After Marcus Rashford was left out of Manchester United’s squad to face Newport County on Sunday for an ‘internal matter’, do you feel sorry for Erik ten Hag having to deal with so many off-field issues surrounding his players during his tenure at Old Trafford?
“Yes I do because these stories are not helpful for a club that is trying to get back to its best. Marcus is a player that has huge expectations on him and he’s putting the club and Erik ten Hag in a position that they don’t want to be in.
“I don’t want to comment on the situation too much because I’m unaware of all the elements, but we’ve seen many cases of Manchester United players saying they’re ill or sick. It doesn’t seem right.”
Do you believe INEOS are going to be particularly concerned by these disciplinary issues surrounding Marcus Rashford? We’ve seen speculation suggesting that the club’s new CEO Omar Berrada believes that players must succeed in 1-2 years and believes that it’s unacceptable to hold onto players that are underperforming over a long period of time.
“When you have a new hierarchy at a club, they’re going to have different ways of acting in a situation like this. They’ll want to prove a point and any player associated with the club will have to be at their best, regardless of whether they’re a big player or not.
“We all know that the structure at Manchester United hasn’t been right over the past decade and any deals or agreements people had before can be challenged now. To see the club get back to its best, people have to understand these things, whether they like it or not.
“Marcus Rashford is a big, big ambassador for the club and he’s an example for the other players, especially those in the academy. All the players need to be on their toes and they need to be better. We all expected him to score at least 15 goals this season but that hasn’t been the case, so he needs to do better.
“We saw the situation regarding him going out for his birthday immediately after Manchester United were beaten 3-0 at home by Manchester City and he has to understand that regardless of what other people are doing, it doesn’t mean that he has to be doing the same as them. He needs to be aware that people are waiting for any opportunity to put his name in the newspapers, so he needs to avoid doing these things.
“I recently read an interview with Thierry Henry and he said that after Arsenal won the Premier League title in their ‘invincible’ season, he didn’t go to the party afterwards because he was already focusing on the European Championships with France. These are the types of things that you want to hear from such a great player with so much talent because that symbolised who he was. Marcus needs to follow this example because he’s such a big name and he symbolises the club.”
Do you believe we’re potentially watching Marcus waste his potential?
“Yes we could be because when you have a few years when you’re brilliant one season and not so good the next, then that’s not ideal. With Marcus, we should be discussing him competing for the Ballon d’Or but we’re not. Instead we’re talking about what he should be doing and what he should be doing more.
“I believe Marcus will be as frustrated as everybody else because he’s aware of the talent he has. He should be in the debate for the best player this season, but that’s not the case at the moment due to how he’s underperformed. The great players we all remember all had consistency and Marcus doesn’t have that currently.
“When I was a player, I had potential but I had nowhere near the amount of potential that Marcus had and I feel like that’s why I’m so hard on Marcus when I discuss him because he should be achieving a lot more. It’s really difficult to see what’s happening with him at the moment.”
How much of a coup do you believe Manchester United’s appointment of Omar Berrada as their new CEO is?
“It’s always good to see positive change. Omar is somebody that has been a part of a very successful setup at Manchester City and has proven himself to be a significant asset for them for many years. He’s done it for Barcelona as well. He has a lot of confidence and respect from his fellow staff, so these kinds of things are a good indicator that things are going to change and he’s definitely what the club needs.
“The stature of his previous roles indicates that he’s a hard worker and he will bring some kind of stability and structure to the club, which is really needed. He will give an indication to some of the agents of players at the club, or moving to the club, whether they’re delivering enough to deserve lucrative contracts. Manchester United have failed with this in the last decade and hopefully those days are over now.
“Gary Neville has been speaking for a long time about the need for stability at the club and who’s going to stay there and who leaves. It’s very important that the club now has somebody who’s going to represent that.”
Are you excited by the rumoured changes that INEOS are planning to make at Manchester United? Do you believe they can make your former club a force in world football again?
“I really hope so. There’s a lot of speculation regarding the changes they’re planning, but they need to deliver on it. It’s all about the players you have on the field and that the manager has a proper structure to work with. Putting a long-term strategy in place isn’t easy and to deliver all the variables required, it’s going to take time.
“Many other teams in England are planning to do the same, so there’s massive competition, but Manchester United will be looking for the very best talent to help them along the way. This should have happened years ago, but I’m not expecting magical things to happen in the immediate future because these things take time. I’m very excited, but I don’t believe INEOS will do everything that’s needed in just one or two seasons.”
According to the Evening Standard, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have been alerted to Callum Wilson’s availability. He could be available for £18 million this month if reports are correct, and if the decision was yours, would you pursue a January move for Callum if you were Manchester United?
“I believe he’s somebody to consider because he’s an experienced striker and the team needs experience in their squad to positively affect the balance. [Rasmus] Højlund is a young lad, Antony and [Alejandro] Garnacho are still very young, so I believe adding more experience up top is something to consider. They need a forward that knows where to go and is capable of asking for more from the players around him.
“Callum is a player to consider because he's a good striker with a good record and he’s scored a lot of goals in the Premier League for Bournemouth and Newcastle United. He could help Manchester United in their current situation because additions in the forward line could be important for helping the team catch up on those ahead of them in the Premier League table.”
Karim Benzema’s future continues to be up in the air. If there’s any chance that Manchester United can sign him on loan in January, then do you believe your former club has to do everything in their power to make it happen?
“Before his move to Saudi Arabia, this move would have been considered a fantasy. There are not many players with his profile, his experience and his understanding for scoring goals. Karim is still one of the best strikers in the world and has been one of the best for many, many years.
“If you put this on the table, then it is possible. You need to know whether the player is interested in the move or not and the club needs to come to a solution that makes sense. Ultimately, I believe it could be a great move and when it comes to a forward that can link up with his fellow players, then nobody’s better at that than Karim.
“Manchester United needs to believe that they can attract any player and this is why the need for a sporting director is so important because they need to understand the motivation of a prospective signing and it needs to be a match for what they want to achieve.”
Manchester United are said to have entered the race to sign Brentford striker Ivan Toney and are rumoured to be looking at the England international ahead of a potential summer move. Do you believe Ivan would be an excellent signing for your former club?
“Manchester United don’t need to fall into the trap of pursuing a player just because their rivals are. You need to sign players that are right for you and that’s it.
“Ivan is a great striker, he’s proven in the Premier League and he’s got a lot of quality. He’s not played a lot of football recently, so he needs to rediscover his form and I’m sure that it won’t take him long to do so. He could be a good signing for Manchester United if they can get him for the right price, but they need to understand his motivation, his dream and shouldn’t just join the race to sign him because their rivals are interested in him. That’s not the point.”
Moving onto potential centre-backs for Manchester United this summer, Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite is heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford. Do you believe Jarrod is a top talent and do you think he has the potential to be one of the Premier League’s very best centre-backs over the next few years?
“Yes, I think so. He’s a talented defender that’s very aggressive and quick. I like his left foot and how he’s a tall player that can dominate in the air. I do believe his reading of the game needs improvement, but I do believe he can still improve and he has a lot of potential.
“I can understand why Manchester United are interested in signing him. There are other defenders at the club currently that can help Jarrad realise his potential and I do believe a move for him makes sense.”
Matthijs de Ligt, who played under Erik ten Hag at Ajax, is reportedly wanted by Manchester United. His struggles at Juventus and Bayern Munich have been documented, but do you believe he’s a player that’s still worth taking a chance on in Manchester United’s case?
“I do believe that Matthijs is a top player. However, he’s another former Erik ten Hag player that’s been linked with a move to Old Trafford and those sorts of links need to be controlled. It should all depend on whether he actually fits the team, not if he fits the manager.
“You need to consider what individualistic qualities he can add to this team and shouldn’t consider a move on the sole basis that the manager likes him. It has to be more than that. It’s obviously helpful that he’s worked with Erik before, but he shouldn’t be linked purely by association. We’re not trapped and the club is bigger than the manager, so players should only move to Old Trafford if they fit the club.”
What are your overall thoughts on the likelihood that Anthony Martial will be leaving Manchester United at the end of the season? How would you summarise his career at Old Trafford?
“I'm sad as a fellow Frenchman because I've been following Anthony since the start of his career. Anthony has massive potential, and even now, I still believe that if he had a bit of a different approach in some games, then things may have been different. It’s really hard to understand why he didn’t change his approach because it started to become evident that people were aware of his potential, but were growing frustrated with his performances on the pitch. I'm very disappointed with the outcome. After 9 years at the club, I think he can say himself that he’s underperformed and didn't fulfil his potential.
"In my opinion, not fulfilling your potential is worse than underperforming. The aspect of it is a bit thin, but it's more like saying that you didn't want to change in some way, which is very frustrating because everybody could see that the guy could do everything. He really can do everything, but something stopped him. Sometimes he was unlucky because of injuries, and I feel for him because I've been there myself, but in some of those games where everybody was shouting at him or criticising him, I don't think he really liked it and he never changed his way of playing, so that's annoying. There’s still time for Anthony to come back from his spell out injured and score a few goals for the club before his contract expires in the summer. We'll have to see what happens, but overall, he will have suffered around 3 or 4 years of frustration, which is very sad.
"In his defence, he’s not been helped by playing in an unbalanced team. The squad itself is unbalanced, so he has had to do things that he's not really good at, which may have changed his personality and approach because Manchester United hasn’t had the right balance of leadership or have the type of players that could provide for him in some kind of way. However, I'm not going to blame the team for the lack of success or complaints surrounding Anthony's career. I think he, like many other players, hasn’t performed well in a team that’s not very well-structured.
"Everyone can be frustrated and that's maybe why you can say the same thing about Marcus Rashford or other players. However, on the other hand, he has no excuse because when you look at Bruno Fernandes, his personality and application is much better and Anthony needs that sort of mentality if he’s ever to realise his potential in the future.
“I don’t believe that the club has helped any of the players when you look at some of the transfers and decisions they’ve made, as they’ve all contributed to the lack of stability surrounding the squad and the club as a whole.”
What are your overall thoughts on Rasmus Højlund’s form in recent weeks?
“I think you can see his desire and realise how he can be an asset. Rasmus is a big lad and he's got the right mentality and the right approach. He's still young and you can see that he’s confident enough to demand the ball from his teammates. Against Newport County, I saw one situation where he actually shouted at Alejandro Garnacho for failing to provide him with a cutback and that was a good sign.
“His application and mentality is impressive, but he needs to improve his movement and sometimes he’s fighting too much with the defenders, so he’s making it harder for himself. I think he needs an experienced forward in the squad alongside him that can show him why he shouldn’t be fighting with defenders all the time. He needs to get away from defenders and I think he's losing energy by choosing to battle with them physically instead. He needs to reserve his energy for when he’s in the box. I think that his runs tire him out and that makes him less efficient in the box, where it really matters. He’s so eager to prove how hardworking he is, that he’s almost making things harder for himself by the energy he wastes in the wrong areas of the pitch.”
Do you believe Jürgen Klopp’s departure from Liverpool at the end of the season could have a huge detrimental effect on the club or do you believe the club is too well run to suffer greatly? Which team do you see Jürgen Klopp managing next?
"It sounds like he's ready to rest, take a bit of time off and properly consider his next move. He said that he doesn’t want to manage any other club in England, so I think he's provided an indication that his next move will be to a national team.
“I believe that Jürgen Klopp has been such an asset for Liverpool and has had a similar level of impact for that club as what Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill had for Manchester United. When Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, all commercial aspects of the game changed, the overall attitude of the agencies and all those things surrounding the players changed. It was a huge change and in this era, Liverpool are potentially in a better position to deal with the transition than Manchester United were in 2013.
"Jürgen may have been discussing his exit with the board for quite a while and considering that the announcement has happened mid-season, I wouldn’t be surprised if the club are already working, or have already worked previously, on finding his replacement. There are definitely some good names in the mix to replace Jürgen, but I would love to see [Xabi] Alonso come back, especially with the work he’s been doing at Bayer Leverkusen.”