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Football: Exclusive bet365 Interview with Tomasz Kuszczack

Former Manchester United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczack sat down with bet365 to discuss where the season has gone wrong for Manchester United, who should be made captain under the management, whether Ronaldo should stay, his time at Birmingham City and more. 

Having won the Premier League, the League Cup and the Champions League during his illustrious playing career, playing alongside some of the all-time greats like Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Wayne Rooney, his experience competing in elite teams is matched by only by a few.

Manchester United seem set to make some major signings this summer – if you could make one addition in defence, midfield, and up front, who would you sign?

Obviously, the whole process from last season has come to an end. A lot of disappointment. We've brought in a new manager and he's tried to change things within the team, but we're now in a place where we have to be honest, admit this team is underperforming and change the players.

We've been through so many managers now and I think it's time the players go. If Manchester United want to get back on the right track and start performing again, they need fresh blood.

It all depends though on how the new manager wants to play. The philosophy of Manchester United has always been attacking football and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tried that, Rangnick tried that and it doesn't work. Two different managers in the past 12 months with the same core squad and nothing works.

Obviously, I expect a lot of changes. I want to see my beloved team playing at the right level and not conceding nine goals against Liverpool in one season and two games. It’s shocking and every position is under question, apart from the goalkeeper. David and Dean are very strong. Those are the only two who are safe.

The rest, each position you look at there's always questions. Ronaldo is doing very well but he's getting on now and can't be given so much responsibility at the age of 37.

But in summary, to answer your question, every part of the team needs to be changed!

Any particular names you want to see linked with the club?

There's names from Portugal, I wouldn't want to say exactly who, as I want to wait and see what the new manager brings to the squad. He'll have a few he already works with at Ajax and he's going to want to change the style. He's going to have to.

I'm excited for him to join, it took him a few years to build a squad in Ajax and win trophies, but the patience from the owners and Edwin proved right. We'll need to be patient as well as the competition in the Premier League now is massive. Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City.

Ever since Solskjaer left it's just been going downhill, and we need to fix it. What I really want to see is signing players who come in and perform how the manager wants them to.

They don't need to be big names, worth millions of pounds - big names don't work at Manchester United.

What do you expect Erik Ten Hag to bring to Manchester United? What do you think about the appointment?

The way how he plays at Ajax, and from what I've been reading about him in newspapers and online articles, he likes offensives football, he likes to create overloads, use only three defenders to build up the game and use the left and right backs to overload. This is what Manchester United used to be!

I think he's going to bring that back. I think Ole did very well and he was building something. One or two bad games cost him his job, which is disappointing. His achievements in the Champions League, to reach the Europa League Final, there was a lot of hope for the future.

We've had Rangnick for a few months, but you can't expect anything to change with the same players. Ten Hag will get the players trust, then he has to get full trust from the club, and they need to support him on every transfer decision.

It's time the manager gets power to bring the players in who will be right for the team.

This season is lost, United are underperforming, looking unlikely to secure the Champions League for next season and another trophyless season.

There've been a few good games, but to be losing to Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool - it's important the new manager gets a full pre-season to rebuild and bring in renewed confidence.

I think he’ll be proven as a good choice. We can't keep on like we have been, it's hurting that easy games we should win we've been struggling with; nobody fears United anymore at home or away.

How do you assess the Manchester United goalkeeper situation looking ahead to next season? Do you expect both De Gea and Henderson to be there next summer?

Teams need to have two or three really good goalkeepers and it's difficult as someone is always going to be disappointed. I've been in this situation for six years - I was really patient.

You’ve just got to remember the bigger picture and that you’re a great comfort to the manager. He knows if one of you goes off form, he's got a strong backup.

Last season, Dean did a great job and Ole gave him games. But obviously, if you've got two keepers like them who both want to play a full season, it's not always going to be the choice of the manager.

I've been in this situation with Edwin. I get a longer spell in goal, build confidence, match fitness, then Edwin would come back and I'm back on the bench. You need a strong mentality, but the manager will be looking out for the best interests of the team, and he'll want them both there next season.

If Dean did decide to leave, we'd have to sign another Number 1 to replace him. Man United have effectively two Number 1's and of course, that's always going to be difficult to manage.

The club need to do everything in their power to keep him, give him a few games like Ole did. But at the moment, United have far bigger problems than goalkeepers.

What was your situation like as a reserve goalkeeper?

I asked Ferguson many times, 'Boss, please play me!' And he said he can give me a few games, but he had his team built.

My situation was different to Dean and David's - we'd been playing very well at the time, we won trophies, we were the leading team in Europe and the manager had built his core and he didn't want to change.

I always had this feeling that maybe I didn't play enough in my career as I wished, but my loyalty and to be a part of a massive team and to win trophies was bigger than any ego.

I've questioned myself. You have to make the decision to leave or support the club 100% even if you don't play. I was always prepared; I did everything I could to be ready for the manager when he needed him. Ferguson had confidence in me. He knew that if he needed me, he could trust me to deliver.

A team is not eleven players, it's 23, 24 players. If you can keep everyone on the same level, you'll be doing very well.

Former teammate Wayne Rooney. Did you always expect him to go into management and could he manage United one day possibly?

Wayne has got everything required to be a great manager; I'll always support him. Certain names like Wayne, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, other ex-players managing Premier League and Championship teams are doing a great job.

Wayne's career was extraordinary, he's an intelligent man - people wouldn't think he was or that he's responsible, that he's just full of heart and emotion but he's always going to be an icon in English football, and he's already proven that he is a great manager.

The whole football league is supporting these former players to become good managers. To become a good manager, you need trust and he's got that from Derby. My friend is playing there, Krystian Bielik and we talk a lot about Wayne, his training, how things are going day to day and he's a fantastic prospect for Manchester United as a future manager.

Maybe not right now, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did very well given the situation and I'm certain one day, Wayne's name is going to be discussed as future Manchester United Manager.

What does Wayne Rooney need to do, to be considered for the Manchester United role?

He just needs to keep doing what he's already doing. It's not nice for him that he's at a club where they're playing well, and they keep deducting points from his team.

However difficult that is for him though, it's great experience and he’ll gain plenty of managerial skills, such as motivating players to perform in the face of difficult circumstances.

The whole experience is invaluable and maybe soon we'll seen him managing a Premier League team. This is what happened with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

Will Cristiano Ronaldo stay at United next season if they don't qualify for the Champions League?

Yes. When he came to United, he knew the position they were in at the time. He came to help; he came to build something and I'm sure there will be offers for him, but he will choose United.

A player like him, an icon of football and one of the best graduations in the history of football coming back to Manchester United to help them back on track, it's inspiring.

He's come back, he's scoring important goals, he's running the same as everyone else, given his age, he's still performing. To have a personality like that in the team, it's a huge motivation for the rest of the squad. I wouldn't blame Cristiano Ronaldo for any of the issues going on at United at the minute.

I've played with him, and I can tell you he's a 100% professional. He's an example as a person, he's got a fantastic family, he's always motivated, always positive. You can tell from the way he plays he's always trying to help to the team and to have somebody like that in the team is a huge benefit.

I know it's easy to say, ‘United are underperforming, they're losing goals, Ronaldo is the problem’, but that's crazy. He's done nothing wrong. He's scored 22 goals I think so far, which is fantastic. If all offensive players played like him, maybe United wouldn't be where they are in the table.

There are some players at Manchester United, they don't perform. they don't score goals that they should. From the beginning of when he made his second debut, he's made a huge impact and has been playing really well. So, I hope he stays next season, but that's a decision only he can make.

All I can say was when I was there with him, when he was younger, we all wanted to follow him. We wanted to see how he trained, what he used for motivation - there was a massive motivation for young player. All the others would say the same.

David de Gea has been key again for Manchester United this season, how do you assess his season so far and do you expect him to still be no. 1 for Man United next season? Will he fit the play style under ETH?

I still keep in touch with Richard Hartis, he's a great friend of mine and a fantastic goal keeping coach. He handled the situation between the competing goal keepers well. United need both De Gea and Henderson next season, irrespective of who the manager is.

When I was at United, they needed me even when they had Edwin van der Sar. There was Ben Foster too, a great keeper. We all pushed each other, I'd push Edwin, Ben would push me and so on.

The team benefits from healthy competition. Every goalkeeper thinks they should play, if you have one who's happy to be Number Two, then there's something wrong, especially at this level.

You need two goalkeepers who are ready to perform every week and Henderson will obviously be disappointed this season, but he's proven his value and I hope he stays.

David De Gea for the last eleven or so seasons, however long he's been there, he's been fantastic. In total, if I look at the numbers of games he's played and the number of saves he's made, there's no question about his position.

If David does underperform, United have a ready-made replacement in Dean Henderson. The new manager is blessed with options in that position - there's no need to go scouting the transfer market.

Should De Gea be made Manchester United Captain?

Of course. Usually, the club captain is someone who has a lot of if not the most experience within the team. There are so many good names who could be captain: Ronaldo, De Gea, I don't see why either of them aren't already.

You can tell after so many years at United De Gea has all the skill, experience and knowledge required to be captain. It's not just because he's my friend and a fellow goalkeeper. It's the amount of games under his belt, if the manager decides to make him club captain, he'll do a great job.

Your former Polish teammate, Robert Lewandowski has been linked with a move away from Bayern Munich to Barcelona. What do you think he should do and just how highly do you rate him?

It would be fantastic to see him at Manchester United. I've had conversations with him about it and when he was back at Borussia Dortmund. He had options during his previous move as his contract was expiring. I know for a fact that he was thinking about leaving Germany and going somewhere else.

I know he loves Spanish football and has a connection with Real Madrid. We've always said that someone who plays for Bayern Munich is one of the best in the world and obviously he's gone there and won everything there is to win.

We played in the Polish national team and had different managers over the years and Robert was a fantastic leader. He was the one which held the team together. You hear people say, 'Bayern Munich is full of great players, it's easy', but he's played well everywhere he's gone.

I'd love to see him at Manchester United, but we've spoken about that, and it would be fantastic if he could come and link up with Ronaldo. Him and Ronaldo upfront would be something.

United have come under criticism in defence this season. How important is having a regular, solid centre-back pairing for a goalkeeper?

It's very important. Obviously, you get injuries within the team, suspensions and illnesses but the team's core should remain the same. In United there aren't that many new players. Varane came last season but then you've got Maguire, Bailly, Lindelof, who've all been here for years.

It's a problem when you bring in new players constantly as it takes time to build confidence and trust with them. But United, you'd think they should do well as that core have been playing together for years, but it's not the case. The performances from United this season aren't just related to one line of defence; the whole squad doesn't perform.

There's always something on the pitch where they don't defend well enough together. This is where the problems are coming from.

Would you say Harry Maguire is at fault?

I wouldn't blame Harry Maguire. I know he's getting a lot of criticism but there's more to it than him. He performed very well at Leicester, the English national team and even United when he first joined.

I wouldn’t say that he makes mistakes after mistakes. I wouldn't even blame the centre backs for the defensive errors, I'd say the whole team is underperforming.
These players are good enough to perform at an elite level, but the whole structure at United doesn't work.

How do you look back on your time at Birmingham? You finished 10th in your first season but it was a more of a struggle thereafter. You then had a final year without playing, was that a difficult way to finish your playing career?

Yeah, it was tough. I think I did very well at Birmingham when I came. First two seasons, I played almost every game. I didn't make many mistakes. On my debut I've saved a penalty and we won and we had a lot of great games.

The second season went well too. Their supporters voted me as their player of the year. But clubs like Birmingham City, I still follow them, they're still in the same position when I was there with managers.

The way they treated me - I was very professional but playing with six managers in one and a half years is not ideal. All these managers were confused, I was constantly thinking should I stay, or should I go as they kept bringing in new goalkeepers.

In the third season, I'd been struggling with injuries. I never told anyone this, but I sacrificed myself for the team and to help them survive and to have that last season where they didn't want me to go or to stay wasn't on.

They pushed me away into a separate dressing room, they didn't allow me to eat with the team, they didn't allow me to train with even the second team. I had to train with 16-year-old children as a 37-year-old goalkeeper with hundreds of games under my belt. But this is what they did.

I said OK, I can do my coaching badges, I start entering education, I prepare myself for the end of my career.

When you come in every morning, you sit alone in the dressing room, and you're not allowed to eat with the team. When you're not allowed to even train on the normal pitch and you're on the fourth category football pitch that doesn't even have water maintenance and it's hard like a rock; then you know the end is coming.

They ended my career, but this is what football is and many others have gone through it, and I expect many more will.

Who was the best manager your ever played under?

Sir Alex Ferguson, he was a legend. When I arrived at Manchester United, he was already the best in the world. He decided to give me a chance and put me in his team. I was his player for six years. For me that was enough. That was enough to prove myself as a football player and as a human being.

He was the best manager I had in my career. There's no other name that comes to mind. Sir Alex was extraordinary, the way how he ran the club, how he spoke with the players, how he cared about us all, he was a second father not just for me but all of us.

Sir Alex Ferguson is the one that at the end of my career I can say thank you for everything, because he gave me a chance and I was part of a team that won the Champions League, the Premier League, we played in three different Champions League finals, I travelled the world.

If I have to pick one person to be my manager, it'll always be him.

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