Saha: 'I'll have to be strong, but it doesn't scare me'

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The Independent Football

Following the bidding, the sulking, the negotiating and, finally, the signing, Louis Saha is fully aware that the time has come for the delivering. By forcing Fulham to let him complete what he describes as "my dream move to Man U", the Frenchman has dramatically increased the pressure on himself. As he readily acknowledges: "Je n'ai pas droit a l'erreur."

Indeed, mistakes will not be tolerated now that the £12.8m transfer has finally been completed. No matter that it is often difficult for strikers to settle in at Old Trafford, Saha is expected to score goals immediately. "I know that a lot will be demanded of me," says Saha, who sought the advice of his former manager and long-time mentor Jean Tigana before making the switch to United, "but that doesn't scare me. All that matters is that I'm here now. To be honest, I can't quite find the words to describe my emotions. Let's just say this is tops. I'm sure I can be a success at this massive club."

Sir Alex Ferguson, who has shown his faith in Saha by handing him the No 9 shirt previously worn by Sir Bobby Charlton and most recently Andy Cole, concurs with his new recruit. "Louis is a young and exciting talent who has the potential to do great things here," says the United manager, who had been tracking the Frenchman for three years. "Ever since he scored against us [getting both Fulham goals in their first game in the Premiership, a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford in August 2001], I've been monitoring his progress. He's on top form and I feel the time is right to bring him in."

Saha has made a bright start to the campaign. Following an injury-plagued season last term, he returned from summer refreshed and scored 13 League goals for Fulham, an impressive return when one considers that he usually played as a lone striker. "I've been scoring goals this season," says Saha, who trained with the United first team on Friday morning, "but I still think I can improve. I'll have to pick things up quickly and I'll have to be strong, but that doesn't worry me."

The 25-year-old needed to be equally determined once United's interest became common knowledge. "It wasn't easy when the story came out," he recalls, "and there were days when I got quite low. But I'm just pleased that, no matter how difficult relations got at the training ground, I continued doing a good job for Fulham. I owe the club a lot and I hope that I have helped secure their Premiership future for another season at least."

His goals were invaluable to Fulham and Ferguson must be hoping that Saha, who signed a five-and-a-half-year contract, will continue in the same vein at United. Despite their second place in the Premiership ahead of next month's Champions' League tie against Porto, Sir Alex's men have been unusually goal-shy this season. When Ruud van Nistelrooy does not score, as has been the case for the last four matches, no one seems capable of stepping into the Dutchman's shoes. "We needed a second top-class forward," Ferguson admits, "and I am hopeful that Louis can go on to forge a strong partnership with Ruud. We've missed that since Dwight [Yorke] and Andy [Cole] had that first great season together [when United won the Treble in 1999]."

Saha, who is Cup-tied for today's trip to Northampton but says that he is "already dreaming" about his probable debut next Saturday at home to Southampton, is in no doubt that he can be Van Nistelrooy's ideal sidekick. "When you're playing alongside one of the greatest strikers in the world," he says, "all you can do is get better. I'll improve over the years with Ruud and, hopefully, he will also benefit from what I have to offer. I think I can take some of the pressure off him in terms of scoring goals, as well as create more chances for him. If I have to, I will happily operate behind Ruud in a more withdrawn role."

Saha is too savvy to upset his new team-mates, so he will no doubt be keeping quiet about his long-standing admiration for Arsenal's Thierry Henry. The pair know each other well from their time together at the French academy in Clairefontaine, and their families are still close. However, what is no secret is the fact that Saha hopes his move to United will soon enable him to join his friend in the senior team. "Playing for my country remains my ultimate ambition," says Saha who, unlike Tottenham's Frédéric Kanouté, has decided to wait his turn with Les Bleus rather than seek international recognition with his parents' homeland.

"Mind you," he jokes, "the West Indies aren't renowned for their football teams. Seriously, though, I'm ambitious and I believe I can break into the French squad."

He adds: "Coming to this club will help me get noticed and, provided I can put my head down and force my way into the first team, I have a chance of going to the European Championship in Portugal."

Saha pauses to reflect a little further on his career-changing move. "Being a Manchester United player," he suddenly continues, "does not guarantee you a place in your national squad, but it gives you a much better chance than if you're with Fulham."