Do you believe Manchester United have the right characters in the dressing room to bounce back from their unimpressive start to the season?
“It depends on what you mean by ‘character’. I’ve been very unhappy with Manchester United this season and I believe they’ve been very inconsistent. If you look at the backend of last season, they were inconsistent in the league and that was despite a good run in Europe and getting themselves into the FA Cup Final. Their league form started to unravel, and I know they had injuries and all that, but I’m not sure if that form’s carried over into this season.
“They’ve been so inconsistent, it’s been absolutely ludicrous. The only Premier League teams that you can say have been equally as inconsistent as Manchester United are the three sides that got promoted. You’d expect this kind of form from a newly promoted team. It’s been very, very strange.”
How much of the blame should Erik ten Hag be taking for Manchester United’s start to the season?
“In no way do I mean to be disrespectful, but if I’m being very honest. Anthony Martial has been at the football club for almost nine years, he’s played over 300 games and he has 90 goals. He’s not going to start producing now. Erik ten Hag brought him off against Newcastle and a week later he started against Bournemouth. What signals are you sending to the supporters and the players? There are younger players who believe they may get an opportunity. It’s very, very strange.
“It’s difficult to sum Manchester United up at the moment. It really is. Manchester United have been fortunate to nick results when they’ve needed them this season, the Chelsea game being an example of that, and I believe in so many ways, that’s papered over the cracks.
“I was watching the game against Bournemouth and I saw them come to Old Trafford and spank the team 3-0. They were lucky it wasn’t 4-0. There’s been so much history made this season in regards to Manchester United’s games lost, teams winning at Old Trafford who haven’t done it for years and now you just don’t know what to expect when you watch this team. Of course the fans are going to be disappointed because they’re going to be so confused by what they’re seeing on the pitch.”
Do you believe Manchester United have an identity under Erik ten Hag?
“I think they’re trying to find one. I’ve said this in a previous interview, but I don’t believe any manager should come to a club and change the way that the club plays. That’s the history and the legacy of the football club. Look at Real Madrid and Barcelona, they’ve continued to play the same way that they’ve done under every single manager they’ve had. It’s been ten years since Sir Alex Ferguson left and they’ve had five permanent managers with five different styles of play and they’ve continued to change the personnel.”
Do you believe it’s harsh that Ten Hag is under so much pressure early on in his second season at Manchester United? Does he at the very least deserve another season with the club?
“I think Erik may be a victim of his own success. In his first season he secured a third place finish in the Premier League and won the Carabao Cup with the players that he has, so I believe he overachieved.
“Last season was fantastic, but nobody should have been expecting Manchester United to compete this season. What the manager did in his first year was absolutely phenomenal. Unfortunately, people have bought into the hype a little bit and now the fans believe that the team is significantly underachieving.
“People talk about Mikel Arteta and Jürgen Klopp being given the time to build teams at their respective clubs rather than being expected to compete immediately, but are they really competing? They were given the time to bring in the right personnel and provide stability, but ultimately, are they actually competing? Liverpool won the league in the covid season, but nobody has got close to Manchester City since then. Arsenal were competing for large parts of last season, but crumbled towards the end.
“Are either of them going to compete this season? I don’t know. If Manchester City can pull their socks up a little bit and hit half decent form, they could still win the Premier League at a canter. It’s crazy what we deem as competing these days because the gap between Manchester City and the rest of the teams in the league is huge, absolutely huge.”
What are your thoughts on players, or their representatives, leaking stories to the press about the happiness in the Manchester United dressing room?
“There’s definitely a mole isn’t there? Nothing comes out of a good dressing room, regardless of what’s been going on. Players fall out, the manager and players fall out and these are things that you’d expect to happen in football, but if you’re in a good dressing room, nobody hears about what’s happening. If you’ve got that winning mentality and you want to compete, then not everybody’s going to get on due to the competitive nature of the dressing room.
“At Manchester United now, information is being leaked so regularly and if the dressing room was truly united, then that wouldn’t be happening. Information usually comes out when things aren’t doing well. Some players won’t be happy about their game time, the form of the team or their own form. Everything that’s coming out of the dressing room is negative and that can’t be helping the team and allowing them to move forward.”
What’s your prediction for Liverpool versus Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday?
“It’s going to be a tough one. Liverpool have got the bit between their teeth and being brutally honest, they enjoy playing Manchester United now. They look at Manchester United and fancy themselves to get the three points.
“Liverpool are aware that Manchester United are going through a tough time at the moment and they’re going to aim to rub their noses in it. It’s going to be a tough, tough game for them. We have to turn up. Whatever the result, we have to put a performance in. It’s that simple.”
With Rasmus Højlund struggling for goals in the Premier League in particular, do you believe Scott McTominay could be used as another striker by Erik ten Hag?
“If that happens, then we would be in dire straits. I would be surprised if he got deployed in that role for Manchester United. At the weekend against Bournemouth, Rasmus [Højlund] came on again and he worked extremely hard, but unfortunately he’s going to find it very tough to score goals.
“The Premier League is not Serie A and it’s not the Champions League. The Premier League is exactly what it says on the tin. I feel very sorry for Ramus as he’s expected to score goals because Manchester United paid so much for him. As long as this run continues where he’s not scoring goals, the harder it’s going to become for him. It’s even harder for him because of the form that the rest of the team is in.
“Would I like to be in his position now? I don’t think I would. I understand why the fans are frustrated because Anthony Martial can put in the performance he did against Newcastle United and then start the following week. Rasmus was on the bench and it had everybody scratching their heads.”
Do you believe Manchester United need to sign a new striker in the January transfer window considering the form of Anthony Martial, the only other out-and-out striker at Old Trafford currently besides Rasmus Højlund?
“100%. They need to sign somebody that’s proven in the Premier League. I watch football a lot and sometimes I get turned off by it because I don’t understand why Premier League clubs continue to buy players that can’t improve the league itself.
“They bring in centre-forwards that have scored a handful of goals in other leagues across Europe, so what makes them think that they’re going to come to the Premier League and score goals on a consistent basis? I seriously don’t understand it.
“If you’re scoring 10 goals in Serie A, or in Holland or Belgium for example, why are Premier League clubs spending £40 million-£50 million on these players with the expectation that they’re going to get them 20 league goals a season?
“When I was playing, players were being brought in to improve the Premier League, but nowadays that isn’t happening and I’m half thinking about getting myself fit. That’s how much the game’s changed.”
What percentage of the current squad do you believe are actually good enough to be Manchester United players?
“It would be a low percentage, definitely.”
According to the Independent, Manchester United are prepared to listen to offers for Raphaël Varane and Casemiro in the January transfer window. How would you rate the pair of them as signings overall and do you believe the club are aiming to get rid of both of them too soon?
“Ultimately, they were brought to the club because of their experience and success at the highest level of the game. If it’s true that Manchester United are looking to get rid of them in January, then that’s surprising.
“Casemiro didn’t start this season particularly well and picked up an injury, but that’s part of football. There’s nothing to suggest that he can’t come back and recapture the form he showed last season. You never know what’s going to happen in football.
“Varane’s a surprising one. We don’t know for sure what’s gone on between him and Erik ten Hag, but a picture shows a thousand words and if you look at the game away to Copenhagen, he didn’t look at the manager when he was coming on and the manager wasn’t looking at him and from that moment, you could tell that they were no longer talking to each other.
“When he’s been left out of the starting eleven, the manager has claimed it’s for tactical reasons, but I’ve never heard of a centre-half being left on the bench for tactical reasons. If it was a centre-forward or midfielder, then I would get it but a centre-back? No.
“Something’s clearly gone on there and it’s evidently not a happy situation between the pair of them. Yes, Varane’s had injuries, but over the last five years he’s always had injuries. Manchester United knew he had an injury record. However, for him to be sat on the bench is a situation that I find really, really strange. Manchester United won’t get back what they paid for him and I believe that he and Casemiro are two players that can still offer the club a lot.”
Are you concerned by the number of players that Erik ten Hag has seemingly fallen out with during his time at Manchester United?
“I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing because ultimately, they still need the players he’s fallen out with. It’s not like Manchester United are in the position to challenge for the Premier League title and their squad’s good enough to allow players to move on.
“When you’re really in a position of power, your team is playing well and you’re competing, it’s totally different. It’s a completely different situation now to when Sir Alex Ferguson was at the club. Players used to be desperate to come to Manchester United and to win things. If it was like the old days, Erik ten Hag could fall out with Jadon Sancho and go out and get X, Y or Z. It’s a little bit different now because of the position that Manchester United find themselves in. It’s now harder for the club to entice players and encourage them to move to Old Trafford.
“How many big names do you see being linked with moves to Manchester United now? Barely any. All the big names are now linked with moves to the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
“When you fall out with players, you have to be very careful because ultimately you’re going to need them in the end, unless their replacement is better than what you had previously. For a long time now, Manchester United have brought in players who haven’t been much better than the players they’ve let go. We’ve been caught in that situation for over ten years now.”
After winning November’s Premier League Player of the Month award, do you believe Harry Maguire has a long-term future at Manchester United, or do you believe the club should still be on the lookout for a new centre-back to replace him in the long run?
“I’m very happy with him. Harry and [Scott] McTominay have got their heads down and they’ve been grafting. They’ve proved the manager wrong and ultimately they’ve got the manager results. They’ve not come out screaming and shouting about it, they've just continued to perform well, got their heads down and worked very hard.
“Does Harry Maguire have a long-term future at Manchester United? Only he knows because I always say that it’s down to the individual. He’s going about his business in the best way, he’s kept his mouth shut, got on with it, delivered good performances and let everybody else do the talking because they were doing just that previously when he wasn’t in the team. Now he’s in the team and doing extremely well, the same people are still doing the talking because he’s got his head down. It’s a testament to him.
“When he went to Manchester United and was given the captaincy so suddenly, I thought it was a brave move by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but regardless of whether you pay £80 million for somebody, it doesn’t always necessarily mean that they’re captain material. He’s gone from dealing with the weight of the captaincy to being relieved of it and getting himself back in the team and playing with freedom. His performances have been stellar and that’s a testament to him.”
Rio Ferdinand recently claimed he was annoyed that Manchester United failed to compete for the signing of Declan Rice in the summer. Did your former club really miss a trick by not signing the former West Ham United man?
“I hear all that chat and I get it, but Manchester United bought Casemiro the previous summer. You can have one or the other, but you can’t make two marquee signings for the same position. Declan Rice went to Arsenal for £105 million and Casemiro joined Manchester United for £70 million, so they weren’t going to sign Casemiro one summer and then buy Declan Rice the next.
“Manchester United needed to sign a striker this summer firstly, which they did, and then they decided to buy a goalkeeper too. Where would they have found the money to sign Declan? Would Declan have made a bigger impact at Manchester United than he has at Arsenal? Would signing Declan resulted in Manchester United being higher up in the league table? I’m not sure.
“I’m aware of how well he’s doing for Arsenal at the moment, but Manchester United are a completely different proposition. They’re a different team, play a different way and they’re going through so many problems at the moment. Would Rice coming to Manchester United have made a big difference? It's all just ifs and buts.”
With Nick Pope set for a long spell on the sidelines, David de Gea is reportedly open to a move to Newcastle United. How sad would it be for you and Manchester United fans to see him playing for a competitor? Would it be a great move for David?
“Absolutely, it would be a great move for David. Regardless of what Newcastle United are going through at the moment, they’re two years ahead of schedule and if David was to go there, I think he would only improve them.
“It’s not as if he’s a downgrade on Nick Pople because David would definitely be an upgrade. Pope is a very good goalkeeper, but during his time with Manchester United, David was phenomenal.
“People still like to talk about David’s mistakes, but we all make mistakes. Midfielders misplace passes, centre-forwards miss chances, centre-halves make mistakes and goalkeepers make errors too. In the grand scheme of things, he’s without doubt a top, top goalkeeper and if the opportunity did come for him to move to Newcastle, there’s no doubt he would look at that offer and consider it.
“To play in front of that crowd week in, week out, with the passion that’s shown, I really do think he would go for it if the opportunity presented itself. Regardless of what happens this season, with all the injuries they’ve had, the club is on the up and they will be competing in the next few years.
“Newcastle United haven’t spent a lot of money since the new ownership came in, so when they do decide to spend a few quid then bloody hell, David could be part of a team competing for major honours.”