Ferguson lifted by Larsson's arrival for critical period

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Manchester United paraded Henrik Larsson ahead of his 10-week stay at Old Trafford yesterday then took out an insurance policy against accusations of focusing on the quick-fix by announcing a new four-year contract for Louis Saha. Having suffered the effects of his current strikers' profligacy at Upton Park on Sunday, however, it was no surprise to hear Sir Alex Ferguson herald the incoming 35-year-old as the man who could have a decisive influence on this season's title race.

Larsson is in the twilight of an outstanding career and only eligible to play for United between 2 January and 10 March next year but his elevated stature remains undisturbed judging by the dozens of Scandinavian journalists who descended on Carrington for a rare interview with the former Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and current Helsingborg forward. As sharp and cunning in front of a microphone as he is inside the penalty area, the Swede slipped questions about extending his sojourn at Old Trafford, an international return and even United's prospects of replacing his previous club as European champions. "Everything is possible," he said, after an agonising pause that will not have gone unnoticed by the Scot sat beside him.

It was therefore left to Ferguson to dispense with the platitudes and explain why he had defied so many of his own managerial rules and signed a short-term striker who is scheduled to return to Helsingborg before the business end of the Premiership season.

"We need an experience player like Henrik and as soon as his name was mentioned as a possibility for January I thought it was a great idea," the United manager said. "OK, he maybe only here for a short period, but that maybe the most important short period in the club's season. Hopefully it is. Some of the football we are playing is very good but there are games, like Sunday, when we have missed a lot of chances and hopefully the likes of Henrik can prove decisive for us."

Ferguson added: "It will be a difficulty to see him go but hopefully by then he will have done enough to keep us at the sharp end of all competitions. We will be sorry for that day to come but we wouldn't want to intrude on Helsingborg's ambitions. They have been very fair and we have to return that favour."

Larsson's debut will come against his former manager at Celtic, Martin O'Neill, when United face Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round and he revealed why, four years ago, he rejected Ferguson's initial invitation to move to Old Trafford. "My family and I were very settled at Celtic and I was part of a good team so that was part of the reason I didn't come down before, but this was a chance I could not turn down," he said. "Once I knew of Manchester United's interest I couldn't say no." The new deal for Saha, United's leading goalscorer this term with 12 goals, will keep the French international at Old Trafford until 2010 and replaces the five-year contract he signed when he joined the club from Fulham for £12.8m in January 2004.