The Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, last night said that his striker Louis Saha would be sold "over my dead body" after the club rejected a £7m bid from Manchester United. However, his resolve may be tested as the champions, in search of support for Ruud van Nistelrooy, are likely to raise their offer to nearer £10m - and the 25-year-old has made it known that moving to Old Trafford would be "a dream".
If Saha were allowed to go, it would raise question marks over Coleman's future - although Fulham have hitherto fully supported him. The Welshman has performed brilliantly in his first season in charge but is operating under a one-year contract with a salary much lower than his predecessor, Jean Tigana.
Fulham are keen to secure him on a longer-term deal but Coleman - a plain-speaker who is known for his motivational skills - is already attracting interest from other Premiership clubs. Charlton Athletic have considered him should Alan Curbishley move to Tottenham Hotspur next summer.
Yesterday the Fulham chief executive, Jim Hone, confirmed that an offer had been received - and rejected - from Manchester United for Saha, who has scored 10 goals in 17 games this season. United are also considering a formal bid of £5m for the Leeds United striker Mark Viduka.
In a statement, Fulham added that inquiries about Saha had come from "a number of clubs", but named only United, and that they were "unsolicited and unwelcome". It added: "The current speculative valuations of the player fall very far short of his value to the club."
Coleman was even more forthright. "He's a terrific player and fulfilling all his potential," he said. "But he will be leaving this club over my dead body - especially halfway through the season. We're doing well and he's a big part of that success, so it doesn't matter what club comes in for him, we don't want him to go. The chairman [Mohamed Al Fayed] has told me we don't have to sell any of our players.
"We've got a new chief executive and he agrees that we should not be selling any of our players, especially not our best ones - and that's what Louis is. That's the end of the matter. He's invaluable to the club. Even if we got £20m for him we wouldn't sell because we'd then have to find another striker halfway through the season and it would take him time to settle in. It's too disruptive."
Fayed would have undoubtedly thought differently had Fulham, who are fifth, not made such a promising start to the season. Nevertheless he will still be tempted to cash in on a player who cost £2.1m in 2000 if he wants to recoup some of the £100m he has spent on the club - especially as plans to move to a new stadium have been shelved. But he would also be fearful of losing Coleman.
Saha, a French under-21 international, scored 32 goals in his first season as Fulham won the First Division title, but managed nine in his first Premiership campaign and seven in his second. Coleman said of the player's apparent desire to leave: "Manchester United's interest is bound to be at the back of Louis' mind. They are a big, big club and every professional footballer wants to play for the biggest clubs. But he's got two years left on his contract after this season and he's also said he's happy at Fulham. I hope that continues and his form continues.
"I spoke to Louis this morning after training and he seems fine. We both understand each other. I've seen some of his comments and at the end of the day he's a human being - of course he will think about Manchester United. But he sees it from the club's point of view and knows he's got a job to do for us.
"He hasn't thrown his toys out of the pram because he knows how highly myself, the players and the staff think of him. And of course the fans totally idolise him. He's more than prepared to stay and fight with the rest of us.
"We need to use this Christmas period to put our two consecutive defeats behind us and Louis will be helping us achieve that."