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Paul Ince on Haaland v Kane, United transfers and which England squad would’ve won the 2018 World Cup

| 24.03.2021

Ahead of a busy schedule of club and international football, we spoke to Paul Ince to get his thoughts on the Red Devils and how his generation of England squads compare to today’s.

The former Manchester United and England midfielder also discusses United striker targets, what he thinks he’d be worth in today’s market and more in our exclusive interview.

I’d go with Haaland over Kane

I think what Man United need is an out-and-out striker, someone who is going to get you 25 goals a season. Edinson Cavani hasn’t done a bad job and has always been a goal machine, but he’s the wrong side of 30 now.

If I was in charge of United and you offered me Harry Kane or Erling Haaland on a plate right now, I think I’d be taking Haaland. He’s younger (not that Kane’s old) and he’s got a bit more pace (not that Kane is slow).

If you were going to buy Harry Kane right now he’d probably cost you around £80/90m and he’d likely be on a five-year contract which takes him into his thirties.

When you buy a player you’ve always got to look at how you might make a profit from them later on. Haaland is only 20, so you could bring him in for around £100m and you’d still be able to make a profit from him in five years’ time.

With Kane you’d have the guarantee that he’s already a proven goalscorer in the division; he knows the Premier League well so you know he’d get you 25 goals a season. But I think Haaland would do the same at any club in any division, and he’s only going to get better.

I think it would be hard for Harry Kane to leave Tottenham, but then again every player wants to win something.

It’s not always about money; you want to look back at your career and say you won something and Harry has the desire to do that. But he’s been at Spurs for so long, it’s a difficult thing to walk away from. That being said if Man United came knocking, he’d have a decision to make.

There was a time where United could have signed Haaland before he went to Dortmund and I don’t think they pushed the boat out enough to get him. That was a big mistake.

If you’ve ever got an opportunity to bring in a player like that, it’s something you’ve got to do, regardless of how much it’s going to cost for you to sign him. United missed out on him once, and it’s now going to cost them a lot more if they’re to bring him in now.

United should ask about Aguero’s availability

It’s not as if Harry Kane and Erling Haaland are the only two answers for Man United though.

Sergio Aguero might be leaving Man City, why shouldn’t United make a move for him? You could see it now; if he wanted to stay in the Premier League and he’s living in Manchester, then I don’t think it would be a bad thing at all if they went and got Aguero.

It can happen, who knows? You’ve got to ask the question if you’re United because you never know. It happened with us back in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson was asking Sir Alex Ferguson about Denis Irwin.

Fergie said there’d be no chance of that happening and suggested Leeds sold Cantona to them and within a couple of days that deal was done. It was just Fergie throwing a name out there and taking a chance, trying his luck. Maybe that’s what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should do with Aguero this summer.

United are very close to winning league again

There’s been a massive progression at Man United this season as far as I’m concerned. Whether it’s because there haven’t been any fans in the stadium, I don’t know, maybe it’s benefited them.

You look at their record against the weaker teams in the division back when fans were at games, they struggled to get results and fans were disgruntled. So as much as we need fans back, I think sometimes it’s helped United not having supporters in the stadiums.

From the outside looking in, I’ve seen enough to believe they are going to be challenging for the title very, very soon.

Liverpool have had a poor season as far as they’re concerned but they’ll get better, Chelsea will improve under Thomas Tuchel, Jose Mourinho will always want to spend money and then obviously you’ve got Man City already up there, so it’s not going to be easy.

But I just think from what I’ve seen from United this year, they’re getting closer and closer.

United need to do their homework with transfers

I think when you’re Director of Football at a club like Manchester United, straight away you’ve got to accept that fans want to see players coming in that are fit enough to wear the shirt. Too many times in the past we’ve seen players come in and fail.

I think when you spend such big amounts on players, they’ve got to hit the ground running like Bruno Fernandes has.

Man United have always had teams that are full of heroes; from Eric Cantona to Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane to Bryan Robson, but you look at the current team and you’d have to say Fernandes is the only one at that level at the moment.

The fans love Marcus Rashford; he’s a Manchester boy and I love him as well, but when you look at proper hero footballers, Fernandes is the only one at the moment. Man United have always had teams full of heroes but right now it’s just Fernandes.

They’ve got to get back to that level, where they’ve got the right kind of players, those leaders, across the pitch. It’s a tough ask, though. And it’s not a cheap task at a club like Manchester United, which is the challenge John Murtough is going to face. As soon as United are interested in a player, another £10m is added to his value.

Rio Ferdinand would’ve been perfect for the job in my opinion. It’s got to be someone who knows what makes a top player, and that’s not necessarily saying you have to go out and spend £50m.

They really could do with taking a leaf out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book when looking at new players. When I signed for Manchester United, Sir Alex had been watching me for two years. It wasn’t a case of just bringing me in after a good run of games.

Look at Kai Havertz, for example. He had a fantastic season at Bayer Leverkusen and was scoring goals all over the place. But all of a sudden Chelsea have gone and signed him for just shy of £80m? And it’s now like they don’t even know where to play him. That’s £80m they’ve spent on a player and they can’t figure out what to do with him.

Look, it’s not the player’s fault; he can’t help how much he’s gone for, but when clubs are bringing these players in, they’ve got to do their homework.

It can’t just be based on one season when Havertz is playing in a division where Leverkusen are beating most teams. He’s still young, but when that much money has spent he’s got to hit the ground running, but he’s struggled.

For Man United, they’ve got to do their homework and really spend time studying a player for a couple of years. I understand it’s tough because you always worry that someone else is going to come in.

But if you keep studying players around the world and you’re doing your homework, you’ll bring in the right personalities. Man United can’t afford to just keep spending £50m on players that aren’t going to hit the ground running.

I’d like to think if I was playing in this day and age, I’d go for a fee of around £80m. Someone like Ryan Giggs would be worth three times as much as that if he was playing in his prime today – if not more.

England’s ’96/’98 squads would’ve won the 2018 World Cup

I can see why people look at that team England had at Euro 2004 and think they should’ve won something because they’re all great players individually, but when I look at our Euro ’96 team, with the likes of Alan Shearer and Tony Adams, Stuart Pearce and Gazza, that was a team of not just talented players, but leaders.

Even the ’98 team, we all looked at each other around the changing room and thought that had David Beckham not been sent off, we were more than equipped to go on and win the World Cup.

I don’t know why they call that team [Euro 2004 squad] the Golden Generation, because when I look at the players we had in the 90s, I think we were a stronger team across the board.

It doesn’t wind me up, but it does get a bit annoying when you hear that side being referred to as the Golden Generation. They were all great players, don’t get me wrong. But we had some great players.

I believe that the team we had in ’96/’98 would’ve won the World Cup in 2018. The way that tournament went for England, I don’t think they’ll have a better chance to win a World Cup.

The group stage was a breeze and the draw favoured them; they only had to play Croatia in the semi-finals. With that kind of fixture list, the team that we had in ’96/’98, we’d have won the World Cup.

It was so disappointing in 2018, for me. Everyone looks back and says ‘oh well, it was a great summer and we reached a World Cup semi-final’, but that’s not enough.

The group stage was easy and they actually made hard work of the knockout stage. So as much as it was great for fans and it was great for the nation, it gave us something to smile about, there’s also a sense of disappointment in the back of my mind, because that team won’t get a better chance to win the World Cup.

England caps are thrown around like confetti these days

If you look at my generation of players and the selection of squads, it was always more or less the same group of players.

It was harder to get in to that team, and if I look at most of the England squads I was a part of, because it was always the same group, we had a great togetherness about us. It was basically a club meeting because we all just knew each other so well.

But nowadays, we tend to throw England caps around like confetti and anyone that shows a touch of form gets in the squad.

I remember when I was at Manchester United from ’89 to ’91 I was playing really, really well. I was disappointed I didn’t make the 1990 World Cup squad because I thought I’d had a good season, but it was too early on in my career, I think.

But not to get into the Euro 1992 squad hurt. I was devastated. I was playing really well, I was in great form and I thought I should’ve been in the squad. But it seemed like the same people were getting picked all the time.

After that tournament I remember we played Leeds United at Old Trafford and I was up against Gary Speed, David Batty and Gary McAllister. I’d had a really good game and we won 2-0.

I went into the Players’ Lounge after the game and Sir Alex pulled me to one side and told me Graham Taylor had been on the phone and he wanted me to join up with the England team for the game against Spain.

I said to the gaffer “no, I’m not going.” He said “what do you mean you’re not going?” I said “I’m not going. I missed out on the European Championships after playing well for the last year and I should’ve been in the squad then, so no, I’m not going to join up with them now. It’s not happening.”

I went off and did my own thing and the next thing you know, Brian Kidd comes up to me and tells me the gaffer wants me again. I go back upstairs to see him and he tells me he’s been back on the phone to Graham. Graham told him to tell me that if I joined up with the team, I’d be starting the Spain game.

So I said alright, I’ll go.

I went and joined up with the boys, we lost 1-0, I got man of the match and since that day I was in the squad most of the time.

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