Louis Saha on Wayne Rooney Raging at FIFA, and United's current form
As a Premier League veteran and former France international, Louis Saha isn't shy when it comes to knowing how to score goals - something one of his former teams, Manchester United, struggled with at the start of the season. We spoke with the former striker on his playing days, FIFA with the United team, and more.
It's known that many footballers play video games in their spare time. When you were a footballer, did you play much with your teammates? Which teammates do you remember being the best when it came to gaming?
I remember when Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, and many other players used to play FIFA. Who was the best? I couldn't remember many beating me. There are funny memories of Wayne throwing his controller because he was losing.
What was your game of choice back in the day? And are you still a gamer today?
It’s difficult for me to play games now. I watch my sons playing, but I used to be a gamer. I used to enjoy playing Call of Duty and Far Cry, but I don't play those games anymore.
Much of today's youth is growing up wanting to be gamers or YouTubers as opposed to professional athletes. Do you think more youngsters would rather still be a footballer than a professional YouTuber or esports player?
I hope so. It doesn't stop you wanting to be both if you have the skills, but I do believe it's much harder to become a professional footballer, and I mean that with no disrespect to any professional esports players. You will have to put in a lot of time to become an esports player, but the physical aspect of being a footballer is different. Football is also a more desirable path as it's better for your health. The desire to become an esports player represents a different era, but I'd prefer to see my children play outside rather than in their rooms.
Onto football, your former club Manchester United came from 1-0 down to draw against Chelsea on Saturday. Did the comeback remind you of the United of old? And does this team have the character to win major honours over the coming years?
I like what I saw. There have been some comebacks in recent years, but the aggressiveness they showed and the focus to continue playing with the same level of intensity was there to see. I haven't seen Manchester United do that for four or five years when they've been away from home, and it was really nice to see. They've been criticised a lot over the years for their attitude, but against Tottenham and Chelsea, they've shown that teams are now going to have to challenge them mentally. Their response was amazing.
It's very early on in the new Premier League campaign, but where do you predict Manchester United will finish this season? Do you believe there's still time for them to challenge for the Premier League title?
There is time for them to still challenge for the Premier League title this season. It's a very special year because of the World Cup, and we know that there's the prospect of a few players returning tired, but December and January have always been crucial months in title races gone by, so let's see what happens. All teams competing are going to have to deal with this World Cup situation, but when you're eight points behind at this stage in the season, then as long as you do well against the sides you're competing with then, the dynamic can change.
Many people believe that Manchester United are competing for the top four only, but at the moment they need to remain very humble. They've shown positive signs against both Tottenham and Chelsea, but it's not enough as you have to show a run of remaining unbeaten for maybe eight or nine games and keep up the pressure on the sides ahead of you and be ready to capitialise when those sides have got injuries or head into a spell of inconsistent form.
Overall, how would you rate Erik ten Hag's start to life as Manchester United manager?
It's been a good start. He’s proved that his mentality is very strong, and he's confident in his style of play. We've heard nobody come out and complain about his philosophy, and the communication is great. Game after game, you see players begin to understand that you don't have time to take half a second to look around and work out whether they have to run back or be in position.
It seems as if he's got his ideas across to the players, and that's very difficult to do in such a short space of time, when you’re under pressure with tough decisions to make and you need results. He's doing very well and he's got some great results. I believe the January and summer transfer markets will be very crucial in terms of getting in more players that he really wants, but the signings he's made already have settled in, and that's really good.
Casemiro has arguably been Manchester United's standout performer in recent weeks. On his day, where do you believe he ranks amongst the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League? Will he be pivotal to any success that Manchester United have over the next few seasons?
We've heard some pundits claim he's getting older and this and that, but the guy is a five-time Champions League winner. He's not been behind the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, and Gareth Bale in Real Madrid's teams over the years, he's been the player that dictates the tempo. I'm not talking about small teams here, I'm talking about a Real Madrid side that, at times has been the best in the world in recent years. Let's respect his pedigree. He's been introduced slowly by Erik ten Hag and he's come into the team and shown what an intelligent footballer he is. He makes whoever's playing with him in midfield more confident, and I can't understand anybody who questioned his signing during the summer.
I believe the quality of the player is as good as Fabinho at Liverpool. Those guys in the middle of the park are so important to the team as they protect the defence and dictate the tempo of the team for the most difficult games, for the most tactical games and for the games where only a few key details can make the difference. He's been used to playing in the most pressurised games for years and has been involved in multiple Champions League-winning finals.
Another midfielder that's made an impact at Manchester United this season is summer signing Christian Eriksen. Do you believe some of the Premier League's biggest clubs will be kicking themselves that they didn't go in for the Denmark international, considering that he was available on a free transfer?
I am surprised that a number of big sides didn't go in for his signature, but at the same time, a lot of clubs wouldn't have been aware of his physical condition. A lot of the other big Premier League clubs didn't necessarily need a player in Christian's position, so that made it easier for Manchester United to sign him. To acquire a player of Christian's quality is a great signing for the club.
I believe that Christian will improve. Momentum is there at Manchester United, there's a lot of confidence and things are beginning to click. It's taken Erik ten Hag three or four months to understand his players and it's really sensational what he’s managed to do.
Your international compatriot Karim Benzema was the recipient of the 2022 Ballon d'Or award, after a remarkable year with Real Madrid. You were a member of the squad when Manchester United faced off against Benzema’s former Lyon side in 2008 in the Champions League, and Sir Alex Ferguson was reportedly desperate to secure his signature at the time. Was the dressing room aware of the club's interest? And were you all confident that United would sign him?
No. If you're a Manchester United player, then every weekend, you will see them linked with a new player, whether that's a new goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or striker. It's a club that can attract any player from any club or country.
Of course, in 2008 when we faced Karim, he was a big talent. He would have been a terrific player to play with as he’s very smart and he can score a lot of goals.
Erik ten Hag has claimed that no decision on new contracts will be taken until the new year. Marcus Rashford is another player whose contract is set to expire this summer, but there's a clause for the club to activate an extension by 12 months. However, do you believe United should stop waiting around to hand Rashford a new long-term deal? Could this decision to wait come back to bite them? Could the club waiting around to offer him a new deal make Rashford feel like he's not wanted?
Marcus is a player from Manchester that's come through the club's academy. He's spent most of his life at the club and knows that over the past year-and-a-half that he's not been playing to the standards he should. It's not disrespectful for the club to wait a little bit before offering him a new contract because they will want to see how he performs. The nature of those contracts is a big deal for the club as it's not as if it's small money.
It's all about stats. If six months ago, Marcus Rashford was scoring 15 goals, playing really well and being involved in England squads, then this deal would have been done. He has shown concern, and many people believed that he wasn't enjoying his football anymore. Now that is not the case and he's showing everybody how talented he is and what a big player he can become.
At the moment, he prefers to strike the ball in such a way that it's very powerful, but there's no guarantee that you're going to score a goal when you’re thrashing the ball in the direction of the goalkeeper. As a forward, I believe he needs an approach where he’s a killer in front of goal as he'd be unstoppable then as he will get five or six chances a game.
As a former Lazio player, we want to ask you about long-term Manchester United target Sergej Milinković-Savić. How good a player is he? And would he be a top midfielder in the Premier League? His teammate Ciro Immobile claimed he is on the same level as Kevin de Bruyne.
That's a massive statement from Ciro Immobile. Sergej could be a very massive talent because he's got great feet, great intelligence and great stamina. I would like to see him play in the Premier League because Serie A is a very different league, so if he does move to England, then he’ll need time to adapt, but he's one of the biggest prospects and talents in Europe at the moment.
Your former Manchester United and Fulham teammate Edwin van der Sar confirmed that he rejected the opportunity to become Manchester United’s Director of Football, claiming that he has "unfinished business" at Ajax. However, when United do eventually come to appoint a Director of Football in the future, then do you believe Edwin will be the ideal candidate?
Completely, yes. This guy is such a smart lad. He's very honest and he has total dedication to his players. Being the CEO of Ajax and understanding the parameters you have, and I say this with all due respect, but you're helping all these young talents get moves to even bigger clubs and that's been the formula of Ajax for many years. They've become such an attraction for young players due to this.
I hope Manchester United really push for Edwin because he's the perfect profile for the position because he knows the club inside-out, he wants to improve youngsters and make good business for the club he represents.
Harry Kane has been heavily linked with a move to Bayern Munich. Do you believe the move would appeal to Harry? Do you think the Bundesliga is too much of a step down from the Premier League?
Bayern Munich is one of the biggest clubs in the world and they have a greater chance of winning the Champions League than Tottenham, and I say that with all the respect I have for Tottenham. I certainly don’t believe a move to the Bundesliga will represent a step-down. Harry Kane is a player that I want to see in England, but from my perspective, I believe it would be a great move in the sense that he will experience a new culture and a new league with a different style of football.
Jamie Carragher recently claimed that France and PSG forward Kylian Mbappé has too much of an ego. Do you agree with this statement? And do you believe all the speculation around his future could affect France’s chances at the World Cup next month? If you were a potential suitor of Kylian Mbappé, would his antics at PSG put you off signing him?
I respect Jamie Carragher’s opinion and he has the right to criticise, but Kylian's ego is part of his game. He’s such a confident lad and he's capable of doing extraordinary things that no defender is able to handle. Sometimes he makes mistakes or overdoes it, and that's the problem.
Everyone tries to advise these guys, but superstars like Kylian, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Cristiano Ronaldo are hard to advise as they're such special talents and they can sense what they're doing right and wrong. As a former striker myself, I can understand that you sometimes have this belief that you're the best one and nobody can touch you, and maybe this so-called arrogance is not seen in a positive light.
I believe he's entitled to do that as long as he keeps scoring goals, because once your form takes a dip, nobody protects you and everybody is going to be on his back. Let him enjoy this moment of doing extraordinary things because you need this confidence if you're going to be capable of executing exceptional things. It's difficult to balance it out.