As a manager and former player, do you feel any sympathy for Sancho if he thinks he’s being scapegoated?
I’ve been in situations as a player where I thought the manager was wrong. For example, I didn’t always agree with Sir Alex Ferguson, and there were a few occasions when I didn't think his decisions were 100% right. We’re all human beings, and disagreeing with someone is just a part of life. I believe that the Sancho scenario is a case of the manager making a football decision, and who’s to say that footballing decisions are right or wrong? It’s always going to be subjective and the manager needs to do what’s best for the team. With Sancho, you have a situation where the player thinks he’s done well in training, but the manager doesn’t think he’s done enough. In my opinion, it’s a conservation best had internally, with Ten Hag giving his reasons. It’s then up to the player to react to it and take it on the chin. He could also take it personally. We don’t know the full extent as to what’s going on as we’re not there to make judgment on it.
Hypothetically, if Sancho was to leave, do you think he still has the quality to get into a top side? Would you like to see him at your old club, Aston Villa?
The boy is clearly gifted. A lot of these young players need to understand that they’re in a very privileged position playing for a big club like Man United. Sancho has clearly done well and worked hard to end up at a club like United, but it only takes a few years for a player’s career to be on the decline. We’re talking five, six, seven years - a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. He needs to look at himself in the mirror and refocus and get back to playing football the way we all know he can. Whether that happens at United or somewhere else I don’t know. He has to find a way to play his best football and he seems like the kind of player who needs an arm around him to really shine. The boy is clearly talented, though, and he can definitely play a Top Six side.
Brighton And Bayern Await
Manchester United play Brighton on Saturday. Brighton seem like a scary team to play, but will the pressure build on Ten Hag if they suffer enough loss?
It will - that’s just the nature of the game. Last year was an incredible season where United got to two finals, winning one, and finished in the top four. The Europa League went reasonably well, too. After that, you need to kick-on and improve further. Brighton are suddenly a formidable team and it wasn’t too long ago when this game would’ve been a guaranteed three-pointer as far as United are concerned. They’ll be going in on the back of the defeat against Arsenal, and the manager will be looking to turn the tide around. The expectation is high at Man United, and if you don’t deliver, you’ll be under scrutiny. Ten Hag is no exception.
Do you have any predictions for the Brighton game?
I’ll always be a Red! Of course, I want United to win, but I can see this game being a really tricky one. It’s not often I sit on the fence and say ‘I’ll be happy with a point’, especially when we’re playing at Old Trafford. I’ll be optimistic, though, and say we’ll win 2-1. There are obviously some in-club issues going on right now, but I’ll always back the Red Devils.
United will soon face Bayern Munich at the Allianz - a game you would’ve loved to play in! How do you see that game going? Bayern are regarded as one of the best teams in the world at the moment.
If United lose to Brighton, then they’ll arrive at Munich with back-to-back defeats - something Bayern will love to take advantage of. Ten Hag will need to get the players’ heads right with this one. They’ll face Brighton and Bayern in the space of five days, making the former game that much of a bigger deal. If they beat Brighton, then they’ll be in the right headspace to give their all in Munich.
Man United’s current away record isn’t brilliant, but that famous performance against PSG in 2019 will be in their minds. Do you think we could see another brilliant away performance like that?
We should take it one step at a time. I remember going to Bayern and getting a point there - it’s one of the toughest stadiums to play in. The German mentality and the level of play is very formidable. I know the national team aren’t doing well, but Bayern Munich are always firing. The Allianz is a very tough stadium, and I’d be happy to take a point and come home very quickly! We’ll try to win at Old Trafford.
Does McTominay Deserve More Gametime?
Are you happy with United’s business in the transfer window? Did you want to see any more positions covered?
Not really. When you look at where Man United are as a team, we’ve signed names that won’t get people too excited. I think we missed the boat with Kieran Tierney as I like his energy, despite his injury issues. We’ve finally signed a traditional striker, but I think the manager trusts the players he has and he has to make the most of it. I assume he’s happy with the squad, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Scott McTominay is always linked with a move away. He’s been incredible for Scotland so far! He’s played in a different role for his country, and he looks like Frank Lampard when he arrives into the box! Do you think Ten Hag should take a closer look at him?
McTominay is the cleanest striker of the ball! I’ve seen him train a few times. I wouldn’t get rid of him. I never thought he was the level of previous Manchester United midfielders, but he can be very useful if he’s used properly. Scotland are reaping the rewards. With Fred going, United are short of midfielders. McTominay is a very aggressive player with great energy and I would be keen to keep him.
I know you’re a big fan of Mason Mount - what do you think of him so far? Can McTominay look to compete with him?
They’re different players. McTominay has his strengths, but he lacks the elegance of Mount. Scott can bring intensity and energy into the midfield, whereas Mason Mount has more quality on the ball. I know Scott is having a great run with Scotland, but he’s always played in a more defensive role for United. Mount will offer more going forward and to make the most out of him, you need to get the ball to him in the right areas. He’s had a difficult start, but if he plays in his best position, he’ll get his confidence back. I’d say the whole midfield needs to be worked on rather than looking at the individuals.
Casemiro’s Struggles And Ferguson’s Rise
You said United are struggling in midfield. Casemiro has been dribbled past more than anyone else in the Premier League. Is he on his last legs, or has he just started slowly?
Casemiro had a great debut season where he scored some crucial games and I think he’s getting a bit carried away by venturing forward too much. He’s supposed to be the anchor in midfield, but I keep seeing him in advanced positions. He’s ahead of the play most of the time, and it’s difficult for him to make those runs back. Casemiro needs to relax and stop trying to play in the final third. He was never known as a goalscorer at Madrid, and I think the manager needs to tell him to stay in the number six position. He doesn’t have the energy to track back so often, and that’s why you’re seeing United being overwhelmed in the middle of the park. I’d say more discipline is needed as we all know how good he is when he plays in his natural position.
Let’s talk about Evan Ferguson. His hattrick against Newcastle stole all the headlines. Would you like to see United go after him next year? He’ll be older and wiser then. Brighton will probably charge £150 million, though!
I’ve only seen Ferguson play a few times. He’s clearly talented, but let’s see if he can produce on a more regular basis. If he maintains his form, then the big teams will come calling. It’s ludicrous to suggest he’s worth that kind of money just because he’s scored a hattrick. I won’t get too excited just yet. I’m happy for him, but let’s not jump the gun on that one. He still has to develop.
Are Villa Living Up To Expectations?
Aston Villa have two wins out of four so far. Is that a good start, considering their hard fixtures?
A win record of 50% isn’t too bad. I think Unai Emery will be upset about the amount of goals they shipped to both Newcastle and Liverpool. I haven’t been a manager for very long, but I’ve learned that you can win games in different ways. You don’t always have to go toe-to-toe with the big sides, but sometimes you don’t need to. There are times that you need to be a bit more cerebral. Villa got exposed against Newcastle and Liverpool. Emery is a very experienced manager, but Villa looked far too open in both of those games. There are different ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes.
Ollie Watkins finished last season really strong, but he hasn’t scored a league goal yet. Does he need to start stepping up more? Cameron Archer has just left and he opened his account for Sheffield United in his first game!
A striker like Watkins will always wants to hit the ground running. The longer you fail to score, the more frustrating the game becomes. He’s always been a player who starts slowly and needs time to settle in. Look at his form at the end of the season. His movement and workrate are good, but he’ll be begging for some goals. That’ll do his confidence a world of good. I think he needs more urgency to start the season well rather than looking to build. Villa need a frontman, especially with Archer gone. I wouldn’t be too concerned at this stage, though, as we’re only four games in.
Villa host Crystal Palace this weekend. Palace are looking good. Do you have any predictions for that game?
Tricky one. Palace have started well, but Villa are really good at home. It’ll be close, but I think Villa will edge it. I think it’ll be 2-1 to Villa.
Will The Saudis Get Salah Eventually?
The end of the transfer window was dominated by Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of Mo Salah. A bid of £200 million was reported! Were you surprised by that figure? Liverpool rejected it. Do you think Salah was worth that much?
I think Liverpool’s main reason for rejecting the bid was the fact it came just hours before the window closed. There would’ve been no time to replace Salah, and his quality is vital to how Liverpool function. His consistency is crazy. The Saudis, and everyone else, hold Salah in a very high regard, and his arrival to the Saudi League would bring them even more attention. The fee was insane, though, and it’s crazy to see where football is going. The timing was off, though, and I suspect the Saudis will be back with another bid for him soon.
Are Saka And Rice Enough To Take Arsenal To Glory?
Bukayo Saka recently won the PFA Young Player of the Year Award and is on the shortlist for the 2023 Ballon d’Or. He always seems to be on an upward trajectory. Do you think we’re looking at a future all-timer?
He reminds me a lot of Raheem Sterling. Raheem burst onto the scene, but he soon was accused of being inconsistent. Saka has had two years of delivering for both Arsenal and England, but I think we’ll see what happens with him in a few years. We’ve seen loads of players have a great couple of years, but the real all-timers do it year in, year out. People were saying the same thing about Foden not too long ago, and he’s been in and out of the City side for a while now. I rate Foden highly, though. When it comes to Saka, I think we should wait a few more years and then see where he is. He’s a very exciting player and how far he goes is up to him.
Declan Rice recently scored against United. What’s your verdict on him? Can he become one of the league’s best midfielders? Is he already one?
I think the size of the transfer fee has put the spotlight on Rice. He’s also at a far bigger club and we’re all wondering if he can be the one to guide Arsenal to their first league title in 20 years. People want to see consistency, especially for £100 million, and if he manages to help Arsenal win the league, then I’ll happily sing his praises. The potential is there, but that’s one thing. The real challenge is living up to it.
I asked you about Mauricio Pochettino a while back, and you said we’d have to wait until the season begins to judge him. Chelsea are struggling so far. Are you confused about Chelsea’s rough start?
As a manager, you need to go in and build a culture of winning. He’s one of the best clubs in the world and he has all the resources in the world to build that winning mentality. Going into a club with so many new players is always tough, but that’s why top managers earn the big bucks. Chelsea haven’t got off to a dream start, but Poch is an experienced coach and he’ll know what to do.
Are Haaland And Alvarez The New Yorke And Cole?
Let’s talk about Erling Haaland. People were wondering if he could replicate his goal scoring feats from last season, but he’s managed to produce a mirror-image of his tally. He scored a brace, then not at all, then once, and then a hattrick - just like he did in 22/23. A lot of that is due to his partnership with Julian Alvarez. Is that the best partnership in the league? Could they be up there with you and Andy Cole?
You can’t forget about Bergkamp and Henry! They were brilliant. Alvarez is very underrated and people always forget about him. He deserves a lot more recognition, but I don’t think he enjoys the limelight too much. This is a kid who, in the last year, has won every trophy available to him! Haaland gets the headlines, but Julian is a serious talent.
They have a good dynamic - big and small. One’s really good with his feet and can dribble past players, whilst the other can smash the goals in. Would you say you had a similar dynamic with Andy Cole?
We could both score. Andy’s record speaks for itself. We’re talking about someone with 187 Premier League goals! I scored 123. Coley was a lot more prolific and he didn’t take penalties, though I didn’t take many, either. Opposites attract in life, and football is no different. Haaland can play in that number 9 role, whereas Julian can beat a man before linking play, much like I did. They complement each other, and that’s a defender’s nightmare . One-dimensional players are easy to defend against! Cole and I were opposite in personality, but in football terms, we were quite similar.
Messi vs Haaland - Who Deserves The Ballon d’Or?
One last question - Lionel Messi is the heavy favourite to win the Ballon d’Or. Do you think that’s fair considering the season Haaland has had? The World Cup is a seven-game tournament, but a Treble is over 60 games.
It depends how you see it. The World Cup may only be seven games, but it’s seen as the biggest prize in our sport. Winning the Treble obviously requires a lot more consistency, but those trophies will always be overshadowed by the World Cup. Haaland will have a great argument, but you can’t argue with what Messi’s done. Look at what he’s done with Inter Miami - he’s made the sport such a huge deal in America, and nobody has been able to make that kind of impact over there. It’s hard to look beyond Messi for the Ballon d’Or. People said he couldn’t be the greatest ever without a World Cup, and he went and did it. I think he’ll edge it, but Haaland has a right to feel hard done by. When I won the Treble in 1999, I scored 29 goals and had 23 assists. I didn’t win the Ballon d’Or that year - Rivaldo did, even though I scored more goals in the Champions League that year. I didn’t even win the PFA Player of the Year!
Rivaldo only scored 3 goals in the Champions League that year!
That goes to show. I scored eight and won the trophy!
If you were called Yorkinho, you may have won the Ballon D’Or that year!
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