Saha On Benitez Sacking And Next Everton Manager
Rafa was fired by Everton on Sunday. Given his Liverpool history it was always going to be difficult for him at Everton. Do you think the club made the right decision in firing him?
Yes. It was the right decision because he wasn't able to deliver results and performances. In many ways, it reminds me of Ole at United – mangers understand that football is a results business and if you can't deliver them, you have to face the consequences. He shouldn't be surprised this has happened.
What I don't understand is the decision making. As a manager, we know that Rafa is a strong character with a big personality. He has constructed the club in his image by removing the sporting director and changing the medical staff, but now he has gone.
When you make these demands as a manger, you have to get results on the pitch. Invariably, some of the players and staff wouldn't have been happy with these decisions. If you're going to make all of these changes, you need to demonstrate progress. He couldn't survive there.
It seems that there is a lot of muddled thinking from the Everton board. A perfect example of this is Lucas Digne, who was sold to Aston Villa last week because he fell out with Rafa Benitez. Now both are gone.
Absolutely, I can't understand the decision making. Lucas Digne is a formidable player. He's been unbelievable for Everton. For years, he has been one of the best attacking sources at the club and creates so many goals for the strikers. I don't understand how Everton can let a player of that quality leave if they want to be successful and win football matches. They haven’t been creating enough chances for the strikers – trying to replace the chances he creates will be very hard. This was a shocking decision that doesn't make any sense, especially now Rafa Benitez has gone.
The fans will be gutted with the current situation. The club appointed a manger that many of them didn't want and now they've sold one of their top players. In some ways, I feel sorry for the board members because their relationship with the fans is currently difficult, they've fired a manager and they’ve lost a really good player. Hopefully the situation can improve soon.
Your old strike partner, Wayne Rooney, has been linked with the job. He’s done some great work at Derby in some pretty tough circumstances. Do you think he’s ready for the job in the Premier League?
I have full confidence that Wayne Rooney would be ready to return to his boyhood club. Look at the job that he is doing at Derby in unbelievably tough conditions.
He would need to have the right team around him to help him step-up. With all due respect to Derby County, managing Everton is a big leap but a magnificent challenge.
We know that Wayne Rooney wants to win in whatever he does. As a manager, he will want to test himself at the highest level and will be ready for the challenge. I'm confident he would be successful because of his pedigree as a player and also as a person. He's smart, dedicated and he knows the club inside and out – this is his boyhood club – he has the tattoo! I honestly think he would be a perfect match for the club. He can create the right foundation for the club to improve.
I'm not talking about Wayne like this because I played with him. It is because I believe he is ready to do it. He won't come with an ego as a manager because he is still learning the role. He will come as Wayne. If Mikel Arteta has done it with Arsenal, then Wayne Rooney can do it with Everton.
On Old Trafford Fear Factor
When you played, Old Trafford was a fortress. Often teams would almost turn up already beaten before a ball was kicked. Do you think that Old Trafford has lost its fear factor?
Definitely. If you look at some of the results over the last three or four years, something has changed at Old Trafford.
There are a few reasons. Firstly, I don’t think that you can underestimate the presence that Sir Alex had. He had a power that almost intimidated everybody; be that opponents, referees. Managers would turn up in awe of Sir Alex and he isn’t there anymore.
Secondly, I think that this is a different United team to the one that I played in. The players were more vocal. They were more experienced – they had all won things and were at the top level.
That is why I think the fear factor has been lost. It is a combination of aggression, talent and sometimes arrogance. This United team doesn’t have the consistency to create these qualities, but they have shown that on their day they can beat anyone.
Turning Old Trafford Into A Fortress
How can United turn Old Trafford into a fortress again?
United need a strong foundation in defence and midfield. They need to be really difficult for teams to breakdown and hard to beat. Then the team can rely on the talent of its attacking players to hurt the opposition.
The team was built on the basic principle of hard work and sacrifice – that it what United need to get back to.
At the moment, I see a lot of individuals and not a team. I think this United team needs seven or eight warriors, players that deliver performances week in, week out. If you want to win a championship, you need to have this foundation.
United signed big players in the summer. Are you disappointed that the club hasn’t been able to kick-on this season and challenge for the title?
When you sign players like Varane, Sancho and Ronaldo, big players with huge talent, then of course, expectations will come with that. Ronaldo and Varane have won so many trophies throughout their careers, it is unbelievable.
Of course, some people expect Ronaldo to be the answer to all of United’s problems, but that isn’t how football works. And he will always be a target for criticism because he’s Ronaldo.
Raphaël Varane is a great defender. He has had a few injuries, which hasn’t helped. Football is about the squad and United need to get the most out of all of their players.
Bruno Fernandes this season hasn’t been quite the same player, although it was great to see him score twice against Villa and set up two goals against Brentford.
For a team to be consistent and to challenge for the championship, you need the foundation of seven or eight players who perform week in, week out.
We’ve seen Cristiano can produce moments of magic to save the team in some matches, but that is not enough to win you a title. It is hard to accept that at the moment, with the investment in the team, that United are not close to challenging for the title.
United Achievement In 2022
We’re over the halfway point of the season and United are in seventh place. What do you think United can achieve in the second half of the season?
After the disappointment of being knocked out in the Champions League group stage last year, I thought United recovered well and went on a good run in the second half of the season to finish second. I hope we will see something similar from now until May.
I think that United can qualify for the Champion’s League with this squad. They have winners. They have talented players, and they have to fight. They have to really believe.
Football and the industry of sport is not about talking – it’s about what you do on the pitch.
I think when three or four of United’s big players click at the same time, and if Marcus Rashford can come back to his level, they can achieve anything.
Ragnick Playing Style
I’d like to ask you a little bit about the playing style of United, because when you played, the tactics were based around attacking. Some of the football that Rangnick’s produced so far hasn’t been on the front foot and has been criticised by some fans. What do you think of his playing style?
The first task of any new manager is to come and try and find a strong foundation that makes you difficult to beat. In some ways, Ralf has had to be a bit cautious because United were losing so many games under Ole and he needed to improve the results from day one. He did what was necessary for the first five or six games.
I think he would have expected more from some players. I think he would have hoped to see players like Sancho shining and playing with lots of energy; pressing and playing on the front foot. He would have thought about different tactical scenarios with the players.
In those first few games, it was all about building a strong base and making United hard to beat. Now, he needs to find the right tactics where everyone in the team can shine.
There are a lot of different tactical combinations that Ragnick could introduce, but finding the right balance that allows the attacking players United have to shine is crucial.
For example, Ronaldo is playing in the role of a traditional striker, but United are not giving him the service that I had with crosses into the box and wide attacking play. These days, a lot of wingers come inside like Salah and Mane at Liverpool – it is a different way of playing. It makes it harder for the traditional striker.
The United fans are very knowledgeable. Perhaps they are comparing this team to teams of the past, but this is a different United team in a different era. Some of the fans may not be happy at the moment with the style, but I think the fluid attacking football they like to see can come back.
Dressing Room Harmony
There have been reports about the harmony inside the dressing room at the club. Can issues inside the dressing room affect performances on the pitch?
I think so, but It’s totally normal. You want people in the dressing room challenging each other – it’s not normal to be nice all of the time. It’s very important to make sure that players understand the standards required to win titles, and sometimes you have to be direct and have difficult conversations.
When you play for Manchester United, these arguments should be happening all of the time. Players need to push each other to deliver their best performance.
Dressing room leaks are completely normal. Agents will use the press to benefit their clients, sometimes to get them a move. Some players will leak things, but, generally when these stories come out it is because the camp wants to improve and create a reaction. There are different tactics to motivate players and, sometimes, the negative stories work.
I don’t want to comment on speculation because I don’t know the details, but I’m reassured by the stories. When I played, we had characters like Roy Keane; winners who would speak the truth. As a player, sometimes it could be painful but you need to go through that.
You played with some huge characters at United and you won all of the biggest prizes that could be won. How did guys like Scholes, Giggs, Keane police a dressing room?
In our dressing room, Sir Alex was the commander-in-chief. As a player, if you tried to create problems without the support of a group, you would be in big trouble. We had the right balance. The dressing room was perfectly managed. The British lads, the local lads, like Scholesy, the Nevilles (Gary and Phil) all those guys understood the club from the top to the bottom.
That group of eight or nine players. They knew the standards that were required. That type of group doesn’t exist in this generation of United. It’s really hard for an outsider to maintain some of these values. I’m not saying that it’s not possible, because I’m sure that Liverpool, when you look at their side, they have three or four local lads in the squad who really understand the culture and mentality of club. That’s why they win championships.
To be successful you need to have this. It’s vital. You can’t win a championship if you have groups in the changing room that are not united. I know that myself. I was part of a clique of foreigners, but we understood.
Giggsys, Scholesy, Roy (Keane), Wes Brown, even Quinton Fortune. They made the rules and nobody would argue with them because they were all winners.
Ronaldo recently had an interview where he said that some of his younger team mates don’t respond to criticism. What do you think these young players should do? When Cristiano speaks, surely you listen?
If any player has the right to speak his mind in the dressing room, it is Cristiano Ronaldo. Many of these young players have yet to make their mark in the game. They haven’t proved anything. They may have a few international caps, but what have they won?
I don’t know if he is talking about the defence, the midfield, the strikers, it doesn’t matter. As a player, if you can’t take criticism, that’s not normal, because he is only saying it to help players improve. He wants to win trophies while he’s there and he knows how to do it, so the players must listen to him,
I heard Zidane talking about him recently when he was his manager at Real Madrid. He said that in every training session he would celebrate as much as he would in an actual match after a goal, free kick or corner. He is so dedicated.
He is an example for any young football player.
I had a conversation with Paul Pogba and he said something similar about the young players. He said: “Sometimes when I say something to a few players, they don’t respond well.” To hear something like this, it’s not normal.
Paul won a World Cup. Ronaldo has won the Champions League so many times I’ve lost count! You have to take the criticism from these players because it’s about improving.
Ronaldo’s a godlike figure in football. Do you think some of the players can be intimidated by him?
Yes, but for the right reasons. It’s not negative. Of course, it’s like if you’re not intimidated by your god, you have no respect. I’m not saying that the players should consider him a god, but he will be remembered as one of the best players the world has ever seen.
If the players don’t respect what he’s saying, that’s not normal. They should be listening. They should be taking in every bit of advice because the guy has been successful throughout his career.
The players need to sacrifice to improve. They should be like, “Hang on a minute – let me try this for six months. I’ll try to do as much as he does. If I’m tired after sixty minutes maybe the next week I’m ready to play seventy.”
You’ve played with Ronaldo and won the biggest prizes you can win, together. What was he like as a character, and what was he like to play with?
You know, this is a different version of the Ronaldo that I played with. He’s played at the top level for twenty years. This Ronaldo has evolved. He’s full of confidence. He’s got a trophy to back up every word he says.
He was a worker. He was someone that was dedicated to win. It’s not about him, and he wouldn’t bully someone to appear strong. No, no, no – he wanted to win.
These United players need to ask themselves, “Do they want to be a winner like him?” If so, they need to listen to him, they need to be as dedicated as him in training, they need to focus on improving week on week. They need to be humble, work hard and shut up.
it’s a beautiful story, Ronaldo going back to Old Trafford. There’s a lot of romance to the story. Do you think there’s a danger that it could have a bad ending and it doesn’t turn out as he might have thought?
No. it’s already a great story. He’s the most followed player on earth.
The guy has proved that he’s immense. He’s an example for anyone that wants to make it as a professional football player. He has revived the Premier League on his own. He’s the best signing in the league. For a 36-year-old his stats are unbelievable.
The title is out of reach for United this year. But with Ronaldo and his pedigree and the club’s history in the Champion’s League, is that something they should be focussing on? Do you think they can lift that at the end of the season?
In the Champion’s League, when you hit form at the right moment, like we saw with Chelsea last year, anything is possible. Chelsea were not good in the first half of last season, and they went on to win lift the trophy. United, for me, have a better squad than Chelsea had last year.
Anthony Elanga is a younger player that’s started to make a few appearances and got his first Premier League goal against Brentford. Have you been impressed by what you’ve seen of this guy so far?
Yes. You can see that he’s got some quality. He has, shown that he has what it takes to actually break into the first team, which is a good sign. But it’s too early to assess the impact he can have.
It hasn’t really happened for Jadon Sancho. Why do you think it hasn’t worked out for him so far, and do you think he can have a brilliant United career?
He can definitely have a brilliant career. I think physically he is a little bit behind and that hasn’t helped his confidence. That’s why sometimes when he is trying to be take players on and beat them, he hasn’t been able to do it.
When you face challenges in your career, you must work hard. He shouldn’t doubt his ability – he needs to believe he can do it and hopefully, the United squad can help him too. He needs to work hard. I think that the fans can see he’s talented and will give him the time he needs.
I don’t want to put him under any more pressure. He knows what he needs to do – he isn’t blind. I think physically more than anything, he hasn’t shown this sharpness yet.
When it comes to appointing the next United manager, who would you like to see come in?
I think it’s a difficult one, but of course as a French player, I think Zidane would be the perfect fit. Maybe Manchester United need to become more of an attractive proposition to get him – I don’t know. For me, Zidane is the best candidate.
As a manager, he would improve the confidence of some players. Look at what Zidane has won, not just as a player, but in management. He has also has a history of developing young players and brought some to a level they never expected. I really like his profile and I think that he would do amazing things there.
Some people have said, because he doesn’t speak English he might not be able to do it. What do you think of that?
Maybe that is one aspect because he’s not well-known as a great communicator in English, but he knows that. As I said, communication is so important for any manager so the players can understand his tactics and his philosophy. If he doesn’t feel comfortable communicating in the English language, that could be a reason because its important.
The guy’s charisma speaks for itself. His pedigree as well, but maybe sometimes it’s not enough. I can’t speak for Zidane.
What is certain – any manager coming in will have to find the right way to communicate, and, obviously, he will be helped, way more than the current manager, because of who he is. If he were to join I feel confident he would be an amazing success.
Moving In January
When you left Fulham, you moved to United in January. Some people say it’s hard to move clubs in January. What advice would you give to any player that is on the move in January?
If you’re a player that could move in January, the most important thing is not to be affected by noise. You have to sit down and think for yourself, because sometimes the people that can influence your decision, like agents, are only thinking about what they can get out of it.
This is really hard, because football players in the spotlight are under a lot of pressure. They need to look very confident, almost arrogant in any situation. Sometimes that can result in a player making erratic decisions, especially in January.
Whenever a player moves, there are usually two reasons: you’re playing really well and someone is desperate to sign you, or you’re playing really badly and the club needs to move you on.
It’s not an easy situation to be in. Every player has an ego, and it can affect your decision making in both scenarios. You really have to be careful because sometimes you can be hurt by people and sometimes you could be influenced in a certain way that is not for your benefit.
My advice is to listen to your gut. You need to sit down and take the time to make the decision.
Contracts & Transfers
So, Paul Pogba. Obviously, his contract runs out in the summer. Would you like him to stay at United?
Yes, but with certain conditions. If he were to sign, I would want him to be completely focussed on the team and his performances and not hear anything from him or his agent about moving to a different club in the future. I would love to see him being happy, because when this guy is happy he’s such an amazing player!
Some French players have been linked with the club this month. Dembele at Barcelona, Kamara at Marseille and then Kingsley Coman. Do you think that United should consider any of those?
They are all good players. Whether any of them would be able to come in and make an immediate impact is another story. January is such a special window. You need players that come in and do it straight away. None of these players know the Premier League and any player coming into a new League needs one or two months to adapt.