Omar Berrada has been appointed as Manchester United’s new CEO, leaving his position as Manchester City’s CFO. How much of a coup is this by your former club in your opinion and how excited are you by INEOS’ rumoured plans for Manchester United’s footballing operations?
“I’ve never heard of him. I’m just being honest and I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but there wasn’t a lot of talk about him when he was at Manchester City. The two main people who were mentioned were Txiki [Begiristain] and Pep [Guardiola], so I don’t even know what to say about Berrada. If people say it’s a good appointment then it’s a good appointment, but I can’t talk about an individual I don’t know.
“I’ve not really taken the INEOS ownership in. Personally, I’m looking at everything from the playing side and as an ex-player of the club, I’m interested in whether the team is playing well or not. What happens upstairs, happens upstairs and that’s not for me to worry about. Naturally, I want them to change things and make Manchester United successful again, but regarding the signings the club is making upstairs, are they going to make Manchester United successful on the pitch again? That’s what needs to happen. Whatever happens at board level should translate onto the football pitch. It would be great to see Manchester United play with an ID, winning football matches on a regular basis and competing for major honours again.”
Michael Olise is supposedly a priority signing for Manchester United and INEOS in the summer. Do you believe he would provide an upgrade on Antony and does his injury record in recent times worry you at all?
“I like the kid and he’s very talented. He proved he was a talented kid when he was at Reading and he’s shown that at Crystal Palace too. Regarding his injuries, injuries are part and parcel of football but judging him on his performances alone, he’s grown into that Crystal Palace team and he’s still only 22 years of age.
“Is he an upgrade on Antony? Most definitely. I read something that Dwight Yorke said about Antony recently and he claimed that he felt sorry for him and to a certain extent, I feel sorry for him too. To this day, I’m still unsure why they paid as much as they did for him and you can say he’s young and whatever, but I’m still waiting to see what he’s good at.
“If Olise does join in the summer, then he can bring a lot more to Manchester United because he’s very direct, he’s creative, he scores goals and he’s prepared to take people on. If the move happens, then it’s a signing that could take the team in the right direction.”
With Chelsea and Arsenal heavily linked with a move, do you believe Manchester United should explore the possibility of a loan deal for Karim Benzema? Karim is said to be open to leaving Saudi Arabia in January.
“150%. I would sign him if it was only for a training session. I was very surprised when he left Real Madrid in the summer, but I understand why it happened. That money he’s earning in Saudi Arabia is generational wealth. It’s for his kids and his kids’ kids. When you’re at that age in your career and you’ve already won four La Liga titles, five Champions League trophies and the Ballon d’Or, I can understand why he went to Saudi.
“Could he do it in the Premier League at his age? 100% considering the way he looks after himself. If Manchester United have the opportunity to sign him, then they should definitely try and make that happen.”
ESPN have claimed that Manchester United are looking to revamp their defence in the summer transfer window and Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof could be set to leave. Do you believe that any of those two players deserve to be at the club next season and shouldn’t be sold?
“What’s the upgrade on those two players going to be? In recent history, Manchester United have continued to sign players that aren’t better than what they already have. Manchester City are an example of a team that will always sign a player that’s better than what they’ve already got and that’s what football is all about. Sir Alex Ferguson always aimed to bring in players that were better than what he had at his disposal and he did that to elevate the performances of the players in the squad that were too comfortable.
“If Manchester United are looking to bring in a couple of centre-backs this summer, the club needs to know that they’re better than Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof. Manchester United have spent around £300 million on centre-backs in the last ten years and people haven’t been convinced by a lot of them. It’s a bit like Wenger syndrome when Arsène Wenger wouldn’t spend big money on one brilliant centre-back, but instead he would buy one for £8 million, one for £12 million and none of them were better than the other.
“Manchester United have wasted too much money on centre-backs.”
Everton centre-back Jarrad Branthwaite is one of three heavily linked centre-back transfer targets for Manchester United. How highly have you rated his performances for Everton this season and are you excited by his potential considering that he’s 21 years of age?
“He’s done really well for Everton this season. When you’re performing for a struggling side and people are talking about your performances in a positive light, then you must be playing very well. However, the question is, is he better than Harry Maguire? Harry Maguire since he’s come back into Manchester United’s team this season has played like the Harry Maguire we saw at Leicester City. Take away Jarrad’s age, is he better than Harry Maguire? Will he improve Manchester United? These are the questions that you need to ask yourself as a prospective buyer.
“If you look at Manchester City’s centre-backs, are they all top drawer? They allowed Aymeric Laporte, who’s a brilliant player, to go to Saudi Arabia in the summer because he couldn’t get in the team. That tells you everything. Manchester United need to buy players that improve their side because if they continue to buy players of a similar standard to what they’ve already got, then they’re not going to move forward.”
Matthijs de Ligt, who played under Erik ten Hag at Ajax, is also said to be a summer target for Manchester United. He has an enormous reputation, but since he left Ajax, he’s failed to hit the heights at both Juventus and Bayern Munich. Would that worry you as a prospective buyer?
“Yes it would because if he’s had tough times at both Juventus and Bayern Munich, then how can you suggest that he will be a success at Manchester United? Matthijs is another player that’s played for Erik ten Hag and the majority of signings that Erik’s made during his time at the club have been players that he’s managed previously. The Premier League is a totally different league and the ocean is very, very big when it comes to players.
“How many other managers in the Premier League have the same approach to transfers? Especially at the top, top level. This is probably why there’s speculation suggesting that INEOS are going to restrict his influence over transfers. I think it’s a good thing to be fair because Manchester United can now cast their net wider.”
Sky Sports Germany have claimed that Manchester United want to battle Bayern Munich in the race to sign Uruguayan defender Ronald Araújo from Barcelona. Can you genuinely see Ronald choosing Manchester United over Bayern Munich?
“Top players want to guarantee that they will be playing in the Champions League year in, year out. They want to go to a club and know that they’ve got the chance of winning things. This is Manchester United’s problem now when it comes to attracting the best players because it’s not like it was 20 years ago, where players believed they could come to Old Trafford and win the Premier League and the Champions League. The sell is a little bit harder now.
“Offering a player more money isn’t going to be the main factor because top players can receive that money somewhere else. Is £50,000 more in your wage packet going to change the life of players nowadays? No it isn’t.
“Manchester United find themselves in a predicament now where they’re no longer at the top of the list of clubs for players to join.”
Do you believe huge players are going to be attracted to moving to Manchester United considering INEOS’ planned changes for the club?
“Ultimately, that’s what they’re going to aim to do. When I was younger, I was always told that you can’t run before you walk and in Manchester United’s case, they need to put the right pieces in places that allow them to move forwards slowly but surely. It’s going to be very interesting to see how they plan on doing that in the summer and how they plan on enticing players to come to Old Trafford.
“A lot of it depends on where Manchester United finishes in the Premier League this season and whether they’re going to be playing European football next season or not. If there’s no European football and they’re trying to entice players, then how are they going to sell their project? The possibility of winning the FA Cup or League Cup? Winning the Premier League? Nobody knows if Manchester United are going to be playing in the Champions League the season after next and the season after that. That’s why I believe it’s going to be a hard sell for Manchester United to convince top players to join the club this summer. How many players would turn down Manchester City or Liverpool to join Manchester United? This summer is going to be really interesting.”
On the Stick to Football podcast, Jamie Carragher claimed that Erik ten Hag ‘lacks the charisma to make Manchester United players lift their game’ and is this a notion you agree with? Carragher also compared the Dutchman to Rafael Benítez, a manager with a reputation for being ‘cold’ with some of his former players.
“I can’t even comment on this because I don’t know Erik ten Hag personally. As humans, we’re too quick to judge people. Every manager is different and if you look at Rafael Benítez, yes he may have had a reputation for being a bit cold, but look at what he achieved at Liverpool. Would Liverpool fans take that away from him because he was a cold manager? No they wouldn’t.
“Erik ten Hag does things his own way. Many, many years ago, if players played under a manager that was cold, they’d just suck it up and get on with it. Erik has fallen out with a couple of players, which is something that happens in football, and now the team isn’t doing so well. If people are now saying that he doesn’t have the charisma to improve his players, does that mean he didn’t have the charisma last season when things were going well? When he was winning he had it and now they’re not winning as often, he doesn’t have it. I don’t pay much attention to all this because I don’t know Erik personally.
“If the new owners believe that Erik has the charisma to take this team forward is something that we’ll have to wait and see.”
Another comment from Carragher which was covered by the widespread media was that Bruno Fernandes is a ‘great talent’ but not a ‘great player’, citing reasons that he’s not in the right positions at the right times and runs around the pitch in a non-structured manner. What do you make of this opinion? Do you believe Bruno is a great player?
“What is a great player? When you say somebody is or isn’t a great player, that’s your perception. How do you define a great player? People agree and disagree over who’s a great player all the time. It’s all down to perception.
“Put it this way, if Bruno was in a team that was winning week in, week out, then would the perception of him not being a great player change? 100% it would. I understand why he tries to do too much on the pitch for Manchester United because he’s frustrated about the position that the club finds itself in at the moment.”
Alexander Isak, Bruno Guimarães, Callum Wilson, Kieran Trippier and Sven Botman are all linked with moves away from St James’ Park after it was reported that Newcastle United may need to sell a key player in the summer after making a £73.4 million loss and the need to comply with the Premier League’s profit and sustainability regulations. How much of a hammer blow would the sale of one of these players be for your former club and which player out of those five would you want Newcaslte to keep hold of most?
“It would be a massive blow. I think that's why they've been building their team because they’re going to need all of those players. It's crazy for them to find themselves in that position because everyone knows what Financial Fair Play means for their respective clubs. I'm very surprised they've found themselves in this position.
"I have no doubt they'll find a way to keep their best players if they’re aiming to improve the team. They'll find a way around it somehow."
According to The Times, Kieran Trippier is keen on a move to Bayern Munich in January. Do you believe the criticism he’s faced in recent times regarding his form is the driving force behind this?
“It could be. He has taken a little bit of flak recently and in football, you do lose your form every now and then and unfortunately that appears to be the case with Kieran at the moment.
“If he does go for say £12 million, which has been rumoured as a potential fee, is that, along with his wages off the books, going to help Newcastle United massively in regards to complying with Financial Fair Play? I would be surprised if it does.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they sold either Isak, Botman, or Guimarães because they would generate over £50 million for Newcastle. That type of money would make a big difference, but £12 million for Trippier is a strange one.
"I can understand why Kieran would want to move to Bayern Munich because playing for such a big club at this stage in his career is an opportunity he may not get again. He could win the Bundesliga and the Champions League, so it would be a hard move for him to turn down.”
Do you believe Newcastle United can’t afford to lose Trippier, who’s the club’s vice-captain, in January when the club still has the chance of qualifying for Europe again next season? Do they believe they need to keep leaders such as Kieran in the squad?
"100%, that's why I'm so surprised that they've got to lose any of their players. At the start of the season, you typically know where you stand financially. You’re aware of how much money’s coming into the club and you’re aware of how much you’ve lost, so I'm very surprised that this conversation is even happening.
"I don't think a team like Newcastle can afford to lose players. I think they should be getting more players. It's been proven this season because they got themselves in the Champions League, they picked up quite a few injuries and haven't been able to deal with the injuries as well as playing so many games. When you look at things like that, of course, you're going to need some luck with the injuries, but you're going to need a bigger squad to deal with all aspects of playing in the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, and the League Cup.
"If you look at Manchester City’s squad, I know they've got all those mad charges, but if you look at how big their squad is, you turn around and say to yourself, 'hold on, have they not broken Financial Fair Play with all those players?’ I understand that they’ve sold a lot of players for good money, but their squad is absolutely huge and there's not many players that won't be on big money at Manchester City, so it's a strange situation for Newcastle to be in."
Do you believe Eddie Howe’s future at Newcastle United is really hanging in the balance?
“I don't think so. I know a lot of people are mentioning it, but I can't see him losing his job. However, anything can happen in football and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.”
Do you believe José Mourinho could be a success at Newcastle United if the manager’s role becomes available in the near future or do you think his career in English football is finished?
“I don't know. If you look at what he’s done at Roma, he won the Europa Conference League in 2022 and he took them to the Europa League final last season. I know they haven’t done so well in Serie A and he has his way of managing, but he can still do it, of course he can because the Premier League is totally different.
“If he went to Newcastle, would he do a good job there? No doubt because he would have a decent amount of money to spend in the long run, despite the fact that there’s talk that they may need to sell a key player in the summer.
"I would be surprised to see him in England because according to reports, it looks as if he wants to stay in Italy and he looked absolutely broken when he lost his job at Roma. Knowing Mourinho for what he is, he always wants to prove people wrong, but we will have to wait and see what he plans to do next."
As a former Nottingham Forest player, how sad were you to see them charged with Premier League financial breaches?
“I think it's mad that clubs find themselves in this position. I heard how they were breaking it down the other day and that they expected to sell Brennan Johnson before the set deadline for accounting.
"Nottingham Forest have brought in around 40 players since they’ve returned to the Premier League and that’s crazy business at the best of times. Nuno Espírito Santo has gone in there and has already said that he needs to trim the squad. When the last manager was at the helm, he was unable to trim the squad because every week there was a new player coming in. Nuno has gone in and realised that the squad is far too big and now finds himself in this predicament, so we'll just have to wait and see.
"I, like everybody else, wants to know how they can turn around the cases regarding Everton and Nottingham Forest so quickly and the case surrounding Manchester City continues to drag on. How can you potentially charge Everton, twice in quick succession, and Nottingham Forest so quickly, but leave the case against Manchester City ongoing for so long? It’s crazy, but that’s what it’s like with the Premier League.”
Do you believe FFP protects the Premier League’s biggest clubs?
“If you look at what’s happening now, then you’d have to say yes. It didn't take them long to charge Everton and it didn't take them long to charge them again. It’s didn’t take them long to charge Nottingham Forest too, so you’ve got to ask yourself, if the Premier League are able to charge these two clubs as quickly as you have, and bare in mind they’ve already given one of those teams a points deduction, then why are you not trying to get to the bottom of Manchester City’s 115 charges first?
"What would you prefer to wrap up quicker, two charges, or 115? I know what I would prefer to do. If you want to set precedents, you've got to deal with the 115 charges first, then turn around to the rest of the clubs and say, '115 charges, we've sorted it out. Just letting you guys know, whoever gets charges, this is what we look to do to you.'
"Everton and Nottingham Forest are both fighting against relegation. Why have they punished Everton so quickly and why are they potentially going to punish Nottingham Forest so quickly too? The Premier League has got to do the right things, but they make their own rules.”