Ruud van Nistelrooy was one of the greatest strikers Manchester United has ever seen but left the club in the summer of 2006 after a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson.
After being the top scorer in the competition, Louis Saha was chosen ahead of the Dutchman when United took on Wigan in the League Cup final. Van Nistelrooy was frustrated by this, particularly when he wasn’t even one of the substitutes, and left for Real Madrid at the end of the season.
In an exclusive interview with The Republik of Mancunia on behalf of 888Sport.com, who are putting betting at the heart of football debate by asking punters to have the #LastWord over their mates by backing their banter with a bet, Saha talks about his relationship with Van Nistelrooy after the final as well as his partnership with Wayne Rooney.
Some people suggested Sir Alex put you in the team ahead of Ruud for the Carling Cup final for reasons more than just your goalscoring record in the competition, because of your aerial play and link-up play. How did your selection ahead of Van Nistelrooy affect your relationship with him after the final? Was it difficult to work through?
Not really. It’s funny. I had a really good relationship with Ruud. He was a very committed player. He liked his games and he wanted to play. It was more I think between the manager and him, nothing to do with me. I was trying to do my best. Obviously, every time I got my chance I wanted to score and keep my place and that’s it. And at some points you maybe want to change the style of play and the manager saw me as the one route to do it without buying another £30 million striker.
Did you see yourself as a more complete striker or more of just a goalscorer?
Actually I was a winger when I started playing football. I was not selfish at all. I was more about crossing the ball and stuff like that. It’s a funny story. I had an accident: a car accident. And from that I started to be a bit more selfish, even on the field. So I started to think I wanted to score goals and be the one that people celebrated. I changed my game, but I wasn’t like Wazza. Wazza was really complete. He was able to do everything. Thierry Henry was the same way. These players are special because they create things for others but also be selfish even to score goals. But I wasn’t just a goalscorer.
Some fans have said in the past that you were the best strike partner Rooney ever had. You seemed to bring the best out of him early on. Back in 2004, who did you think had the greater potential? Rooney or Ronaldo?
Rooney. Yes. With no doubt yes, because when you’re 18 and you’re that good and start playing for your country, you don’t see that very often, especially up front. It happens once in a while and Wazza was very, very smart. Very committed. I don’t think he improved a lot since 18 though, you know? He’s the same player with maybe more care or better tactically maybe, and stuff like this, but he is the same player technically. He is still doing the same. What was sure was that my partnership with him was so easy because he did all the running for me.
A striker who will be looking to develop a partnership with Rooney is Radamel Falcao. Given your own injury problems at United, do you have any advice for him?
I think he’s a player with a great attitude and I’m sure that when you see his game, his fitness is always high level. It is hard for when you’re coming back from injury. The expectations and then changing clubs: all the factors are there so it’s not easy for you to adapt quickly because it’s a different system, a different speed of the game. He was coming from Spanish football to France and then come to England. Believe me, that is a shock! But he is a quality player so time will do him good, and we create the time. Time is precious. Time is pressure. Ignore the critics. I think Falcao is big enough to know his time will come.
This interview was conducted by Greg Johnson. This interview was conducted by Greg Johnson. Louis Saha is an 888sport #LastWord ambassador. Join the debate on Twitter @888sport, share your opinion on Facebook.com/888sportfans and read the best analysis on the betting brand’s dedicated blog. Sign-up now and claim £88 of free bets at 888sport.com.
United are 3/4 to beat Liverpool on 888Sport.com.
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.