In an exclusive interview with Safe Betting Sites UK, former Manchester United, Liverpool and Inter Milan star Paul Ince, now the manager of Reading FC, explains what he thinks is wrong with the squad and transfer policy at United, plus shares his thoughts on Jurgen Klopp, Erik ten Haag and predictions for the 2022-23 Premier League season for both clubs.
Highlights Of The Interview
- Says that he would have shown Ronaldo the door as soon as he asked to leave
- United would have signed Frenkie de Jong by now if Alex Ferguson was in charge
- Claims Scott McTominay and Fred are not good enough for Manchester United
- It will take at least 2 years for United to challenge Liverpool and City
- Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s Fulham pitch excuse was ‘poor’
- Sadio Mane will be a huge loss for Liverpool
- Darwin Nunez will be a success but needs to be given time
Full Transcript Of Interview
Journalists note: Feel free to use all quotes in publications but please reference Safe Betting Sites UK.
Q: Not a great start for Liverpool – what happened there, was it opening day nerves, were they too casual, what was going on?
Paul: You see it in a lot of first games of the season, we saw it in the Championship with Reading and other teams, you get weird results, strange results. Sometimes it’s just bedding your way back into the Premier League.
They’re always difficult, the first games of the season, it’s like trying to get yourself back into the mode of things.
Listening to what Klopp said, and he was talking about – it was strange, because he mentioned attitude of the players, and that’s not something you connect with Liverpool. Look what they’ve done over the last four or five years, they’ve been one of the best teams in the world, if not the best team. So, to question their attitude and application on the first game of the season was very, very strange.
You’re playing a team that’s just got promoted, they’re at home, the fans are up for it. To be fair to Fulham, they played ever so well. But if you look at the start of that game, you’d have thought Liverpool would go on and win it, but it didn’t pan out that way.
It’s a difficult one because when we look at the Premier League over the last two/three years, it’s always been Liverpool and Man City. The fact that Liverpool dropped two points already, and are two points behind Man City, is not a good start, even though there’s still another 37 games to go. It’s just been so tight between the two of them over the last two, three years, one point in it, that if you lose ground on Manchester City early doors, it’s always going to be tough.
Yes, we know last year City were 14 points ahead of Liverpool at a certain stage of the season, and they managed to pull it back, but you can’t keep always doing that. So, every time Liverpool drop points and City gain points, it’s always difficult, and vice versa.
That’s probably one of the reasons that Klopp was disappointed, His standards and demands on the team, he expects every week, whether they win, lose or draw, so to question attitude, application, intensity, all those types of stuff that are synonymous with a Liverpool team – I’m sure we’ll see a bounceback this weekend.
Q: We also heard Klopp talk about the dry pitch, controversially… what do you make of that, and have you ever been in a situation where, as a manger, in the heat of the moment, something like that’s come out, and you kind of regret it? How do you react to that?
Paul: As a manager, and I love Jurgen Klopp, you can understand there’s a question of player’s intensity and attitude, but I don’t think you can ever blame a pitch for the performance. It was the same for both teams. Fulham seemed to pass the ball well. I think it’s an excuse really more than a fact.
We just mentioned before we came on air that the weather’s been absolutely phenomenal, really hot – we played on Saturday against Cardiff, the pitch wasn’t how we wanted it to be, it was dry, but you’ve got to play what you get.
I don’t think the goals were conceded because it was a dry pitch, it was just an excuse, and it was a poor excuse. It’s probably taken away the fact that Liverpool didn’t perform the way that Klopp expects them to play.
Q: One man making no excuses already is Darwin Nunez – he was a bright spot on the weekend, and in the Community Shield. How exciting do you think he is, and how good could he be for Liverpool?
Paul: It’s early days. You think about the first opportunity he had, where he tried to flick it in, and then obviously the second that came off the centre half’s boot first before it hit his heel.
He’s a different centre forward to what Liverpool have had. You go back to Torres, that type of striker where he’s very leggy, he’s got plenty of pace, he wants to get in behind, they’ve kind of gone back to the Fernando Torres mode again. If you go back to Suarez, Mane those diminutive strikers that fit into that top three, this is a different type of striker. You have to put balls into the box to him.
I think he’ll do well. I think he needs time, like anything – the thing is, when you cost that amount of money, you’re getting judged straight away, and I think that’s unfair.
I’m one of those players, I went to Inter Milan, and it took me at least six months to settle down. The culture, the language, the style of play, so it will take time. I’ve experienced it, so I understand what it’s like for people like Nunez to come over to another country and settle down.
Attributes, you can see it. Give him time, he’ll definitely score goals, that’s for sure.
Q: Not to load the pressure on him but it feels like Liverpool got Nunez, City have got Haaland, is it as simple as coming down to which one of those scores more goals this season?
Paul: We know what a good player Haaland is. There’s always going to be a head-to-head, that’s just what we do, we compare the both of them. I believe Haaland will score 30 goals this season, I really do. When you’re in a City team that can create chances like they do, and there’ll be times when City go beat teams by four or five, and I can’t see Haaland not being on the score-sheet.
Nunez might be a different proposition, he’s learning a different way. And even the other players are learning a different way – before, when you had Firmino, you had Salah, and you had Mane, they played a certain way. Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a centre forward, so Salah and Jota and Diaz have all got to work around him and play a different type of football, they’ve got to adapt.
So whether they create as many chances as City will, I don’t know. It’s just great to have two potentially world class strikers in the Premier League.
Q: Speaking of world class forward players, will Sadio Mane be a big loss this season for Liverpool? How much will they miss him, particularly the early weeks of the season?
Paul: I think Sadio’s going to be a massive, massive loss. What he’s done, what he’s contributed to Liverpool, the goals he’s scored, the assists he’s had for Salah and Firmino –they were probably the top few players in the world, at some stage. So, for him to leave was a big, big loss.
Watching him play the other day for Bayern Munich, when they won 6-1, he gets his goal, he just gives them so much energy. It’s a shame that he left, I can understand players wanting to leave, he had five great years at Liverpool, he’s won the Champions League, he’s won the league, he’s won all the things he could possibly win. Sometimes a player needs a new challenge.
When you lose someone like that, you can just hear the response from Jordan Henderson, saying what a massive void it’s left in the Liverpool side, but he wants pastures news, he wants to try and do something different, he’s a world class player – and, listen, don’t care who you are, whether you’re Liverpool or City, if you’re losing players like that, it’s going to be an issue.
But Klopp’s always been great with his recruitment, the players he’s bought in, look at Diaz, a fantastic player, Jota from Wolves – obviously he’s injured at the moment – he’s come in last season and looked brilliant.
Q: Jordan Henderson always, always gets stick – online, at least – but he’s won everything at Liverpool, he’s been part of the most successful generation of England team since 1966. Is he the most undervalued Premier League in history? It seems crazy to me.
Paul: History maybe not! But I get what you’re saying. Because I think those types of players are a dying breed. Not everyone can be a Salah or Firmino or Mane. You’ve got to have the people who actually bring everything together. You’ve got to have the leadership, the character, to pull teams about and get onto players’ backs if the standards are dropping. He’s managed to do that.
He came from Sunderland, it was a snip. Just the way he’s a leader, took over from Stevie G as a captain, which was a big ask in itself. For him to go in there and do what he’s done is unbelievable.
He breaks up play, he tries to get forward, galvanises the players around him, the players respect him, and I think that’s all you can ask for as a captain or as a player. He does the dirty bits of the game that people don’t want to do. Look at his running capacity, he’s up and down, and he’s a leader.
We always talk about in football nowadays that we’ve got no more characters no more, there’s no leaders no more, and he’s actually one of them.
You’ve got to have leaders in your team. Klopp doesn’t play him for no reason. He’s always 7 or 8 out of 10 every game. You’re always going to get stick, don’t matter who you are, or what you do, but as long as Klopp keeps putting him in the team, and he’s getting respected by his teammates, then I think that’s enough for Jordan, I don’t think anything else really matters to him.
Q: Let’s move onto another interesting subject, Manchester United…
Paul: Very interesting, let me tell you…!
Q: The club’s transfer policy was supposed to change this summer. There were loads of internal rejigging, people left, people got new roles, and then the move for Marko Arnautovic, and the sudden change in mind on that because the fans weren’t happy, suggests that things haven’t really changed at all. If they don’t get that bit right, how hard a job is it for the new manager?
Paul: People say it’s a tough job. It’s one of the best jobs in the world, you’re managing one of the biggest clubs in the world, if not the biggest.
We know what’s happened in the last five to ten years. Chopping and changing managers, trying to get the right manager in, and we’ve had some world class managers in Van Gaal and Mourinho. After that we kind of left ourselves a bit short, I didn’t think we actually knew what we were doing as far as employing managers. Having interim managers is always a tricky ask, especially at a big club like Manchester United, and Ten Hag’s come in after Ralf Ragnick – which didn’t work at all, we must admit – and it’s a tough one.
The recruitment’s the most important thing as a manager. You look at the business that Pep’s done, the business that Klopp does, and I’ve always said to myself ‘how comes these players are going to these clubs and yet Man United aren’t involved in getting these players to their club?’
Maybe it’s Champions League, I don’t know. The fact is the recruitment hasn’t been great for a long, long time. And that’s a major thing for Manchester United. Irrespective of whether Man United are in the Champions League or not, at the end of the day it’s Manchester United.
When I was playing for Man United, everybody wanted to play for Manchester United. Nowadays it seems that’s not the case. Now the best players want to go and play in Champions League, they want to go to Liverpool or City, or go to London because London’s a lovely place, so Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham.
You look at the work that Tottenham have been doing, the recruitment has been fantastic – and, yet, for some reason, Man United have fallen behind. So I think that’s something that internally they’ve really got to look at. They’ve really got to get that right.
The Arnautovic one’s a strange one, but I can kinda see it. Because, listen, we’re not saying he’s going to come in and win us the title or take us to fourth, but he’d still be a valid member of the squad. You look at the bench, and you think who’s going to score you goals if Ronaldo wants to leave?
You’ve got Rashford, you’ve got Martial, and that’s it. You haven’t really got an out-and-out person who’s going to score you goals. And you forget how good he was when he was at West Ham. Obviously he went to China, and Bologna last year and scored 14 goals. It would make sense to strengthen the squad, but he’s not the one that’s going to change things at Manchester United.
The thing is, for me, is you look at Liverpool and City and they’ve done all their work early. They’ve got their targets, they’ve gone and got them and that’s it. Yet it seems to me that Manchester United are still scrimping and scraping around trying to get players on board. Maybe they’ve spent too much time trying to get Frenkie De Jong, which doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.
Looking at the midfield on Sunday, they definitely need one or two in there at least. I’ve said that last season, that they need at least two holding midfield players with power. I believe the Rabiot deal is going to go through, a fantastic player, he’ll help, but I think they’ll need another one. And then they need a striker.
But the window shuts in two/three weeks, so once you start getting to that stage of the window, prices go up for players, and the clubs can demand more money, especially because they know how desperate Manchester United are to bring these players in.
I know the fans weren’t happy about Arnautovic. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the fact of the way he plays, I think sometimes you see in situations he’s a bit petulant, especially at West Ham. I think United have enough problems in-house with this type of stuff, petulance and the spirit of the team, that’s causing problems.
Sometimes I don’t care what players you’ve got, how good they are, if the spirit and togetherness is not right, you’ll always fail. If it’s fragmentation like we saw last year at Manchester United, when there were pockets of different groups with different opinions, you can understand why they weren’t successful.
Ten Hag has come in and said we need to make sure we’re all together as one. I’m not sure they’re there at this moment in time. There was stuff in the paper today about players not happy with the Ronaldo situation, so obviously there’s still people there leaking stuff out from the club, which needs to be put to bed ASAP.
All of these things and recruitment and losing the first game of the season, they build pressure on you straight away. I think, for Ten Hag, it makes it a difficult job.
Man United fans have got to be patient. The booing wasn’t really directed at Ten Hag, the performance wasn’t great, it was more about the owners, which I get.
For Ten Hag, as a manger, your first game, you want to impress. You’re at home, all the signs from pre-season, winning games, playing well, beat Liverpool 4-0, there was a sense of excitement looking to the first game of the season. So to go and lose that, and lose it the way they did, you can sense the fans being disappointed. The first game as a manager, the last thing you want is the crescendo of boos after the game – it makes it even tougher.
Fans have to be patient because we can’t go back down the same road of changing manager again, he wants his players in, other players out, it’s costing the club a fortune. That’s not the way forward. You look at Klopp, you look at Pep, the four, five, six years they’ve been there, the success they have had. You look at Sir Alex when he was there. Success you do get by longevity. Keep changing managers is not the way forward.
The fans have to give Ten Hag a chance, let him at least have a couple of years, get his team together. Klopp never had his team together in the first year – Klopp took two or three years before he had the perfect balance of his team. Ten Hag will need at least two years to have the perfect balance of a team that’s going to challenge the likes of City and Liverpool.
Q: What would you do if you were the manager with the Ronaldo situation? It’s become a side-show now. What would your call be there?
Paul: It’s a difficult one. Obviously you think about the goals he scored last year – 18 goals he got last year, if he doesn’t score those goals, they’re in the bottom half of the table. So it shows the importance that Ronaldo has on this team.
But I’m always of the opinion, if a player wants to leave, and he kinda hinted that he wanted to leave three or four weeks ago, if I’m a manager then I’m thinking ‘right, I need to go and get a striker’. Because, ultimately, if a player’s unhappy at the club, eventually they find a way to get out. We saw when he came on some fans were applauding him, some fans weren’t happy with him. Again, it’s another disruption in the building process of Manchester United.
When we had Cantona, he did it on the pitch so we didn’t care what he did off the pitch. But off the pitch he was fantastic, he was a gentleman, he mixed with the lads, we loved him. I think this is a completely different situation. Ronaldo is a serial winner, one of the best players to grace the football pitch, but you have to be a leader, you have to set an example, and there’s been times where he’s not played, or he’s walked off the pitch, not applauded the fans, and that doesn’t breed well. Whether he wants to stay or leave, he still has to have the ultimate respect for everybody else. This is an issue that needs to be resolved quickly, it’s never easy for a manager. Once the window is shut, it’s a case of if he’s still here, he’s got to get on with it, get himself fit, and start playing for his fans and his teammates.
Q: Erik Ten Hag must have a few frustrations. He asked for Arnautovic, the club changed their mind. The Ronaldo situation. Frenkie De Jong was his number one target, all summer the club have made no secret of how desperate they were to get him – he’s hardly been interested and, today, it sounds like he could be off to Chelsea instead. How bitter a blow will that be, and how far does that mean United have fallen?
Paul: The Frenkie De Jong saga has been, again, a bit of a circus. If Man United want a player, they go bang, bang, bang and he’s there within two days doing his medical. The fact that initially he wanted to stay at Barcelona, I can understand.
Obviously Barcelona’s still owed him a sack-full of money, but you always kinda sensed that he’d end up at Old Trafford. The little rumours of Chelsea getting involved, I always thought he’d go to Manchester before he’d go to Chelsea. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
Barcelona need to obviously get him off the wage bill. I think to lose a player like that to another big club, would be disappointing. You think, you get Rabiot done, if you get Frenkie De Jong in there, all of a sudden Man United look quite decent in the middle of the park.
Now they haven’t got that so they’ve got to look elsewhere in the next two weeks. All it does is it makes Chelsea stronger, and Chelsea are doing a lot of business. Sometimes, the lure of London, capital city, it is a big pull for some of these European players. When you go from a Barcelona to London, there’s not much in it. That’s a big pull for some of these international, world class players.
Just me as a manager, trying to get players in, sometimes it’s the lure of being down near Chelsea and Cobham, people want to have that lifestyle. That can help.
But, back in the day, Frenkie De Jong would’ve gone to Manchester United without a doubt. If Fergie was the manager of United, he’d already be there. It shows you that the club, as big as it is globally and financially, these players are saying no.
I can see Chelsea are a bit further ahead than Manchester United.
Q: Scott McTominay and Fred get bucket-loads of abuse on Twitter, they’ve been criticised for three years – the fans have been saying we need an upgrade. Are they good enough?
Paul: I think there’s been games where McTominay’s been absolutely fantastic – not last season, but the season before, where he actually carried the team for five or six games. I look at him as a player, and he needs someone alongside him, a world class midfield player.
If I look at Pogba when he played for Manchester United, to Pogba when he plays for France, when he’s got Kante alongside him and Rabiot and world class players, he’s a completely different player. McTominay needs some world class players alongside him to bring the best out of him.
I was fortunate enough, when I went to Manchester United as a kid, to play alongside Bryan Robson. He actually made me a better player. I think McTominay needs someone like that, maybe one or two in there, just to give him a bit of support. No, he’s not a young kid now, he’s 25, but you’ve seen performances sometimes where you think ‘yeah, this kid can play’.
Fred is a different kettle of fish. Fred, for me, will give it his all, he’ll try his best, and sometimes you think is he the player that’s going to get Manchester United to where they want to get to? But it’s not about individuals, it has to be about the team.
They do get a lot of stick – if things go wrong it’s either them two or Maguire who gets it, but it has to be a team thing. It’s no fault of Fred or McTominay, this is a fault of Manchester United, the fact that they’ve not got the recruitment in, they’ve not got the midfielders in that we’ve been saying for the last two or three years.
They’re good squad players, they can have an impact. To just keep slaughtering them every week is not the way forward. I’m sure Fred and McTominay don’t listen to all that rubbish.
People use the word ‘great’ too easily – ‘he’s a great player’. I go ‘well, he’s had a great season, it doesn’t make him a great player’. Scholesy, Keane, Giggsy they were great ten years in a row. They’re great players. We need to go back to the stage where we’ve got players who are playing 8 or 9/10 every season. Not every four weeks. Until we get to that stage, it’s going to be a struggle.
You look at Salah, Mane, Kevin De Bruyne, Aguero – all these players were great every season. Not just one season. Not just two months. And that’s the difference with Man United, you never know what you’re going to get from them, and it’s been like that for the last ten years, I’m afraid.
Q: That leads nicely into my last question – will they qualify for the Champions League this season? Where will they finish?
Paul: Ooh! Personally, I’d love to say ‘yes’, but looking at it realistically, I don’t think they’re ready. We all got excited again, new dawn, new manager, things are going to change, things will be different – and they will be, but he needs time to implement what he wants in this football club. It’s going to take another two years.
Chelsea are building, Tottenham are building, are they going to finish above City and Liverpool? I can’t see it.