Saha handed the opportunity to catch up with old friend Henry

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Louis Saha looks likely to be given his chance to bring some joie de vivre to Old Trafford. He will also have an opportunity to catch up, in more ways than one, with old friend and team-mate Thierry Henry.

The pair were close friends when they played together, first at the Clairefontaine youth academy and then at different age groups of the French national side. Together with Nicolas Anelka, the three conversed in Creole, a language they shared in common because of their families' West Indian roots. Saha even used to go to Henry's parents' house for holidays. However, until last night's news that Manchester United have agreed a deal with Fulham for his services, he has lived in his old team-mates' shadows.

While Henry and Anelka have cost their various clubs around £47m in transfer fees and, in Henry's case, have been praised as one of the best strikers in the world, Saha's route to the top has been more arduous and less glamorous.

The 25-year-old signed for unfashionable Metz and, after just a handful of appearances, swapped north-eastern France for north-eastern England when he joined Newcastle in January 1999 on loan. He showed occasional glimpses of his explosive pace and finishing, scoring the winner in an FA Cup fifth-round replay at Blackburn, but at the season's end he was back with Metz.

The man responsible for Saha's renaissance was undoubtedly Jean Tigana. He cost the Fulham manager £2.1m in June 2000, a lot of money for a player who promised much but had so far delivered little. That all changed as Saha scored 32 goals and the Cottagers won the First Division championship.

He carried on where he left off on the first day of the 2001-02 season, when he grabbed the attention of Sir Alex Ferguson by scoring twice in a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford. Unfortunately for Saha and Fulham, that performance was the exception rather than the norm for the next two seasons as he managed just 16 goals in total.

However, he has rediscovered his scoring form this season and has been the figurehead of a pacy attacking side which has made Fulham one of the surprise packages of the season.

The club revealed they had rejected approaches for him before Christmas, with Chris Coleman making his position quite plain that Saha would go "over his dead body" and that selling him would be "suicide". Saha, in turn, said he was no longer on speaking terms with the Fulham manager.

Finally, however, the player appears about to get the move he craved. Whether he takes his chance as emphatically as Henry took his at Arsenal is up to him.

UNDER PRESSURE HOW THE SAHA TRANSFER UNFOLDED

23 December: Fulham confirmed they had received "unsolicited and unwelcome" approaches for Saha, naming Manchester United as one of the clubs in pursuit of the striker. The Fulham manager, Chris Coleman, claimed Saha would be "sold over my dead body".

4 January: Saha scored twice to see Fulham past Cheltenham in the FA Cup third round. Coleman insisted it would be "suicide" to sell him.

6 January: The Fulham chairman, Mohamed Al Fayed, insisted the player was not for sale after reportedly rejecting an £8m offer from United.

7 January: Saha is quoted in L'Equipe as saying he is "gutted and appalled" at Fulham's refusal to accept United bid. Saha also told the French newspaper he was no longer on speaking terms with Coleman.

10 January: Sir Alex Ferguson criticises Fulham for revealing that United had made a bid for the player, and insisted United would not be going back in with an improved offer.

14 January: Reports that Fulham and United have finally agreed a £9.5m fee for Saha prove unfounded, despite the striker being quoted as saying a deal is "close to becoming reality". Sources at Fulham also claimed that Chelsea had also "expressed an interest" in signing Saha.

15 January: Saha again expresses his frustration in the French press, telling L'Equipe: "One day they say yes to a transfer and the next day they say no. They think I am an object. I, however, feel that the road which leads to Old Trafford is about to open."

18 January: Manchester United confirm they have reached an agreement in principle with Fulham for Saha.

Comments