer window and they should look at signing Edinson Cavani from PSG. They need to bring in players to challenge the existing players and create competition; Cavani would push Rashford and Martial and make them even better.  Sir Alex [Ferguson] didn’t like signing players in the January transfer window but times are different now; United need to strengthen sooner rather than later.

Who would you like to see join the Premier League in January?

I would love to see Cavani join the Premier League in January; he would be a great signing for Manchester United. I’d also love to see Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho or Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti; they would both fit right into the Premier League.

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