In an exclusive interview with Safe Betting Sites UK, former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam has given his opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo’s future and Frenkie De Jong’s potential move to Old Trafford.
The Dutch centre-back has also weighed in on United’s defensive woes, and told Lisandro Martinez and captain Harry Maguire how to improve after dreadful starts to the season.
Stam gave a wide-ranging exclusive interview which you can see below, and we are happy for you to use for publication provided there is a credit to www.safebettingsites.com.
Highlights of the Interview
- United should let Ronaldo leave for the ‘greater good’
- Stam believes De Jong wants to join United
- Martinez needs to change his game to deal with height disadvantage
- Past managerial changes to blame for current problems
- Van de Beek can improve the United midfield
- Maguire needs help from United team-mates to succeed
Full Transcript of the Interview
Q: What do you make of Manchester United at the moment?
Jaap: It’s quite an interesting question. At the moment, if you’re looking only to the result, it’s quite disappointing, in terms of how they’ve started the season. I think everybody expected them to do better, even the players and the manager and the club. Especially when you look at pre-season, everybody was very confident with how pre-season went, and how they played the first couple of friendly games. Afterwards, OK, it became a little bit more difficult but, still, I think everybody returned from pre-season with a very good feeling, if you read all the comments and you hear all the interviews. Players are very happy with how the manager is working, the philosophy that he has, and everything that comes along with it.
But, looking at the start of the season, people were expecting a lot. I was there at the first game myself, against Brighton, Everybody was looking forward to it of course, especially seeing the way Erik wanted to play and hopefully they would come out of the game with a good result.
If you look at the start of the first game, you see that they find it very difficult to translate the ideas of the manager onto the pitch. Brighton did it very well, they made it very difficult, playing their own style of football. You see that they concede goals and that the confidence is going down. It also comes a little bit from what happened last season. Then they go 2-0 down and it becomes very difficult to get back in the game and win it or even equalise. From results, it’s been very disappointing. What people want to see from these games is – of course you want to have a win, everybody wants to see that – but also the way of playing, certain ideas coming into the game that they’ve worked on in pre-season, and even these things were very hard to find.
Q: As a player, I’m sure you’ve had rocky patches or surprise results, how hard is it to go from the optimism of pre-season, and all that confidence, to start the season with two defeats, going into a game against Liverpool?
Jaap: It’s difficult because everybody knows and everybody keeps talking about the same thing – if you’ve had a good pre-season, everybody’s full of confidence, going into that season. We also know that pre-season is totally different than actually starting the season, in pre-season there’s a lot of changes with teams, teams are not starting the real squad, players are not fit enough, they’re not giving the full 100% every time in terms of what you need to bring in the Premier League games. You can’t compare these results to the games in the Premier League. It’s a total different thing – there’s lots of things at stake, players are treating the normal games differently, there’s a different mentality brought to the games.
If you go into the season losing two games, then of course you need to be fired up for the Liverpool game. It’s not going to be easy, because there’s disappointment within the squad. Everybody’s thinking about what happened the season before. Is it going to be the same this season? Even with a new manager, a couple of new players in. But, also, I think the manager is still trying to bring his philosophy to the players. Starting with a new team, different ideas, it takes times to implement everything, so everybody understands the thing that they need to do as a team, but also as an individual. It takes time, several weeks at least, to get into it. But that’s not an excuse for not winning, or not getting results, or not working hard. Going into this Liverpool game, players needs to understand, that if you win this game it can do a lot of good – because if you go into this game and you win it brings back the confidence, the feeling to the fans, for the manager as well. The rivalry, what Liverpool has done the last couple of seasons, if you can beat them – the confidence will grow again and people will really start to believe that ‘OK, although we had a very difficult start, we’re still finding our way up’ and they’re going to eventually start doing well in the league.
Q: What would be a good season for United in terms of league finish?
Jaap: I always said they need to be into the Champions League positions. United last season didn’t make it. But this season, with the new manager, and the owners giving him time probably to build on his team and where they want to go to, you still need to do well for the club itself. For the fans, you still need to perform. The manager probably wants to add extra players, but it takes time, you cannot get rid of like 10 or 11 players, it takes time to bring in new players, and that’s what we’ve seen in this transfer period. It’s not easy to bring in the right players that you always want to bring in.
But, still, we’ve the players that he has, and that he’s added to the squad, I think it’s still fair enough to say that they need to go for a Champions League spot at the end of the season.
Q: You know the manager fairly well, you’ve played him as a player and a manager, will Erik Ten Hag be surprised by anything so far?
Jaap: When you’re working with a new team, new players, then of course when you’re on the pitch with them you can see the real quality. But he also had the time to look at the team, the players he’s working with now, last season. Especially when you go into contact with United, when they’re showing interest, you’re following the team even more. Even talking with the people around the team, as well, about the quality of the players. In a way, he should know the quality of these players, as individuals, and what they can do, and how they can play. I understand that when you’re working with them you can see what they can bring to the game in training sessions, and maybe where they can develop and grow to eventually. It doesn’t need to be a very surprise in terms of what players can bring.
Q: He strikes me as a fairly uncompromising character, who knows what he wants – will he be tempted at all to change any part of his approach?
Jaap: Working in Holland, of course, is totally different than working in the Premier League. When you’re working in Holland, you’re working majority of the time with young players. It’s easier to get them into a certain structure than when you’re working with very experienced players.
As a manager, going from Holland to the Premier League, you also need to maybe change a little bit your way of management, in how to approach people. Of course you need to be very strict with how you want to play, I think he’s doing that – even if sometimes people are saying that these players can’t handle it, still you want to implement certain things. He’ll be thinking, I’ve seen them, these players can do it. Players need to be able to learn new things. You can add a certain amount of your philosophy into the team. In his way of management, in treating players or a team differently, that’s for him to find the right way – sometimes as a manager, you need to adjust to a different environment.
Q: Part of his style of play is playing out from defence, which we saw defenders getting caught on the ball a couple of times in the first two games. How hard is it for players to adjust to a new style of play like that, particularly centre backs being asked to use the ball that way?
Jaap: It can be very hard if you’re not used to it and if you’re not comfortable in doing so. If a manager wants to play in a certain way, and he’s pushing you as an individual that you need to do this, then it can be hard for a player. The previous managers might say kick it long, but Erik is very convinced in how he wants the back four to play out, together with De Gea the goalkeeper. The only thing is, the players need to use their common sense at times as well. Players are always going along with the manager and how he wants to play, but sometimes you need to look at the game, how it’s evolving, how the opposition is playing against you. If there’s no room to play out from the back, because they’re right on top of you and pressing you very high, sometimes you need to make an easy decision as well and play that ball long. Alternate between playing it long and playing it out from the back, that’s for players themselves, especially at this level for United, you need to be a little bit clever for yourself.
Q: A lot of talk has focussed on Lisandro Martinez and his height, in particular, do you see that as a real issue in the Premier League?
Jaap: It’s not a strange one. I always said it from the start, when he went to United, I said ‘they’re probably going to be talking about his height’. It’s a common thing in the Premier League that teams are looking for centre backs that are strong and big because of the physical part of the game. Bringing him in, it’s a challenge for him. It’s going to be interesting how he is adapting. Already now people are criticising him, and the coach a little as well about bringing him in, because of his height. He’s struggling in the aerial battles. You don’t need to be very tall to be a good centre back, even in the Premier League, if you’re clever enough, then you can handle a lot of situations. But you can see with set pieces, which are becoming a very big thing in football, especially in the Premier League, you need to be able to fight in the air, and to win your aerial battles. You see in the games against Brentford and Brighton, if the opposition is playing long balls, they’re going to play them on him, because the majority of times he’s going to lose it. If Ten Hag is keeping Martinez on the pitch, they need to find a solution to handle that. Otherwise, it’s going to happen over and over again.
Q: You and Harry Maguire both joined United as the world’s most expensive defender. Does that play on your mind when you’re going through a rough patch, as Harry is now?
Jaap: You’re thinking about the transfer fee, but you don’t need to think about it for two seasons. When I joined United from PSV, in the beginning of the season you’re thinking about it, because you know that’s a lot of attention for you as a player, as a defender, because they played a lot of money for you. But you need to put it aside and keep doing what you’ve always done, focus on your work, on what you’re good at, and do that the best way you can for the team.
Thinking about that too long is only going to be in your head over and over again, and if you’re doing that you’re only thinking about ‘I don’t want to make a mistake’ – and if you’re thinking about it, you’re going to make mistakes. If you’re playing for United now for a couple of seasons, you need to put that aside, it’s been done. You’re in the club, you’re one of the players, the market is like this – if teams want to buy a player, the others teams are going to be asking for a lot of money for you. Sometimes it happens that you’re the most expensive player, and that’s how it goes. You need to deal with that and you need to focus on your game, because if you’re not it’s going to be a real struggle.
Q: As a centre back, what have you made of the criticism and analysis of Harry Maguire over the last year or so?
Jaap: Harry can do better than what he’s been showing for the club. To be fair to him, it’s also important what the players around him are doing. Because this manager is asking things of him that maybe he’s not always used to. That takes a certain time to get the confidence in doing so and having that self-belief to perform better. It’s important the players alongside him, but also in front of him, the midfield players, are helping him out, and giving him the right options.
For instance, the moments against Brentford, that they got caught out at times. He played it into Eriksen, who lost it, and needed to track back and make a foul at the edge of the box – these are situations that players can help Maguire out a lot more, so he can just easily play the ball to his side, and then they’re out. These are not difficult things.
Dalot on the right side, he needs to help Maguire out as well by taking up the right positions. A lot of times, that’s not helping him. Now United are playing with one holder instead of two, that makes it more difficult as well, and easier for the opposition to press. These are things that can help Maguire out.
Defensively sometimes he’s making decisions that are not the correct ones. But that’s also true for a lot of players around him. As a unit, United need to make it clear in how they need to defend, and how they need to do better, and putting more energy into it if someone goes wrong, if they’re losing the ball, they need to all spring back – sometimes they’re just waiting, even in possession, for the man in the ball to take a decision. If somebody’s got the ball at his feet, then the other ones need to make movements to give options. These are things that probably the manager is working on, but are not always being shown on the pitch.
Q: This summer has seen a bit of a transfer saga around Frenkie De Jong. What’s your reaction to that?
Jaap: With Frenkie it’s a bit of a strange situation – because, I think, as a team you know Frenkie wants to come. Otherwise, if he doesn’t want to come, you’re not going to work on this transfer for so long. You’re already going for somebody else.
I think Frenkie De Jong would be a very good addition for the team. So I’m hoping that he’s going to come. It’s going to be difficult, but you need to do something, you need to add quality to your midfield, to make a difference.
You see McTominay and Fred are still not very comfortable in how the manager wants to play. Eriksen is mixing up positions, that’s not always ideal for the midfield – if you keep having these rotations it’s going to be difficult for Bruno to adapt to a certain way of playing. So you need to add certain players of quality to this team.
For me, it’s hard to see that there’s only one or two players that are mentioned for these positions. I think, if the recruitment is right, you must have had a lot of names on your list that could be a good addition for United.
But it seems to be very difficult to get the players in. Maybe they’ve had ten or 20 players on that list and nobody wants to come – but I still can’t believe that players are not wanting to join United. Everybody knows that, although United is going through a rough patch the last couple of seasons, they’re still one of the biggest clubs in the world. Everybody knows where they want to go to, what they want to achieve. As a young player, or as a good player, if you can join a club like this, and you can help them grow as a team, then you’re part of history and bringing that club back to a certain level.
I understand that playing Champions League is very nice, but they also need to understand that if you’re joining the likes of Liverpool or City or Madrid it becomes very hard to play every game because of the quality in these teams.
Q: You touched on recruitment there, which has been a real frustration for United fans. There’s been a lot of criticism of the owners, too. Is that fair, and is structural change required?
Jaap: It starts with the owners in building a structure, and putting the right people in the right positions, with knowledge in how to build a club. That’s crucial for every club.
If you look at it now then of course the owners, they bought the club, they’ve spent a lot of money, but did they spend it on the right players? That’s the big question. A lot of managerial changes, managers with different playing styles, so as a club you need to have your own philosophy. As an owner you need to have your own ideas, as well, about how you want to play. United always stands for attractive, attacking football. We’ve had managers who are quite defensive in their approach instead of going forward. So you’re bringing in certain players who are defensive – if you then bring in a manager who is very attack-minded, he needs to have different players. You’re stuck with a lot of these players from the previous manager, and you want to bring in new players. So you have a very big squad, but not always the players that you want. That can bring confusion, problems as well – because players that are not playing start to moan, so you need to deal with that.
As a club, as owners, the CEO, the technical director, they can do a lot in terms of making the right decisions. For recruitment it’s very important to communicate with the manager what they want, how they see it, what time of players can they bring in, the budget of course. So it starts upstairs with the directors, working downwards to the manager, to build the right team, to bring in the right players, the right quality. It’s not always easy, but it is a very important thing for a club to eventually get to the highest level again. I can understand the frustration of the fans in terms of what they see, what’s happening, there’s no continuity in what’s happening within the club. It’s hard to take in what’s happened.
Q: There’s been a suggestion that part of the appeal of hiring the new manager is that they he might be compliant to the owners’ approach – but Erik Ten Hag doesn’t seem like a ‘yes man’…?
Jaap: He wants to have his own influence in choice that are made about players. That’s what you see with all the players that have been brought in have been picked by him. I can understand that very well that, as a manager, you want to bring in the players that you know how they play, you’ve worked with them in the past, they can bring a certain level of playing style for me and my philosophy. But, also, the club needs to have their own voice in making decisions.
If you, as a club, want to bring in a manager, if you have the confidence in a certain manager like they have with Ten Hag, with the problems that have been going on the last couple of seasons, they’ve given him a lot of responsibility in making the right decisions. That’s why he’s got a big vote in the players that are going to come into the club.
Q: I expected to see more of Donny Van De Beek this season. What do you make of his situation since joining United?
Jaap: Donny is a good player, he’s been very good in Holland. But for him going into a different league, going into Manchester United, probably the manager told him he was going to play, get his minutes eventually in the team. It didn’t happen. He only started a few times, not enough in my opinion. I think he’s a good player, but he’s also a player that needs to have confidence.
For managers, if a player’s not producing, and you’re losing the game, everybody comes to them – so certain managers are taking the easy way of picking certain players who have more experience or more on a steady level than maybe Donny. From what I’ve seen in the players that have been playing in the midfield, I think Donny can have a chance – he can bring certain things more than other players that have been playing.
Q: It’s become clear that Cristiano Ronaldo might like to leave Manchester United – how does that affect the dressing room?
Jaap: Everybody knows Ronaldo and what he’s been doing for United last season and in the past, so everybody is looking up to him. So if he’s in the dressing room and he really wants to leave, and he’s not himself, or he’s sitting there by himself or he’s not in a good mood, then it has an impact on the players for sure.
The experience that he has, Ronaldo, the age that he has, he also knows that he has an impact on players, on the team, so I cannot believe that he’s there moping and having a bad influence on players. I still believe that a player with his quality is still working very hard, even if you want to leave, because you need to be an example for everybody at this club.
Him saying that he wanted to play Champions League, he already knew last season that he wasn’t going to be playing Champions League with United, so I assume Ten Hag had a conversation with him before he started, and I don’t know if Ronaldo addressed it at this point, otherwise I’m thinking they could’ve made a decision earlier, before the season. I can understand that a manager wants to keep a player like this, because he’s of great value for the club and the team. But, if a player’s not happy at the club and he wants to leave, then you need to make a decision for the greater good and say ‘ok, maybe it’s better we part ways’ and look for somebody else.
If he’s not happy, if he’s not performing, then sometimes it’s maybe better to make a different decision – not only for yourself, but for the team.