Ferguson under fire again as Saha bid blocked

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson will have to set his sights on a new January transfer target after being rebuffed in his attempt to sign the Fulham striker Louis Saha.

For the second time in 24 hours the Manchester United manager has come under attack for the methods he uses to lure players to Old Trafford, which will probably not bother the battled-hardened Scot in the slightest. However, what will cause Ferguson concern is that his efforts to sign Saha have been firmly blocked.

Such is the criticism from the owner of Fulham, Mohamed al Fayed, over United's moves to capture their top-scorer, the chances of the Cottagers selling to the Old Trafford club in the foreseeable future appear remote in the extreme.

"I am fed up with Sir Alex Ferguson trying to disrupt my club and constantly trying to unsettle my players," Al Fayed said. "Obviously he needs a top-quality striker urgently, but he can't have mine.

"Ever since Fulham beat Manchester United at Old Trafford so convincingly earlier in the season, he has been showing signs of increasing desperation. But I have a clear message to Sir Alex Ferguson and anyone else who is interested: Louis Saha is not for sale."

Ferguson is keen to recruit a reinforcement to take some pressure off his prolific Dutch striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and the £13m-rated Saha was at the top of his shopping list. With that name removed, it seems certain that United will now try to sign Leeds United's Mark Viduka.

Ferguson knows Leeds would have to sell if the price was right, although whether he would be willing to stump up the reported £7m asking price is open to question. Either way, United officials will hope any business can be concluded without more negative publicity.

The PSV Eindhoven president, Harry van Raaij, claimed that the club's chief executive, David Gill, telephoned to apologise after the 19-year-old winger Arjen Robben spent three hours at their Carrington training complex last Friday as a prelude to an expected move to the champions in the summer. Van Raaij said: "I have had good relations with Manchester United in the past over the Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam transfers but bad relations with Ferguson. I recognise here exactly the same actions as when he approached them both. It is Ferguson's way of doing business but it is not my way.

"You can look back and see similarities to what happened with Stam and Van Nistelrooy. It just seems that, with Ferguson, a leopard never loses its spots."

The Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, said he has not been informed of United's latest bid, but admitted, "It might have gone upstairs".

Nevertheless, the Welshman said: "Nothing's changed. He's not for sale. We have been saying all along he's not for sale and that hasn't changed. It doesn't matter if there's a third, fourth or fifth bid, he's not moving.

"The chairman's firmly behind me on that, he knows it's not the right time to lose Saha at the moment.

"Could you see Southampton selling James Beattie in January? Who sells their striker in January just because it suits another club or even if it suits the player? It doesn't suit us and that's that.

"He's under contract so he's not going to just get up and walk out. If it was in the summer it would give you time to plan, but it's halfway through the season and it would be so disruptive to lose one of my best players at this stage."

Coleman declined to join his chairman's personal attack on Ferguson, simply referring to "outside influences". But he said: "When somebody asks if a player is available and makes a bid and you say no and it's in the newspapers and they keep coming back, that is disappointing.

"But we just have to get on with it. You just get that feeling that we're being bullied into selling one of our players, but I don't like bullies and I don't like to be bullied so that's why we're so determined to hang on to Louis Saha."

Coleman pledged his faith in the 25-year-old Frenchman's ability not to be sidetracked. "Louis is a top-class professional footballer, he's a lovely boy," he added. "I enjoyed playing with him and he's a joy to work with as a manager."