United pressure tells as Fulham sell Saha

Frenchman joins Ferguson's strikeforce for £12m
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The Independent Football

Louis Saha will complete his move to Manchester United by the end of this week, ending one of the most acrimonious of transfer sagas.

The Fulham striker has secured his "dream move" after the west London club accepted an increased offer from United which is thought to be about £12m. He will sign a five-year contract once personal terms are agreed.

Fulham had hoped to keep Saha until the end of the season but appear to have bowed to the inevitable after United quickly re-opened negotiations following their surprise defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers' on Saturday ­ their second game without a goal ­ which confirmed Sir Alex Ferguson's belief that his squad is lacking in attacking options.

"We had to bite the bullet and make a hard decision," said a source at Fulham who knew that Saha's next move was to hand in a transfer request even though he is under contract until 2006. Officially both clubs are refusing to disclose the details of the deal but the fact that it has been made public now makes it highly unlikely that Fulham will retain the player until May.

However, Fulham's chairman Mohamed Al Fayed has made it clear to his manager, Chris Coleman, who had said that Saha would leave "over my dead body", that funds will be made available to find a new striker to replace the Frenchman, who has scored 15 times this season. Coleman has been widely praised for his trenchant views on the transfer, and his willingness to oppose what he regarded as bullying tactics from Saha's agent and aggressive bargaining from United.

The 25-year-old's career at Fulham became untenable last week when he accused the club of being dishonest and threatened to run down his contract so that he could eventually leave for "zero euros" unless he was granted a transfer. His advisers were furious at suggestions from Fulham that Chelsea had also entered the bidding for the player, insisting he was only interested in a move to Old Trafford, and claiming that the revelation was only designed to increase his transfer fee.

"Fulham are not honest," Saha said at the time. "The club's managers keep changing their opinion. One day they say yes to a transfer and the next day they say no. They think I am an object." Nevertheless, Saha is in the squad for tonight's match against Newcastle United, his former club, and it is unclear whether he will remain at Fulham for next weekend's FA Cup tie against Everton as he is ineligible to play for United.

Ferguson is in Dubai on a short break with the United squad but will no doubt be delighted with the capture of his No 1 transfer target, who will bolster his side's Champions' League campaign when it resumes against Porto next month.

The fee represents a healthy return for Fulham on a player who cost £2.1m when he signed from Metz in 2000 and who, until this season, had struggled to make an impression on the Premiership. United believe Saha's speed and strength in the air, and the fact that he is a left-sided forward, will complement Ruud Van Nistelrooy. They now have the option of playing both strikers together or using Saha as the prolific Dutchman's understudy.

In a brief statement, confirmed by United, Fulham said that "it has reached an agreement in principle with Manchester United for the transfer of the registration of Louis Saha, subject to a number of conditions. Fulham FC expects these conditions to be resolved within the next week and will make a further announcement on completion."