Saha wiser and eager to learn from O'Neill the 'philosopher'

Veteran striker happy to return to where it all began for his final fling in English football

When the call came to return to the Premier League, Louis Saha was not on the beach drinking coffee but then it is 13 years since he first played for a North-east side and he is no longer naive. Instead, the 34-year-old completed a further session with a fitness coach in France, met Martin O'Neill and signed a one-year deal with Sunderland that feels like a swansong, even if that admission has yet to come.

"My motivation is a bit different to when I was a kid, when I started I was completely innocent and I wasn't aware about the danger of so many things and now I think a bit more," he said. "I realise how lucky I am, I realise how much harder you have to work to be a footballer. When I was younger I'm sure that came pretty easily, but now it's a different job because of the intensity of the game. If any competitor has the power or desire in him he will always look to the top. That was my concern this summer. I wanted to have the best solution and I think I made the right choice.

"I was in France working with some fitness coaches, training really hard. I knew something would turn up, that's why I kept working hard otherwise I would have been on the beach drinking coffee or whatever. I wasn't – I was ready so that when I got a real opportunity I would be fit."

Saha has the full range of Premier League experience. He was 21 when he landed at Newcastle, on loan for 11 games. Fulham, Manchester United, Everton and finally, towards the end of last season, there was Spurs.

"It is the highs I remember," he added. "The low points are things you put to the side of your brain but I've learned from them. I've had the chance, the opportunity to join many great clubs and obviously the biggest one for me was Manchester United. I really enjoyed winning trophies – that's the greatest thing for any player to lift a trophy.

"The spirit of English football is amazing and I realised that from an early age from my time with Newcastle. The people up here have something special about them, they are really passionate about football. Martin O'Neill has got all the passion, which is really great for his role. It's great to be working under him and he is one of the big reasons why I signed here. He is a great philosopher."

Saha looks set to be joined by Steven Fletcher at the Stadium of Light after a £12.3 million fee was agreed with Wolverhampton Wanderers for the Scotland forward.