Paul Scholes takes aim at Mourinho, Pogba and Man United's season of discontent
"I say what I believe," explains Paul Scholes over a morning coffee in Manchester a few days after some of his honest and forthright Manchester United comments on television have made headlines. "I don't make anything up and I'm not very good at hiding how I feel.
"If people ask me something I'll give my view, whether it's right or wrong. I'm just a frustrated United fan, a father of a son who goes home and away watching the team. My lad is a proper United fan, a lunatic who wants to go everywhere to follow his team on a bus. I try to talk to him about some of the games but he can't remember all of them -- which at this point is probably not a bad thing. They make me laugh, the lads he goes with. When the cup draws are made, they want the furthest away game possible so that their day out lasts longer. As a player, you think the opposite.
"As a fan and a local lad, I was always around the culture of fans going to games. Going to Old Trafford felt like a big mission but we went to the odd games. One of my first games was with my dad and we went to a game against Chelsea and it kicked off between rival fans outside the ground. I s--- myself and my dad grabbed hold of me and we sprinted off. I lost my shoe."
Do you still see any of those lads you went to games with?
Not really, I had to get out of that environment. I found myself drinking Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday sometimes. I'd drink the night before a game. I was in a culture where you'd also go to games and drink on the bus on the way there and then the way back. It was a working-class culture of watching football. I know that still happens because I have mates who go to games. I'd love to go with them, to be a normal fan, but I don't think it would be easy.
But it's not the environment you want to be in as a footballer. I was picked for an England squad and remember thinking 'I've got to get out of this environment.' I was drinking, I was overweight. I needed to get fitter, I needed to get out of the area and my mates were fine about it.
And you were becoming close with lads you played with, lads you are still best friends with now.
Gary [Neville], Phil [Neville], [David] Beckham, Nicky [Butt]. We were all close. The dressing room was a good place to be as a young professional. You had lads like Ben Thornley, a great player who was good in the dressing room. His autobiography has just been published. It'll be a great read.
Ben was quick, dedicated, fit as you could be and could beat men. My best memory of Ben is him beating five men and smashing the ball in the net during a Milk Cup youth tournament in Northern Ireland against Hearts. He was a top player.
It was a shame he suffered a cruciate injury. You never know how good any young player will be, but you knew he was going to be a top player from a young age. Ben was liable to put a bit of weight on. He was small and chunky like me. Unlike me he was quick. He had two good feet, too.
Ben still had a good career but it would have been better without that injury. He was unlucky and it could have been any of us. We were always told to enjoy our football because we could be injured at any time. Luck plays a massive part in football.
I was a later developer than anyone else. Ben made the successful youth team in 1992 -- he only had [Ryan] Giggs to compete with for a place! But they both played. I was a later developer, skinny and not quick. I was playing as a centre forward. I sat back and watched the other lads break into the first team. At 18 or 19 I was in the reserves and not playing very well, but you need a bit of luck, an opportunity. Then some came my way, but Ben got injured.
Ben's cruciate injury was treatable when he had it but not to the level we have now. You'd be out for six or seven months now. The rehabilitation would be intense. At United in the 1990s, if you were injured you sat on a treatment table. There wasn't a pool to help with the recuperation. The gym was tiny. That's all changed now.
And United has been through big changes since you stopped playing. How do you feel about the present United team?
I hate going back and saying 'when we played, we did this and we did that' but I look at the current squad of players and I don't think there's a lack of quality there. I do think they miss a couple of real class players that other top teams seem to have.
A link player between the midfield and the forwards.
A player like Luka Modric?
Yes, a link player and also a controlling midfield player. They're different. The link player must have the quality to pass and create.
Like you did?
I did it a bit. I'm thinking more of a [Kevin] De Bruyne, [Eden] Hazard or David Silva. We have Jesse [Lingard] who, on his day, can be that type of player, but you never really know what his best position is. Juan Mata has those type of qualities but the manager plays him wide on the right-hand side and he's never going to have the legs to play that position. I've been there, being put out wide, and you hate it. You want to get into the middle of the pitch where things are happening and pace isn't as vital.
The rest of the United team is ok. [Anthony] Martial and [Marcus] Rashford, two really talented players, they need to develop their confidence and then... it scares me that these really talented players will be sold and be brilliant for another club. I could see that happening with Martial.
What do you think is Martial's best position?
On the left, but it's difficult for him and Rashford to find some confidence because they come in for a game, they might not have the best game and then they're out for three or four matches. If the team don't play well then they're brought back in for an hour, then left out. You never get consistency or a run of performances. That's frustrating.
What about Alexis Sanchez?
I know he has qualities and has been a good player but I never saw him as a United player. I saw him as a bit selfish, someone who played for himself sometimes. I didn't think he was a player that we needed, especially for that type of money. How would we be able to get rid of him now when he earns those wages? The signing felt like it happened just to stop Man City signing him.
It feels like every player who comes into the team struggles. I feel like we could sign Lionel Messi at the moment and he'd struggle in this team.
What have you made of Manchester United's recruitment?
I didn't like the manager praising West Ham's chief scout after the defeat there and congratulating him on finding [Issa] Diop. It was a massive dig at his own scouts. If you're a scout at Man United, how can you know what type of player to look for when the manager is changing his team every week and his formation all the time? Where's the blueprint for the player you want? It must be an impossible job.
Jose Mourinho has been a great manager.
He still is. Well, I think he still is, but you wonder why his side keep getting outplayed. People talk about the first 10 games of this season but last year it was the same. The reason we finished second last year was because of the goalkeeper. Good goalkeepers are not easy to find. [David] De Gea's not been quite as good this season, not saving them all like did all last year.
You say it's hard for Rashford or Martial when they come in and out. Is that the same for the defenders?
Yes. The back four changes every week and it's half understandable because when they do come in and play they make mistakes. I think Chris [Smalling] is the best defender (at the club), the most difficult to get past, though he could be better on the ball.
Eric Bailly? We just don't know because he's been injured, he's been in and out. You need a settled back four. Think of the best United teams. We had [Rio] Ferdinand and [Nemanja] Vidic, [Jaap] Stam and [Ronny] Johnsen, [Steve] Bruce and [Gary] Pallister. They played all the time, they were settled. That doesn't look like it's going to happen with this team.
Luke Shaw has been one of the few bright spots from this season...
He has... after getting stick for a couple of years. I've always liked him, always felt he could be one of the best left-backs. I don't know the lad but it looks like the penny has dropped about his attitude and he's now playing every week. He's been all right this season. He's not been amazing, but then I don't think any players have been amazing this season.
Are United's issues compounded because Liverpool and Man City are so good?
It shouldn't make any difference but it does. United now feels like Liverpool from years ago, like we're making all the same mistakes as they did.
United were champions of England, Europe and the world a decade ago.
And we were watching Liverpool and City from afar and smirking as they changed managers and players every year, never getting anything right. It feels like we have turned into a Liverpool or a Man City.
I feel like people at Liverpool and Man City are looking at us and laughing like we did at them many years ago. But if you look across the road, they're doing everything right. They've brought the best manager in the world in. They've brought staff in to be responsible for signing players. They have a set way of playing every week.
Everything becomes easy for them. It becomes easy for the scout who knows that they play 4-3-3 and knows the positions of players and what they're looking to sign. It's virtually impossible for a chief scout at Man United to do the same.
Whether Jose has a clear way in the future, I don't know because the form is that bad. United are all over the place.
Is the situation recoverable for Mourinho? Are the players playing for him?
It's hard for me to say because I was never in a team, be it Man United or England, where I went out with the intention of getting a manager sacked. I never went out and thought 'I'll not try.' I'm not saying that any Man United player has ever done that but you hear so much stuff now that you think it could be possible. I'd hate that if it's true, if any player set out to play badly on purpose. I've had loads of bad games, but never on purpose.
The big thing with United is the effort and the attitude. When you looked at the West Ham game last week, it looked like the biggest sign of players not wanting to play for Jose, but I would not sack him. I hope the situation is retrievable. I'd like Jose to show people why he's such a great coach because this is his biggest test in football.
It'd be great if he could.
It'd be amazing. Is it possible? I don't know.
Do you know Jose Mourinho?
Not really, only from when I've played against him. I loved watching his interviews, his cockiness. I thought he was brilliant, but that Jose has gone. Now it's just a moaning Jose, which frustrates you. He's moaning at his players and what he hasn't got. But look what he does have. He tells people he's the best coach, so he should now prove that.
It's not like he's been given nothing [at Man United]. He's been given fortunes to spend and he's bought a lot of these players. He's bought the two centre-halfs who don't look good enough. If he doesn't think they're good enough, then coach them and make them better.
It's not a club on its uppers, it's a money-making machine that is doing well financially.
It is, but it feels like they've lost sight of the most important thing at a football club, which is what happens on the pitch. The club are great at making money but how long can that last when the team are playing so badly?
A lot of that money was spent on Paul Pogba. Has he done enough for United?
How old is he, 25? He does some of the best things in games, a great pass or dribble, a great touch or dribble. Then, five minutes later, he'll do one of the worst things like his brain has switched off, like it's all about him because he's just shown everyone how good he is. That becomes easy to play against because you know that cockiness will come. Against Wolves, he showed a great touch to Fred but then the next minute he'd given the ball away in midfield, which led to a goal. That sums him up.
We never saw that at Juventus, but [Pogba] was a smaller fish there. Look around that team, with [Gianluigi] Buffon, [Andrea] Pirlo, [Leonardo] Bonucci, [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Claudio] Marchisio: great experienced players. I loved that team, especially Pirlo and the way he was so relaxed as he controlled the game. Pogba was part of a great team but he's come to United where he's got nobody to control him like he had at Juventus.
What about Romelu Lukaku?
I'm just not sure you are ever going to win the league with a goal scorer like him. I don't think his play outside of the box is good enough. I'm not sure if he works hard enough but he's still a young man who has done well and scored a lot of goals. He's quick and strong, but Lukaku is one of many United players who look like they're short of confidence. I don't think he realises how good he can be, but he needs help because who else can play centre-forward at United now?
Maybe, but they look like wingers. And they're getting slagged off by the manager. We had four centre-forwards -- [Andy] Cole, Teddy [Sheringham], Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] and [Dwight] Yorke -- and when they through bad spells, which every footballer does, someone else was waiting to come in. That helped their performances because they knew that if they didn't perform then they would be taken off. Maybe Lukaku needs that, too.
When were you short of confidence?
Loads of times. Sometimes it would last for months. You'd be fit but you'd drive home from training thinking you were not fit. I never doubted that the manager didn't rate me because even when I played badly, he'd play me. You feel really bad when you're not playing well. You worry about where your next goal is coming from, your next good pass. It really got to me.
And you're getting criticism at the same time...
Social media wasn't really around when I played but you know when you're not playing well. You feel it in the groans in the crowds. You'd hear comments like 'Scholesy was rubbish today.' When you live in and among and fans you hear it all the time. Or when the manager comes up to you, puts his arms around you and says 'Can we see the real Paul Scholes today?'
You're not stupid. You know when you're having a bad time... and yet it can change in pass or a scruffy goal off your knee. Everything goes from being so difficult to so easy and you have no idea why. A lot of it is mental and I'd love to see the players who are struggling at United see their fortunes change.
Would you like to coach players, to help get the best out of them?
I enjoy it when I'm doing it with kids or when I did it with the [Man United] team. It's not something I'd go searching for, but if someone asked me or invited me to go and do something, I would.
Would you consider management?
Why not? A manager is a coach these days. Sir Alex [Ferguson] was a manager rather than a coach. Nowadays they're coaches. I know I'd enjoy it....
Even the pressure and dealing with the media.
You don't know until you do it. I wouldn't say that I don't care what the media say, but it doesn't matter as long as you and your players know what is going on.
Who do you enjoy watching?
Real Madrid, Barcelona, City, Liverpool. I rather be saying United than any of those.
Which players do you enjoy watching?
Modric, [Toni] Kroos, Messi. Watching Messi against Tottenham at Wembley made me think about the Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo debate again.
What do you think about it? Who is the best?
Messi. But Ronaldo is brilliant.
Ronaldo is sensational at what he does, with pace and power. He scores, he takes free-kicks. But as an all-round footballer, Messi -- wow, his passing -- has absolutely everything.