April 17, 2023
Louis Saha Interview
Louis Saha was a key player in Man Utd’s 06/07 Premier League triumph, a season that famously saw Sir Alex Ferguson wrestle two years of dominance off rival Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. He then won the title the following campaign.
Here, the ex-France international tells DAZN Bet about his experiences under Fergie, the Red Devils’ current trajectory under Erik ten Hag and the summer transfer targets they should be setting their sights on.
Saha – who also had spells at Fulham, Everton and the French national team – also believes Ten Hag made the right decision in allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to leave, and believes the side will make it past Sevilla in the Europa League and Brighton in the FA Cup next.
What did you think of Man Utd’s win over Nottingham Forest?
Louis Saha: “I think it was a very professional win against Nottingham Forest, they showed a good foundation and got a good result. The goals were good as well, you can see they were at it straight away. Casemiro was dominating the midfield, although Forest didn’t provide much of a threat.
“The Forest win summed up what we have seen in the past five months, very consistent.”
Antony scored his first goal in 15 games, and Gary Neville said Ten Hag should persist with him as he will be “one hell of a player”. Do you agree with that?
LS: “Antony is already a very good player, people forget the Premier League is the toughest to adapt to. People think physically, technically and because of the price tag, he could do better. But technically and physically he’s very strong. He defends when we need it, he goes both ways.
“This is normal progress. You’re going to get more confidence, he will understand opposition defences better. You connect all those things and I think he’ll have a great season next campaign. People are demanding more because it’s Man Utd and the price tag.
“I don’t totally agree with this, I think he’s shown he’s capable of playing a lot of games. He’s a strong runner, even if he’s not the biggest. I think he’s done well but he can show more, he can improve his diversity in the game. He can improve the way he surprises people, and work on his finishes in game. I think he’s a great player.”
Everyone agrees, including yourself, that the missing piece of the jigsaw for Man Utd is a striker. How far do you think they can go with someone like Harry Kane?
LS: “Every week I see the type of game where Harry Kane would be perfect. Kane is a guaranteed number of goals, games and assists. He’s smart in his game, a top player. He can handle the pressure. He knows the Premier League inside out, he knows how to behave with the press.
“Going to a club with the calibre of Man Utd, to go on and be the club’s number 9, you will need that kind of charisma that the likes of Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy were representing. Andy Cole too, that kind of bracket. Berbatov too.
“To remain Premier League winners, you need strikers who can score 25 to 30 goals, getting you out of situations and Harry Kane is one of them.”
When Man Utd signed Van Persie, they won the league. Could Kane fire them to title glory too?
LS: “I think Kane and Man Utd is a perfect match. I don’t see how, with the way they play, without Martial fit, they can challenge for the league. But football is not mathematics, you have to start a new fresh league with new opponents. The projection we all see is Harry Kane providing guarantees, goals and assists. He has that charisma, I see it.
“The impact Van Persie had was obvious. The manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said give the ball to Robin, ‘give the guy the ball and we will win the league’. I think it would be the same, give the ball to Harry and there is something special at the end of the season.”
If Man Utd can’t get Harry Kane, who should they go for?
LS: “There are not many alternatives to Kane for Man Utd. Victor Osimhen is an obvious one at the moment, though, he’s scoring a lot of goals for Napoli. Very fit, very strong and agile. But it may take him more time to adapt.
“There is a young boy in Hojlund at Atalanta. But no one offers the guarantees like Kane does.”
If Man Utd don’t sign Harry Kane. Should he consider your old club, Newcastle, as a last chance to secure silverware?
LS: ‘I think Kane to Newcastle would be a bad move for him. If you want to guarantee yourself silverware, Newcastle are still a club trying to grow. Just because they have all the wealth does not mean they will win the Premier League next year. They have done really well and need to continue that, but don’t think it’s a guarantee for silverware.
“If Kane is looking for silverware and history, then I respect Newcastle as a club but it’s nowhere near Man Utd. In terms of trajectory, the calibre of players – from Casemiro to Eriksen – I don’t think that Newcastle can match them. I would be very surprised to see Kane go there.
“There is the obvious point about Newcastle’s money, but I don’t think that will be enough for Kane. He’s out there with a legacy to defend.
“I don’t like players going to clubs for the money. I respect Newcastle, it’s a great club, but it’s nowhere near the calibre of Man Utd nor does it offer more of a guarantee to win trophies. They are not there.”
In other areas of the pitch, apart from a striker, Is there anyone else you think should be on Man Utd’s shopping list?
LS: “There is that boy Hojlund. I’d like to see Man Utd sign AC Milan star Rafael Leao, I like him a lot. There are many players out there. But really I have only one name in mind who makes sense, and I believe no matter what the price Man Utd should sign Kane, there is no mistake out there.
“It doesn’t mean Man Utd can’t go looking for younger players too, who can learn from experienced players. But for any young player, who has potential and wants to win trophies, should have a big look at Man Utd.
“They can spend a year not in the first-team, but because the club is so big no one is guaranteed a starting spot. They can see the club is getting back to what it was.
“I remember I was in competition with four, five strikers. The likes of Tevez, Rooney, Van Nistelrooy and Alan Smith. It was crazy hard to get into the first time.
“So I think Man Utd need more than one striker, but also Kane who will get you 20-25 goals.’
Is there anyone who should be leaving Man Utd?
LS: “I don’t invite anyone to leave such a great club. I used to play with 4 strikers, sometimes you play a lot and other times, someone is playing out of their skin so you have to wait. So it depends. Maybe there are people telling you to leave, but I do think every player in the squad is good and wants to stay.
“I haven’t heard any reports of players wanting to leave over playing time. I’m sure some players have learned, like Fred and Scott McTominay, who have played well and showed they can play a role.
“So things may be exciting for players like that who have struggled over the past few years. It’s not the same story, the new manager has provided some vision and ambition.
“If a player is in a mood with you and doesn’t want to be around, then yes the answer is they should leave. But from the outside I can see Harry Maguire has been very professional, Lindelof too, they are happy to be there because it is a big squad and they want to win for the club which is great to see.
‘The discipline is there, no one has shown too much frustration. I do see Elanga has expressed a desire to play more, but he’s a young guy so he can come back at some point. I would say you’ll see more going on loan rather than permanently.”
Sadio Mane was suspended after allegedly punching Leroy Sane. Can you recall anything like that in your career, and is that just a normal part of football?
LS: “What happened between Mane and Sane is a normal part of football. It’s not what you want to see and hear, but inside I would say it’s normal. If you don’t have those moments, it means there is no competition. There is nothing perfect. You have 25 people, and there are no 25 people who love hanging around with everyone. It’s a very competitive atmosphere.
“There are players who are in competition, so it’s not bromance everywhere! It doesn’t work that way. It’s part of the aggression you want to see. When you finish your career, believe me, you’ll have around five friends from hundreds that you met.
“I’m not saying you have to have grumpy people, but there are 250 days you spend with players and if they don’t all like each other, you will hear stuff like this.”
Did that ever happen at Man Utd?
LS: “What happened between Mane and Sane did happen at Man Utd, although I don’t remember names. I was not in the middle of any fights, not because I wasn’t the biggest or scariest.
“There was respect in our dressing room, people understood what you wanted and everyone was very honest in their approach. If you had nasty moments, it’s hard to control. But it’s normal, it happens.
“Not everybody is the same, like me or George Weah back in the day, you can’t imagine those guys getting in fights because we have a way of doing things and it worked. But some have different expressions.
“Roy Keane was so important for the club. His emotion, behaviour and body language was very intense. Some people like it and some don’t. That’s normal, we are competitive guys and want to win trophies.
“I do not promote fighting, but I promote expression of emotions and it’s not perfect.”
Up next for Man Utd is Sevilla and Brighton. Will they get past both?
LS: “Sevilla and Brighton are tough games. Brighton are playing really well, they have a special style of football they do well.
“For Sevilla, this is their cup. They know how to win it, playing mind games, they know the physicality of it. If you look at the calendar, it’s really challenging for Man Utd. Ten Hag will face a lot of doubts in how to approach them. It’s not easy and I hope Rashford returns.
“Despite that, I think Man Utd will get past both. Brighton are dangerous, but we’re also playing well. Same goes for Sevilla. Cup games are difficult and young players need to show character. You need to have the right approach tactically but it is mentally challenging too, especially at this stage of the season.”
Man Utd will go up against Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo, who have been linked with the club. Do you think they should make a move for them?
LS: “I think Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo are good players, I’m a big fan of Caicedo in particular. They are the type of players Man Utd may look for because they are aggressive, intelligent and good on the ball. They provide a lot of guarantees.
“But there are lots of players in those positions too. Whether Fred and McTominay are thinking they will move if Ten Hag signs them, then that’s a possibility.
“If that’s not the case it would be strange. You have Casemiro, Erikson, Bruno who can play there. Even if the season is long, it won’t provide the right platform for Fred and McTominay, if they sign Mac Allister and Caicedo.”
Man Utd have also been linked with Bayern star Randal Kolo Muani. What can you tell us about him and would he suit Man Utd?
LS: “I think Randal Muani would be a very good signing for Man Utd. Not only as a number 9, he can play either side of a three. He’s a very clever player, very quick, sharp with his feet and very intelligent.
“He’s already established a good link with Kylian Mbappe for France. He’s aware of everything, he has the talent to go short or long, he’s very clever and he will be a real danger in the Premier League if he comes, especially with Rashford and Sancho.
“That will be really hard for defences. It could be a very clever move, there is room for improvement. There are lots of names like those who can contribute.
“But Muani is a very intelligent player, he has lots of stamina, he can run all day and will fit into the game plan that Ten Hag loves. He’s one for the future. He can learn for a season, and then have a huge impact in the next two or three years, that makes sense.”
If Bayern decides to let Mane go, do you think Premier League clubs should consider him?
LS: ‘If Bayern let Mane go, I think Premier League clubs should consider him. He’s one of the top 10 players in the world, for any team in the Premier League he would make a brilliant addition apart from Man Utd, because he played for Liverpool for so many years.
“But he’s a terrific player. I don’t wish him to go anywhere, I want him to fulfil his contract, he wants to leave. He’s a top lad, although he has not projected the image or body language you would expect from him. So perhaps he needs to work on that.
“But he’s a good lad and he’s not that type of guy.’
Rio Ferdinand described you as the hardest player he faced in training. Who was the toughest defender you faced?
LS: “When people ask about my toughest opponent, I always say it’s a combination of players. For me as a striker, I always look at Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic though. They were aggressive but technically gifted too, and you would always struggle against them.
“Back in the day it was really hard. They were playing with a goalkeeper as well who was good with his feet, so you felt like an idiot! But in terms of aggression, those two were very good.
“So for me Ferdinand and Vidic were the toughest, in training and in games.”
Who was the hardest goalkeeper you faced in your career?
LS: “To be honest, I don’t remember any goalkeepers being too complicated. My focus was on defenders. No disrespect because keepers are so important, the relationship with the striker and how he scores is with defenders. When you get past defenders, you think there is a 90% chance you will score.
“For the big stars like Buffon and Neur, they were the ones you may focus your game around with tactics like striking in the corner. But that was never my style. I felt I was strong and focused on how I got my chances, and I did that by dribbling and getting past defenders.”