Louis Saha: Lack of personality costing Manchester United

 | December 05 | 

14 mins read

louis saha footy 1

After a hapless performance against Newcastle United on Saturday evening, the criticism continues to rain down on Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United side. Despite calls for greater leadership in the Red Devil’s dressing room, the club’s former number nine Louis Saha believes that the personality of the players is the biggest reason behind Erik ten Hag’s side’s shortcomings on the pitch this season. Saha also spoke to Betfred regarding Manchester United’s clash with Chelsea on Wednesday night, Timo Werner being linked with a return to England and whether he believes Tottenham Hotspur are still in the Premier League title race.

How alarmed are you by Manchester United’s defeat to Newcastle United on Saturday?

“Firstly, it was a very good performance by Newcastle United. Secondly, I’m very frustrated at how Manchester United were outperformed physically, technically and tactically. The advantages they should gain from having players like Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes on the pitch wasn’t there, so I would say that the result was normal when you take all those things into account. 

“Newcastle United played very well and when they play at the level we know they can do, then you’d have to say they’re a better team than Manchester United at the moment. It’s just a fact now.” 

Do you believe this current Manchester United team is playing for their manager?

“You need a very strong balance of players in your squad. There may be calls for leaders in the team, but the main issue for me is the personalities of the players. Back in the day, you could be quiet and shy like Paul Scholes was, but Paul still had a lot of personality during games and his confidence level never dropped. He always played at a certain level and when you have ten to 15 players like this in your squad, you never drop to a level of performance where oppositions can dominate you. There were players in that squad where their technical ability and confidence came second to how courageous they were. 

“The current Manchester United players don’t show us those expressions that make you believe that they’re going to come out and put in a performance. All those players have quality, there’s no doubt about that but on Saturday, Newcastle United’s players showed more personality. 

“Don’t tell me that all of Newcastle’s players are leaders. A few of them are, but all of them have personality.”

After his performance on Saturday, is it time for Erik ten Hag to drop Marcus Rashford?

“It’s a difficult one because there’s not a lot of competition for Rashford’s place in that squad. Jadon Sancho isn’t in the first-team squad currently, Antony doesn’t create enough and he’s always cutting in from the right and everybody in the league is aware of this now. Marcus Rashford is the only player in that area of the team that’s unplayable on his day. 

“Manchester United have Alejandro Garnacho and Facundo Pellistri, but to depend on them now wouldn’t be right. The quality in that area isn’t there and Marcus needs to regain his confidence if he’s to move forward because he’s still a young player. Marcus needs more confident players around him to give him a platform to recapture his own. Manchester United have bought the likes of Mason Mount, who’s a flair player, and they need players in their squad like him because those types of players are meant to create chances and bring confidence to those around them. 

“When they get experienced players like Casemiro back, a player that’s had a hugely successful career and done a lot in the game, then hopefully he could be one of the individuals that shows courage in their performances and proves why they’re a big player. Courage is certainly missing at the moment from most of the players. 

“We all have a lot to say about the players, but the manager is responsible too. There’s also a lot of instability going on regarding the ownership of the club and that isn’t ideal when you’re struggling on the pitch. The players are human beings. They’re looking for answers and they deserve to be protected as they’re not the only people responsible for the club’s failings on the pitch.”

How many leaders can you identify in Manchester United’s squad currently?

“I see a lot of personality in Harry Maguire because he’s come back and shown a lot of mental strength. Luke Shaw is another player with personality and he’s very consistent and confident. Bruno Fernandes is the same. Casemiro and Christian Eriksen also play with a lot of character, but having five players with the right character isn’t enough. André Onana exudes confidence, but some of his performances fail to back that up. There aren’t enough players in the squad who can be an example to their teammates. Young players need to follow the example of teammates that are confident and courageous. 

“I see a lot of personality in Alejandro Garnacho. When he makes an error, he’s really upset and that’s something I love to see. I don’t care about the mistakes, I just want to see a player with drive that shows emotion. Fans recognise the drive of players and there are a number of individuals in the squad that look unhappy, and that needs changing. 

“Those players playing for Manchester United week in, week out have the quality. I have no doubts about that whatsoever. Many of them just need to show personality and courage.

“I’ve previously been critical of Mason Mount, but I believe he’s a brilliant player. The only reason I am critical of him is because I want to see more from him and I want to see the fearless aspect of his game. He’s one of the many big players already at the club and they all need to show us what they can do, prove how brave they are and be heard by their teammates.

“At this moment in time, there are too many games where they’re getting outperformed by lesser players and that’s not normal. The personality of the players is the biggest problem at the moment.”

If it’s possible for Manchester United to make signings in January, how many do you believe they need to make and in which areas in particular?

“I want to see them sign players with drive. I’ve seen the club being linked with Antoine Griezmann, who’s got plenty of personality, he’s accomplished a lot in the game and he’s been scoring regularly for Atlético Madrid this season. 

“There’s also Victor Osimhen of Napoli. You can tell that he really believes in himself and he looks really upset with himself when he’s not scoring goals and that proves that he has the right mentality you need to succeed at the top level. 

“Manchester United is still capable of attracting the biggest players, but it’s just a case of finding the right players that fit. It’s a big job for the scouting department.”

What’s your prediction for Manchester United vs Chelsea on Wednesday evening?

“It’s a very important game. The performances in the last few matches have been very frustrating to watch and those performances haven’t been able to lift the dressing room. There are players, such as Marcus Rashford, that really need to regain their spirit. 

“Huge games against the biggest clubs provide the perfect platform for a confidence booster if you’re victorious. Manchester United were in decent form in the Premier League before their defeat to Newcastle on Saturday, so hopefully they can get a positive result against Chelsea on Wednesday and play themselves back into form.” 

Chelsea at home, Bournemouth at home, Liverpool away, West Ham United away, Aston Villa at home and Nottingham Forest away complete Manchester United’s December fixture list. Do you believe this is a make or break month for Manchester United’s top four aspirations?

“This is the Premier League and it’s the toughest league in the world. Every team has respect for one another and all the big teams are capable of dropping points. December’s not going to be easy for Manchester United because they’re facing some very good teams and it’s generally a challenging point in the season anyway due to the amount of fixtures. 

“We can all see that the players are being asked to play too many games, but I still believe Manchester United can pick up plenty of points this month. Liverpool away is always going to be tough but all the teams in the Premier League are capable of beating each other.

“The fans want to be reconnected with the team they were last year because they were able to express themselves and play with joy, spirit and confidence.”

According to a report in The Guardian, Raphaël Varane and Mason Mount are at risk of being replaced by the club in January. We’ve previously discussed the future of Raphaël Varane with you, but regarding Mason Mount, do you believe it would be unbelievable to write off a summer signing in six months?

“If they got rid of him in January, they’d be showing that they’ve made a huge mistake. They spent so much time following the player and they paid a lot of money to bring him to Old Trafford. He’s inherited the number seven shirt and if they allowed him to go so soon, then that would represent a massive mistake for the club. For those reasons, I really doubt that they will look to replace him in the January window. 

“The player’s going to back himself to be a success at the club and I’m sure Mason’s expecting a big future at Manchester United. To allow him to leave in January would be very painful for both the player and the club. I really doubt that they’d be prepared to allow him to leave because he’s a terrific player. He may not be playing with full confidence at the moment but that can change in an instant, so I really hope those rumours are false and the timing of them are wrong also.”

We now want to ask you about three forwards currently linked with a move to Old Trafford. Firstly, we want to ask you about Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez, who’s the top goalscorer in Serie A with 13 goals in 14 league games. He’s been linked with a move to Manchester United, as well as Chelsea and Real Madrid, but in your opinion, is he one of the best strikers in world football at the moment and would you love to see him move to Old Trafford?

“I like him and he’s been very consistent for the last three or four years. He’s Argentinian and has a lot of personality, strength, confidence, an obsession for scoring goals and he can definitely be an asset for Manchester United. 

“There is a lot of speculation because you can see the weakness of Manchester United’s strikeforce at the moment. Unfortunately, I really doubt that a huge move such as this could take place in the January transfer window. I really respect the player, but this move won’t happen this winter.”

Secondly, former Chelsea forward Timo Werner is linked with a shock January move to Manchester United. Timo is currently struggling for gametime at RB Leipzig and in your opinion, should Manchester United move for players that have already struggled in the Premier League previously, or could it be different for Timo in a new team and a different system?

“Manchester United needs players that have stability, confidence, and strong, powerful qualities. Timo possesses most of them. However, Timo didn’t look confident in the Premier League during his time at Chelsea and Manchester United need players that can express themselves with a smile on their face. If he can’t do that, then I’m not sure whether it’s a move they should pursue. 

“The team is already struggling with players that are lacking confidence, so I wouldn’t want them to add another struggling player to their roster. There are enough players without the right confidence level and if Timo came in already lacking self-belief, then people may start to look at him and guess whether he’s fatigued or not the right fit for the tactics, when it’s really just a case of him lacking confidence.”

And the final forward we want to ask you about is Thomas Müller. He’s struggling for gametime under Thomas Tuchel at Bayern Munich this season and considering his wealth of experience at the highest level, do you believe if he was to make the move to Old Trafford, he could be a leader in Manchester United’s dressing room?

“He’s definitely a great leader that’s admired across the footballing world. He’s played for one of the world’s best clubs for many, many years and he’s achieved a lot at Bayern Munich. He may not be as quick or as clinical as [Robert] Lewandowski was for Bayern, but he’s such an accomplished forward and nobody can doubt his quality. He’s a very smart player that has bags of personality. 

“He may be 34 years of age but he could still be an answer for Manchester United, even if it’s not going to be a long-term solution for Erik ten Hag. Not many players in the world have the mixture of personality and experience that Müller has.

“Similar to when Manchester United signed Zlatan Ibrahimović and Cristiano Ronaldo. Those players had no doubts regarding their ability and quality and they’d be prepared to challenge anybody. They would challenge themselves and their teammates. This is what we need. Every time those players went on the field for Manchester United, they had drive, they were confident and they had the courage to take the ball regardless of whether they were playing well or not. They didn’t shy away from their responsibilities. 

“Regarding this current Manchester United team, I see players that think twice before they take the ball, chase down the opposition or strike the ball and when you have five or six players playing thinking this way, then it makes things really difficult.”

Do you believe Tottenham Hotspur are still in the Premier League title race, despite being six points off top spot?

“They are. I always thought Tottenham would represent a threat and would be contenders for the Premier League title this season, but it’s such a big challenge when you’re contending with teams like Manchester City and Arsenal who’re playing the way they’re playing right now. It’s always going to be tough, but there are always going to be moments in the season when you’re on fire and moments when you have to contend amidst an injury crisis of sorts. It’s a very tough competition and there’s no other league in the world that’s as competitive as the Premier League.

“Premier League managers can get sacked if their team is playing okay and okay isn’t good enough for a number of clubs because the expectations are so high. Tottenham are definitely a team that can challenge for the league, but it’s a long season and the competition is fierce.”

Are you confident that Everton will survive relegation from the Premier League this season?

“Before the enormous points deduction, I could see that Everton were starting to feel more confident and they’ve played really well recently and are beginning to grow as a team. 

“Sean Dyche deserves a lot of credit, but the season is very long and they need to maintain the same level of momentum that they have currently. They need to keep picking up points against their main challengers, which is something they did against Nottingham Forest on Saturday. It’s really important that they’re victorious against those teams. Their form has been great to see, but it’s been really hard to see them get sanctioned in such a tough way, so they will have to fight.”


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