Louis Saha believes Erik ten Hag has been Manchester United‘s most important acquisition this summer after an impressive pre-season – despite adding three star names to his new squad.
Saha praised the former Ajax manager’s start to his tenure at Old Trafford under difficult circumstances – with Cristiano Ronaldo digging his heels in over an exit – and expressed his confidence in the club’s prospects this season.
Having taken over the Red Devils’ hot seat at the start of the summer, Ten Hag has so far successfully negotiated the club’s pre-season tour with three wins and a draw, as well as bringing in Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez.
His unbeaten start to life at United did, however, come to an end against Atletico Madrid on Saturday.
Erik ten Hag’s start to life as Manchester United manager has impressed ex-striker Louis Saha
Saha believes the Dutch coach has been United’s best signing of the summer
‘I think he has so far been United’s best signing,’ Saha told Sportsmail, courtesy of Bet 365. ‘The players were out of form but they seem to be coming back stronger and the squad seems to be balanced.
‘I would have loved to play under him because he seems to be very strong in what he believes, but at the same time he seems to be very really enjoy listening to players and helping them to improve.
‘We can see that players enjoy playing under him, but they still need to run hard, really work hard, but enjoy their football at the same time, so there is a great balance.
‘Cristiano [Ronaldo] has been the difficult part, because you have to look for a replacement, but you also have to please the demands of the player because he wants to leave or, or he isn’t happy about the guarantees he received.’
The Dutch manager has remained tight-lipped over the Portugal international’s future at the club throughout pre-season, stating only that the forward is in his plans for the future, and he wants him to stay.
United’s summer has been overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo’s demands to leave the club
The Portuguese star returned for United as they hosted Rayo Vallecano on Sunday evening
However, Ronaldo now looks to be forcing his way out of the club in order to play Champions League football next season, after crunch talks on Tuesday resulted in him reiterating his request to be released from his £360,000-a-week deal.
Having missed pre-season with the club’s permission, he underwent medical tests and then trained on Wednesday before watching his team-mates in a behind-closed-doors friendly match against Wrexham.
Ronaldo then looked rusty in his first minutes of pre-season when United host Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford on Sunday, before being hooked at half-time.
Ten Hag now finds himself in a position where he must either allow arguably his best player to leave – a player who scored 24 goals last season – and leave himself little time to find a replacement, or keep the wantaway forward at Old Trafford.
But the former France striker is hopeful he will line up for the club next season, adding: ‘It’s a very difficult one for a new manager who has to set standards for his players. Maybe he doesn’t want his squad to be disrupted by new stories every week about the biggest player in the squad.
United slipped to their first pre-season defeat against Atletico Madrid after three wins and a draw during their tour of Thailand and Australia
Joao Felix won the contest with a late goal as United slipped to their first loss under Ten Hag
‘It’s not easy because he’s a player who can still score 25-30 plus goals in a season, and he was pretty much alone last season when it came to the club’s goal-scoring responsibilities.
‘If he is in the plans for next year then I think they have a terrific chance of doing some amazing things.’
But for the 2006 World Cup runner-up, the most important thing that Ten Hag can bring is stability.
United’s greatest period of consistency in the era since Saha’s former boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure arguably came under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and even then Ole was only at the wheel permanently for 20 months.
But with a host of relatively untapped potential at the club, including the likes of Zidane Iqbal who has been so impressive over pre-season, it is this stability that will help young players to blossom in the Ten Hag era.
Louis Saha scored 42 goals and assisted with 18 others in 124 matches for Man United
Saha said: ‘It’s maybe the most important because the actual job you have, the mission you have is very difficult because it’s so unstable.
‘Having a manager who is there giving you a clear indication of what he wants can really work long-term because he can tell you what’s going to work next week, or next month and so on.
‘It’s so important to have that foundation if you want to develop. You cannot develop if you know that every single week anything can change, it’s impossible to focus.’
Louis Saha was signed by Ferguson in January 2004 after a hugely impressive spell with Fulham, during which he helped the Cottagers win promotion to the Premier League.
The Frenchman – who was part of France’s 2006 World Cup squad in Germany – scored 42 goals and assisted 18 times in 124 games for the Red Devils in a four-and-a-half year spell, winning two Premier Leagues, a League Cup, a Community Shield, and the 2007-08 Champions League.