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bet365 exclusive interview with Louis Saha

Ahead of the return of the Premier League, the team at bet365 sat down and spoke with two-time Premier League winner Louis Saha for his thoughts on Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo, Erik ten Hag and Everton under Frank Lampard.

You've had the privilege of playing for some of the best teams in the country - who is the best player you have played with?

I think it has to be Cristiano Ronaldo for obvious reasons.

What do you make of his situation at Manchester United at the minute? Best for him to leave or stay?

He made it clear he wants to go, otherwise his actions and communication would have told another story. His priority should be to help Manchester United, and this doesn't appear to be the case at the moment.

His dream is clearly the Champions League, and nobody can disrespect him for that, but he hasn't shown enough towards the Manchester United project and the current manager for my liking, it's not great.

Pre-season is for all players. I don't know his personal problems, but I don't think it's appropriate to start like this with a new manager and a new project.

He's still a top player and he can help the team massively, there's no doubt about that - that's why Manchester United want to keep him - but he hasn't shown the right attitude in my opinion.

If he were to leave, where can you see him going?

His demands require a club in the Champions League, but there aren't many teams that can provide him with the stature and facilities he wants. He can't just join anyone, it's a tough one.

His project, his life, he's got family as well to move, I know his children are playing for Manchester United too, all these things will have to be considered when you make a decision to leave.

I don't want to speculate because he's a terrific player, that's all I want to think about. If he doesn't want to stay at the club because the project isn't good enough for him then that's on him.

Erik ten Hag has come in and the performances, albeit in pre-season have looked good.

Should United just cut their losses and sell Ronaldo?

Yeah, if he doesn't want to play for the club anymore, you have to get rid of him. He didn't participate in the tour; he's not been in training, so you have to show discipline. He's a world class player so maybe his circumstances are unique but there is a limit to what you can take.

The group needs to gel, it's not an individual sport. I'm the biggest supporter of Cristiano, I understand his priorities but at some point, the disruption has to stop. You have to make a decision and I'm keen to see how it all plays out.

Do you think Erik ten Hag has got what it takes to build a successful project at Old Trafford?

I think for now he's not made many mistakes. His communication, maybe some people will dislike it, but they're not in his position and you can't please everybody. There'll be people claiming he should say this, he should do that, but I don't think that's appropriate until he's had a good few months under his belt.

These players seem to respond really well to his training, the toughness is back, there's a new atmosphere that's one of focus and to work hard. This is what we want to see as Man United fans. We want to see commitment, energy, passion and creativity. Players like Martial and Rashford can benefit from him massively.

The project itself is a long term one, pre-season has gone OK but it's nothing. What we want to see is how these players react under the massive pressure of the Premier League.

What needs solving first is the Ronaldo situation as he's a huge asset for the club and very important.

What are your impressions of him as a Manchester United manager?

I really like him, I would have loved to play under him. He seems to be very strong in his beliefs but seems to listen and enjoy helping players to create. Those players need to work hard and enjoy their football.

There is a good balance from what I've seen lately. The players are full of energy and seem to have no second thoughts about what they are doing on the pitch. His body language shows that he will be on your back if you don't have the courage to do things. As a striker over the years, sometimes it was too comfortable at clubs.

People weren't aggressive enough when you miss a chance and then players would live off their status and not improve because of that attitude. It was not like this under Ferguson, whatever trophies the players had won before didn't matter. You had to play for him week in week out. From what I've seen in pre-season, that attitude is similar under Ten Hag.

How do you think that Ten Hag has dealt with the Ronaldo situation? 

It hasn't been easy, but he's done his part so far. The players look as if they are working as a team better and they have conceded fewer goals. But Cristiano has been the hard part because you maybe have to look for a replacement.

I don't know what's been said between them, obviously, the manager is going to say, 'I'll build the best team around you.' if he wants him to remain. He's won everything so it's normal for him to say that he wants more because that's his standard.

At 37 he will be thinking about his legacy, and he will want to add to it. So, it's difficult for a new manager to deal with because of the biggest player disrupting things. But he can score 25 plus goals for him, he wasn’t helped last year but if you get the right team around him, he will score. If the manager can convince him to get on board, they have a fantastic chance at success.

If you are an outsider looking in, do you think the Frankie De Jong situation is embarrassing for United?

He's not in a small club, he's at Barca. You have to respect that and there is apparently a family aspect as well. The salary situation has also been discussed in the media. We don't know all those answers but from what I heard people are not happy about how it's been done, it's a difficult situation to judge.

If he was at a smaller club, it would be more embarrassing, but because it's Barca you can see why any player would want to stay, particularly an established one who has been there for a few years and is happy. The situation may change but I don't think it's embarrassing, it's just not nice because it's been dragged out and doesn't help the manager's plans. He wants a connection between these players.

None of us are sure about what's been said, it's not like he dislikes United, he probably just likes it at Barcelona. I understand that the press has been talking, the entourage is talking, and it has become very messy. When I played it was easier to manage transfer situations like this because there was less social media, less interaction with agents etc.

Martial’s form in pre-season has been good, can he be successful this year?

I really hope so. There's no guarantee, talent is one thing, but you need to work really hard, you need to have luck with the company around you, he's got everything there, the manager has shown he likes his style, and he can fit in really well.

There's going to be many games this season, he's a massive asset: technically strong, he just needs to look at his body language on the pitch sometimes, because that's an area he gets criticised for.

Many players have had a similar trajectory to him in that previously written off players can reach new heights under a new manager that nobody would expect. Let's hope this is the case for Martial and also Rashford as when they're at their best, they can destroy any defence.

We previously spoke about Anthony Martial being unplayable on his day. Why do you think it hasn’t quite worked out for him recently?

You see frustration in any player who hasn't been playing to the level they know they can. In a World Cup year, he needs to work hard, try his best, be humble and I'm sure he'll be back.

He went to Sevilla to change people's perceptions, but it didn't work out for him, so coming back with a different mentality will be helpful for him. He's worked really hard in pre-season, I've not heard anything from them, they all seem very focused, they know the season is long and that in November they all want to be playing in the World Cup.

Him and Rashford will be like two new signings.

Rashford spoke about how important this pre-season has been for him, how important is it for players to get a full pre-season under the belt?

It's massive. That's why I'm so optimistic for this season. I've seen the hard work and heard about the players complaining about the intensity and I can see there's a plan and that it's being understood.

So, all those players who struggled last year may have found a new energy and direction. Having an interim manager is not helpful because you know they're not going to be there for a very long time, so it's an issue.

Now there are no excuses for the players, there's a long-term plan, a manager who seems very strong in his ideas and who doesn't indicate any weaknesses in terms of how strong he's going to be in his philosophy.

What's so important for me is the fighting of the entourage of some players, removing their influence and power over the squad. I've seen how strong the influence of these entourages can be, whether it's the agent, family members, friends and while it can help having a setup like that around you as a player, for a club it can be problematic.

When things aren't going so well, entourages like that are not good for the club and not good for letting the players focus.

There's been a few players coming in this transfer window, what do you make of the new signings so far?

I think they're good signings as they fit really well under the manager. Any signings coming through now need to have that guarantee in terms of their mentality.

I've seen enough of Eriksen over the years, and I know he's a very talented maestro so after losing the likes of Mata, Pogba, the issue of strengthening the midfield has clearly been taken seriously and the signings to date have been significant. Maybe not enough in terms of the long-term project that we see for Man United, competing with Man City and Liverpool for titles, so they need more signings over the coming windows, but it's a good start.

What positions do you think need strengthening?

The forward position for sure. Cristiano there are questions whether he'll still be here and he's 37. It's important United have a strong attack, the club is built on an attacking philosophy.

Top four predictions? Champions League winner prediction?

I think Man City for sure look like the favourites for the title, but potentially Liverpool given their history. I really hope Manchester United can be up there too, if they start really well. From what I've seen in the Pre-season, I've been impressed.

Outside of City, Liverpool and United, the remaining place for top four could go to any of Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham. I'm usually terrible at predicting things so I'd say the fourth spot could go to any of them.

In terms of the Champions League, I'd say PSG or Real Madrid, they have an amazing squad, but anything could happen as the transfer window is still open. Man City with Haaland could be one to watch - he can do a lot of damage.

Erik ten Hag has dropped a player from the squad for being late, do you think that's harsh or fair?

It's fair. I'm someone who was always late in a way, if a meeting was at 9, I would always arrive at 9, if not 9:01. That was just my way of doing things but when the rules are in place you have to follow them.

Especially at this moment in time where it's so important to recalibrate the philosophy, attitude, so it has to be done as a military camp. So, if it's happened twice, it warrants the action so the other players can see this manager doesn't mess around.

You have to set expectations and when opportunities present themselves to set standards, it's right the manager should use the tools at his disposal to lay down the law.

They are ultimately workers, employees. As a manager you do everything to make sure they are in line. You wouldn't accept anyone else turning up to work late in any other industry, would you?

Wayne Rooney once said you were one of his favourite strike partners. Which active Premier League striker would be most fun to play with? e.g., Mitrovic, Haaland, Kane, etc

I think it would be Harry Kane. He's such a classy player, doesn't make mistakes on his touch, you have guarantees you'll get the ball if you're making the right runs, he's an inspiration for anyone in the box because he's such a clinical finisher. I'd have loved to play up front with Kane.

You enjoyed a brief spell at Tottenham. What do you make of their trophy chances next season?

They are bigger than ever, they have what it takes, done great business in the transfer market, remained very calm when in the Kane situation and kept him at the club and it seems like we're heading into a year when anything can happen.

Everyone in the top 5 has strengthened and who knows, it could be a very exciting season. I can't wait.

Tough for Everton last season, one of your former clubs. How do you see them performing this season?

There are no guarantees in the Premier League, no matter the history of a club or the size of it, anything can happen. It's a tough league so if you don't start well, you can be in trouble.

But the wakeup call they had last year will be really helpful, for the manager and for the fans to understand what kind of humility you need to have within the squad to succeed. It doesn't matter how good you are as a player, it's all about the foundation and having the right attitude to work hard as an individual and a unit.

You have to be hard to beat and I don't think that was the case in many games for Everton last season. Some games were way too easy to come to Goodison and get 3 points.

Frank Lampard has done a terrific job to keep them in the Premier League and I'm sure they can bounce back. Whether you lose a player like Richarlison or not, it's not the end of the world.

You enjoyed some of the best moments of your career at Fulham. What do you make of them this season? Can they kick on and stop becoming a Yo-Yo club?

Yes, that's the target. Be more aggressive. I remember when they were in the Premier League before, and they played really attractive football, but they were losing games after games and the lack of aggressiveness and focus in the details cost them.

It's very important they don't make these mistakes this season, they've got a good squad now and the squad is big enough so they're not relying on a handful of individuals to bail them out.

We need to convert losses to draws and convert draws to win. The main thing is to not be too nice. They need that structure to become a tough club and turn Craven Cottage into a fortress.

In relation to Mitrovic on the back of the record-breaking season in the championship, do you think he can beat Nunez, Haaland, Kane or Salah to the golden boot this year?

It is possible, but it will be a challenge. He won't have the same kind of foundation behind him.

Fulham is kind of tagged as a yo-yo club. So, with a lack of guarantees in terms of the players in his eleven, I don't think this will be the case with the likes of Man City or Liverpool.

So, when you compare that to Nunez and Haaland I think they're in a better place and are the two favourites if everything clicks really well.

The Premier League is very open. You have players like Kane, Son, Rashford who can definitely score many goals. Ronaldo is always up there. Mitrovic won't have a similar set up.

Your former club Metz has helped unearth and develop some of the best footballers of the 21st century - Koulibaly, Pires, Ribery, Mane - what are your memories of playing for them and do you have any theories for how they do it?

Adebayor is another! Some really good players.

What I'm sure about is the structure they have demands you work hard. Whether you're a striker, midfielder, whatever. You have to work really hard for your teammates. It gives you a desire to focus on the team.

It's a really good place. Even if you have talent, you still have to work really hard. When you go anywhere, the base is there. You can readapt to any club. That's why they're seen as a great academy.

Unfortunately, they haven't managed to find a way to challenge for the top places, because they always have to sell those big players. Maybe they sell them too soon, I don't know.

Moving onto the Balon D'or - do you have any-...

Benzema! No question. Stop right there.

There are no other players to mention here. If he doesn't win it, I don't think I'll ever look at it again seriously. It will be a scandal.

Which Premier League club do you think has the strongest attack for this season?

For me, it's Manchester City at this moment in time.

You have the best time in terms of position by far, and now they have another option of a striker who can do it all on his own. He's very physical and really complements the way they play. I don't think you can defend against them.

The other teams will have to be on really good form to match that.

It's been a really positive pre-season at Manchester United, what's impressed you the most about what Ten Hag has done?

I think it's this new level of fitness the players have got. We also haven't heard any press stories about the players - barring the Cristiano Ronaldo saga.

The players this pre-season seem really focused. They've done their part and I like the body language they've been showing. They seem dedicated and they understand the tactics.

Obviously, it will all depend on the first few games of the Premier League because preseason is the preseason. I expect to see a similar output in terms of their energy and I'm very excited about that.

There is a setup there that seems very disciplined. This is an attitude you need to have to be in the squad. It's very important. The project is a long-term project it's not about individuals anymore, it's about the group and their capacity to challenge at the top. So, a lot of sacrifice needs to be taken on board by the individual players.

Obviously, there's one player who's arriving outside of it [Ronaldo] but I think he deserves the time to think about his career because he's 37 and he's done really well throughout his career - especially for United - so it depends on him.

You mentioned about discipline in the camp and the best player in pre-season seems to be Anthony Martial. Do you think a coach like Ten Hag is what he needed?

You can see he's made an instant impact in his game. It will be very interesting to see in the long term. Let's see where he's at in 3/4 months, because I think he can improve as a player.

If he can improve in the right atmosphere and under pressure that suits him, I think he'll want to go to the World Cup. He's had a frustrating history in the last few months with his loan, so this will bring humility, a desire to work hard and not complain.

This may be a situation where he's fought with the previous manager, and he's seen it hasn't helped. At the end maybe he'll find out that focusing and working hard is his best chance of a solution.

When he's on form, no one can defend him. We've seen in the premier league before. Having a good squad rotation with the players that you have will be interesting to see. I think the right type of communication with a player like this can bring a lot of joy.

Frenkie De Jong seems like a big target at the moment, but it doesn't seem like it's coming off. I noticed that you mentioned previously that United should look at Youri Tielemans considering the season is only round the corner, do you think now is a good time to pursue him and get the midfielder in?

When you look at the saga and how long it takes to sign a player, whatever you see in the press you have no idea what De Jong is thinking. If he doesn't want to come, don't bring him.

If the only reason he wants to go to United is that he likes the manager, for me as a teammate that's not a good sign. We want to see players who want to commit. But again, because I don't know the player and I haven't spoken to him it's only going to be speculation, but I'd be really against forcing a player to join the club.

But all that aside, I think he'd be a good fit for the club as a player. He's very technical, he's charismatic, he's confident on the ball, and doesn't panic.

Do you expect top 4 to be Ten Hag's aim to solely secure Champions League football so players like Ronaldo don't want to leave?

Whether people think trophies may be years down the line, it doesn't matter, you have to start every game with the desire to be a winner.

You have to think 'we are the team to beat' and players like Ronaldo are born winners. They want to feel like they aren't afraid of anybody.

The manager seems to understand that. It's a need for the club to represent threat. To be the best. To be capable of humiliating any side. This is how you need to approach all your games.

If you go into the season thinking "I'd like to finish third or second", just stay home. That's not what I heard when I was at United and it's not something players like Ronaldo want to hear.

Do you think Ten Hag could convince Ronaldo that they're on the same wavelength with some of the players he's bringing in compared to the current squad?

I just don't understand what type of discussion they can have here. If you want to leave, you have to leave.

Obviously, the manager is going to say he's going to bring in players, but you can't dictate how you're going to win all these trophies because you don't know. Ten Hag is obviously going to say that he wants to win and then maybe the discussion is going to be around whether Ronaldo is going to be the main player.

I don't think Ten Hag is going to give that guarantee to Cristiano Ronaldo anyway. Everyone has to fight for their place. If you're good and scoring goals every week, of course you're going to be in the starting eleven, so I don't see why this discussion is going on.

I would imagine there's some reassurance there that United are bringing in new signing and that they're going to challenge - but that's all you can say. He's not going to say we're signing no one and we're going to be rubbish next season.

It seems all three of your former clubs in Fulham, Tottenham and Everton all have high hopes this year. What do you make of their summers?

The Premier League is very tough. The battle starts in the transfer market. You can see big clubs are struggling, they put up big money and they have to wait to get it over the line for players you want.

During the pre-season that then indicates to the manager how you're going to play - but it's by no means a guarantee when the season starts.

Everton especially has to kick this season off with good results, based on last season.

Fulham play good football, but they need to be aggressive. You need to be scrappy sometimes. You're not going to always be able to play well. You need to be able to be hard to beat. I'm sure they'll get results with Mitrovic.

December and January are the best moments to assess where the teams are.

What're your thoughts on the appeal for Manchester United now? Say if you were in your playing days now and Man Utd approached you and said they'd like you to join - how would your opinion be?

To try and compare is difficult. Obviously, regardless of what's happening now it's a massive club with a great history. I think this is still a massive attraction.

Obviously, right now they're not playing in the Champions League and certain types of players when they look at the upcoming world cup something like the Champions League is great for their exposure to get into the national team.

I still think that it's one of the biggest clubs in the world. Obviously, I'm a fan so it's a bit difficult. This club always has massive value, and I don't think that's ever going to change.

If you like the way they play, you sign for them. If you don't like the style of the manager, or you think the atmosphere is wrong, then maybe you don't. 

I don't think it has been very helpful to see all this latest talk in the press which has disrupted the tranquillity of the club so that's a pity.

When you played at United it was a very stable club with Ferguson. How important is it for players to have that kind of stability? 

It's massive, it's maybe the most important. The actual job that you have is very difficult and is unstable. If you play well, you have a lot of people saying you should join another club and if you don't, lots of fans say you should leave because you need more time to play.

That kind of noise does not help. If you have a manager you know is going to be there and tell you what he wants, you can really work long term because you know what's going to happen next week, next month and so on.

That's vital for improving, you can't improve if you know everything could change, you lose focus. It's easy to get disrupted in your game if it's unstable.

What do you think they need to add to their squad if they are to get top 4?

I think they have made good signings so far. Obviously, the De Jong situation needs to be resolved. Having a midfielder there to represent a new era will be great. I am confident about that going through. It's the key area for any manager.

I think they have the defenders with Martinez signing and the goalkeeper is still great. But Mata and Pogba has left so even with Eriksen coming they need more for competition. So midfield and a striker is a must between now and the end of the window.

You have heritage from Guadalupe and there are a lot of quality players like Henry, and Martial. What is it about the place that means it produces so many sports stars?

I'm actually in Guadalupe at this moment! Sports are so important here, everyone is so competitive in every sport. The population is only 300-400 thousand. They look at every sport, there are a lot of athletes. In terms of footballers, there's also Mikael Silvestre, William Gallas, all those players. It's unbelievable.

It's all about being competitive, people here really like any kind of games where there is pride involved. It's not the most apt federation or country so it's unbelievable the capacity they have to produce so many athletes. Maybe it's food (laughs) I will say it's the food.

What are some of your favourite memories as a United player?

There are so many, winning the Champions League, scoring my first goal at Old Trafford, there are so many it's a very special place to play. Football means so much to me. United is the dream club to play for within my family.

Does that keep you connected to the club?

Yeah definitely, the connection is strong. One part of my career I was injured and I was challenged mentally but I always felt the support of the manager and the fans, the players. I know that no other clubs will be taking care of players the way they took care of me.

You came in at a time when United just won the league, but there was still a transition between the treble-winning team and the team who won the Champions League in 2008. What are some of the key components you saw in that team-building process? 

The key factor was knowing the manager was really strong and be there when you need support, bring a youngster into the conversation when they deserved to be included and challenge someone who maybe has won a lot of trophies. Making everyone understand that they need to keep working hard.

All those combinations of things that Ferguson was doing really gelled the team. He was the figure that was really hard to control, the press had no games for him, he was above all of them and taking the pressure on his shoulders, so we were very calm going into games. He was our shield. He gave youngsters the time to grow, like Ronaldo. He did the same with Wayne, with Darren Fletcher and they were key in winning the Champions League.

What are some of the differences between the way forwards play now compared to your era?  

The role has definitely changed, there seems to be Haaland and Lewandowski and Nunez has now come in. But they are rare, it seems wingers are strikers as well because some score more than the strikers, like Salah and Mane. Ronaldo kind of did it before them during his first spell at United 15 years ago.

He was the first player to score 15 to 20 goals from that position. Its way more difficult to predict as a striker where you are getting the goals from. But it can be frustrating because they know they are not the main man; the wingers are more important and more involved in the game.

Modern strikers have to come deep like Benzema is going in some way. It's a different way of playing, thanks to Guardiola maybe, but it seems to be harder for defenders, so we see more goals. Crosses are also more difficult to handle so it's a big plus for wingers.

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