Louis Saha: ‘Winning the FA Cup could save Erik ten Hag’

 | 23rd April | 

13 mins read

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Despite reaching their second FA Cup final in succession, Manchester United’s performance against Coventry City has ramped up the pressure on their manager Erik ten Hag and reports regarding his future continue to circulate. However, despite the calls for the Dutchman to leave Old Trafford, United’s former number nine Louis Saha believes that winning the FA Cup in May could save Ten Hag his job. Speaking to Betfred, Saha also spoke about which current Manchester United players he believes could have played in his era, reports linking Zinedine Zidane and Thomas Tuchel with the manager’s job at Old Trafford and why Jadon Sancho isn’t proving a point to his employers, despite his positive performances for Borussia Dortmund in recent months. 

Are you worried about Manchester United’s chances in the FA Cup final against Manchester City in May even more so now that there’s been so much negativity surrounding their victory in the semi-final versus Coventry City?

“It wasn’t right how they tried to see out the game against Coventry, but in the end they got the win they needed. They’re through to their second FA Cup final in a row, but they need to understand how they afforded Coventry City the opportunity to get back into the game. 

“Inside their bubble they’re protected, so nobody’s going to come into the camp and try and disrupt their preparation for the final, so I believe they will approach the final in a positive manner and show character. 

“From the outside we can criticise their performance, but the players can protect themselves by trying to do as well as they can between now and the end of the season.”

Do you think Erik ten Hag will be gone in the summer if Manchester United don’t win the FA Cup this season?

“It will be difficult for him if he doesn’t win the FA Cup. People are asking for the team to step up and there’s been no signs of improvement. Yes, they’ve had a lot of injuries this season, especially in regards to the back four, and there’s been issues with certain players, but a lot of question marks have been raised. 

“After the win against Coventry, Ten Hag claimed that getting to the final was a ‘huge achievement’, but it isn’t for Manchester United. It’s great that they’ve got to two finals in a row, but 15 to 20 years ago, they were competing and winning the Champions League and winning the Premier League title consistently. For that reason, I don’t believe it’s a massive achievement.

“In their last few games of this season, they need to show a better rhythm and body language. We’ve only seen that from them in certain games this season and we need to see this again from this team, otherwise it’s going to be a difficult few months for Erik ten Hag, especially if they don’t win the FA Cup.

“As Gary Neville’s said, if he wins the FA Cup with Manchester United, then it’s going to be harder for the board to sack him, especially if they beat Manchester City in the final. It could be a saviour for Erik ten Hag.”

Reports in France previously indicated that your former international teammate Zinedine Zidane is Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s dream managerial appointment for Manchester United. What reservations would you have about Zidane taking over as manager at Old Trafford or do you believe he would be an ideal candidate if Erik ten Hag departs the club in the future?

“For a few years I’ve said that Zidane would be a fantastic appointment for the club. There’s no negatives about it. We all know that his dream job is with the French national team, but we don’t know if he may have to wait a while for that position to become available.

“He can speak a bit of English, so that would be helpful. I don’t see anything that goes against him being Manchester United manager. He would definitely inspire the players to be more confident at the highest level and everybody admires him for what he’s done as a player and as a manager, so that’s certainly an advantage he’s got. It would be a massive achievement for Manchester United to have Zinedine Zidane as their manager.”

According to German publication Kicker, Manchester United are also interested in outgoing Bayern Munich manager Thomas Tuchel. Do you have any reservations regarding the former Chelsea manager coming to Old Trafford?

“It’s a tough one because in his most recent jobs, he’s not been at each club for more than two years. There was an element of surprise when he took the job at PSG and that’s a very difficult club to manage due to the politics surrounding it and other factors and this season he’s been unable to win the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, but ultimately he’s a good manager. 

“Managing Manchester United is one hell of a job and I’d prefer to not speculate on potential incoming managers because Erik ten Hag is still at the club and I respect him. The players are as responsible as the manager for some of Manchester United’s performances this season. At the moment, we’re just seeing names in papers and we can’t really speculate on anything whilst Erik is still at the club.”

iNews have reported that Jadon Sancho would be open to the prospect of a return to Manchester United as long as Erik ten Hag leaves this summer. Do you believe his performances recently for Borussia Dortmund, especially in the Champions League quarter-final ties against Atlético Madrid, are proving a point to his parent club?

“I don’t believe he’s proving any point. The only point he’s proving is that he’s a talented player and if he wasn’t stubborn, he could have been doing what he’s doing for Borussia Dortmund for Manchester United now. He hasn’t proven anything.

“There’s no doubt about his talent, but his attitude has been challenged during his time with Manchester United and the way he’s dealt with it has been to the risk of his own career. Erik ten Hag knew he was missing the opportunity to play a good player and that’s it. 

“It was a situation where the player, manager and club were all losing simultaneously. It’s all about ego and the club has to stop allowing those things to happen because it’s just not right. All that’s been proven is that things like this shouldn’t be happening at such a big club.”

It’s been claimed that Manchester United have switched their attention from Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite to OGC Nice’s Jean-Clair Todibo. Is there a Premier League defender you can think of, past or present, that Todibo reminds you of and do you believe he’d be a success in England’s top division?

“Yes, he’s a very talented boy who’s very composed and very strong. He’s a similar profile to William Saliba at Arsenal because they’re both very comfortable with the ball, they read the game very well and they don’t overcommit. These are the things I like about him and he’s a very good prospect. There’s no doubt he’s on many club’s wishlists and I’m not surprised that Manchester United are looking at him. 

“I do believe he would be a success in England because physically he’s very strong and he’s a good reader of the game. Lisandro Martínez is really good on the ball and can provide that calmness you need at this level and Todibo is in that same bracket.”

German publication Bild have claimed that Manchester United have held ‘concrete’ talks over the signing of Bayer Leverkusen right-back Jeremie Frimpong. Have you been able to see Frimpong in action often and do you believe he’s one of the best in his position in Europe currently? Would you love to see him make the move to Old Trafford?

“Manchester United have definitely had problems in the full-back positions recently and we all know that Frimpong has done very well for Bayer Leverkusen this season. They’ve had so many injuries in that department and on occasion we’ve seen some silly mistakes in those areas, so having competition is always a good thing. 

“I definitely rate Jeremie and he’s played in England previously at youth level, so you wouldn’t think there would be many problems in terms of adaptation. There should be competition and it will be very interesting to see what the new sporting director has in mind. We will have more answers in the coming weeks, but at the moment there’s just a lot of speculation. Agents always have a tendency to throw names out there, so you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.”

The Guardian have claimed that Arsenal are now in the race to sign reported Manchester United target Michael Olise. Do you want to see Michael make the move to Old Trafford this summer?

“I’m a big fan of his. He’s picked up a few injuries but he’s done really well since his return. I’m not going to be surprised if he gets a lot of offers from clubs because he’s such an exciting player and I’m looking forward to seeing him compete in the Olympics for France this year. 

“I do see his potential and when I see the setup of Manchester United at the moment, I do feel sorry for the wingers. Olise is a bit more flexible, more capable of playing as a number ten in regards to what he’s achieved with Crystal Palace. There are a lot of things that I’m looking for in the summer because there’s a lot of misshaping at Manchester United and I don’t know how they’re going to try and build this midfield with Mason Mount still to come back because he will definitely want to return and make a point.

“I think we need those players who are capable of taking players on one-on-one in different areas and not be solely dependent on Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho to cater for Rasmus Højlund. You need something else alongside him because it sometimes looks as if he’s struggling to get going because there’s not a lot of support close to him. I do believe he could benefit from different types of players around him.”

What improvements do you believe Rasmus Højlund needs to make to his game?

“I think physically there’s some work to do and there’s this tendency he’s got where he doesn’t change up the tempo he’s playing at. When he chases the ball, he runs at the same pace, when he tracks down people or he has the ball, he’s at the same pace, and it seems like he’s quite tired when he’s competing in a 50/50 situation as a result of this.

 “I think he needs to look at his game and figure out how to be more comfortable so he can play with his flair. It seems like he’s failing somewhere physically and I’m sure his physicality isn’t the problem, I think it may be the tempo he plays at. 

“He has to change pace and he has to provide a bit of flair in certain situations to build his confidence. He’s always fighting for things and I believe that makes him tired when he’s in the box trying to score. My view is that he’s forcing things a little bit. 

“He seems to always be fighting for goals and in terms of how he should play physically, he really needs to understand that he needs to change his tempo in certain situations. In England, you need to understand that you’re not going to win every 50/50 battle and it’s important for him to be relaxed once he’s in the box. 

“He needs to ask the wingers to put the ball in between the defender and the goalkeeper. As a number nine, you need to have wingers that are crossing the ball and when that’s not happening, any striker would struggle.”

Alexander Isak could reportedly be sold by Newcastle United this summer to allow them to comply with the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules. If he was allowed to leave St. James’ Park this summer, then should Manchester United be in the race to sign him?

“He’s a top player and he’s really raised his game this season. His link-up play is very good, he’s very sharp, he can create chances for himself cutting in from the left or right and he’s got a lot of flair. It’s a great combination. 

“He’s a tall guy, so he could definitely be a better target man in the box, but he can certainly play with other strikers and with the wingers Newcastle have, he’s proven how well he can link-up with them.

“If he’s available this summer, then I believe he could be a really good addition for Manchester United.”

After Manchester United’s victory against Coventry City, Roy Keane claimed that he doesn’t see character in this current crop of players, so with that being said, is there any current player for the club that you believe is good enough to have been a part of the Manchester United teams you played for?

“To be honest, I believe all the players could play in the era I played in. I think they’re all very good players. However, when you have the likes of Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Ruud van Nistelrooy in your team, you have a collective of players that are obsessed with football. Those guys would approach a game as if it was life and death and the most important game in the world. I didn’t have the same mentality as those guys, but what I did do was really up my game when surrounded by those legends of the club. 

“With this current crop of Manchester United players, they have a team full of quality but their approach to games is sometimes a concern. They have four or five players that are really consistent and motivated and when they have a bad game it doesn’t matter, but they’re a minority in terms of the entire squad. When the majority take over, they lack confidence and speak out when they’re criticised and this is the problem. 

“Any of those players could play in our era because they’re really good players, but they’re not helped because the balance isn’t right and they’re not playing with an entire squad that are completely obsessed with football. A lot of the players I played with wouldn’t take any bullshit. You can’t mess around with Roy Keane. You can’t mess around with Rio or [Nemanja] Vidić. You couldn’t do that. You wouldn’t see Ryan Giggs act in the same way that Jadon Sancho was earlier this season. There’s no way. None of this nonsense was possible.”


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