Up close and personal with ex-Man Utd star

Saha (right) with Man Utd fans at a meet-and-greet session in Kuala Lumpur.

LOUIS Saha has been through a lot in his life. He was a vital cog for Sir Alex Ferguson’s team during their trophy-laden years between 2004 and 2008 and had his fair share of personal mishaps and bad luck on the injury front.

Saha had a hugely successful career but in some ways, it may seem unfulfilled due to injuries. He played for Metz, Newcastle, Fulham, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Lazio. He won two Premier League titles and the Champions League with United. He also played 20 times for France, scoring four goals.

MetroSport caught up with the soft-spoken Frenchman during his recent visit to Malaysia as guest pundit for Astro SuperSport’s Premier League coverage. He opened up on trying to make a difference in sports stars lives through his company Axis Stars, his book Thinking Inside the Box, playing under Sir Alex, his take on the current United team under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and why he thinks France are hot favourites for Euro 2020 and the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

MetroSport: What do you do for football now and what role do you play for Man Utd?

Louis Saha: I am an ambassador for the club and travel around the world to promote the club and meet with business partners. I also travel to promote my company Axis Stars where we have an application and platform for sports stars to help them cope with stardom.

MS: You are one of the rare footballers who, after retiring, decided to make a difference in the lives of sports stars. Tell us about your book, your company and what you aim to achieve?

LS: The book was written when I was recovering from injury and it was good therapy. Writing the book was a way to help youngsters understand what would come their way with all the stardom and money they earned.

It was a way of giving sound advice so it was written like a guide based on what I went through. It was very hard as I had to do a lot of research and conduct interviews with some fellow players and stakeholders in the game to gain insight into their everyday life. So I interviewed fans, staff at clubs that I played for and even hooligans of the game. So many people were involved in helping me write my book.

The foundation of my company is also based on my book. A lot of Premier League footballers are confronted with difficult financial problems at the end of their career. Bad sporting decisions, terrible investments, lack of maturity, divorces, gambling debts, greedy entourages are among the many reasons for personal bankruptcy.

In 2013 I created Axis Stars, a digital platform which allows professional athletes to connect, inform themselves and help each other on these matters. My company can help guide athletes with proper information and advice on how to deal with the fame, choose the right people to represent them from their agents to their friends and how they can market their image and make financial investments.

Basically I want to help these stars make good logical decisions, make an impact in the community and help the needy.

My clients are professional athletes like footballers, rugby and tennis players an even artiste like musicians and dancers. They all have the same issues to deal with when they get famous, which is how to cope being in the limelight, dealing with the media and the huge monetary gains that come with it.

MS: You have played for six English clubs, Newcastle, Fulham, Man Utd, Everton, Tottenham and Sunderland. Who was the best manager you have played under and why?

LS: It has to be Sir Alex. He had the most impact in my life and my career. He managed to take me to another level as a footballer. I was a bad loser and always wanted to play for the best club and win trophies. He had me constantly reaching for new heights and motivating me to do better not just as a player but also as a person. He gave us all the courage and solidarity to react when things go bad.

He was also there for me like a fatherly figure when I was bogged down with injuries. That for me was the most important thing. During the bleak times he kept me going and I don’t think any manager can come close to him when it comes to man-management.

MS: You scored a total of 147 goals in 421 appearances in the English game. Can you remember which was the most important goal you scored?

LS: As a footballer, the first goal is always important. It gives you a spring in your step to keep going. I was lucky to have scored for all of the clubs I joined but the one that stands out is the goal on my debut game for United at Old Trafford against Southampton, a week after I joined the club. That goal made me realise that my dream was coming true to play for a big club and stand a chance to win medals. That goal, the emotions that came with it, was truly special.

MS: You won two Premier League titles, the Champions League and have a League Cup medal for Man Utd and Wayne Rooney famously said that you were his favourite strike partner ever. Tell us more about your time at the club under Sir Alex?

LS: It was amazing. We had a fantastic team and our strike force was a super one. We had Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Smith, Carlos Tevez, Rooney, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ryan Giggs while I was there. So we had plenty of attacking talent and there was great competition among all of us.

You had to have strong mentality. Nistelrooy, for his age, was a complete striker, the way he moved around was brilliant. We learnt each other’s game and complemented each other. Sir Alex always encouraged us to work hard for each other and to drop back if we were under pressure, so these were traits that I picked up quickly.

MS: It is still early days in the Premier League but VAR (video assisted refereeing) has already caused a lot of debate. Are you a fan of VAR?

LS: Yes, I am a fan of VAR but not the way it is used. It can be improved in many ways. The stop-start method is not good for the game and I feel this should be corrected as it affects the flow of the game, especially the hand balls and coming back to it after two or three minutes after the incident has happened. So I am all for modern technology but not the way that it has been implemented.

MS: France has a fantastic squad with an abundance of talent. Do you think they can win the Euros next year and go on to defend the World Cup?

LS: Certainly. (Kylian) Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Moussa Sissoko are just some of the talent in the squad who are truly world class. We have produced amazing talent and the job of (Didier) Deschamps is to gel these talents with players like (N’Golo) Kante and especially with Sissoko who is just a hardworking player.

So we definitely have the squad and mentality to challenge on the world stage. England and Belgium will also be in the mix as they too have quality players.
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