Louis' theatre of dreams

Saha, the pacy France international, has endured difficult times since moving to Old Trafford early in 2004 but has finally started to produce regularly in front of goal. He could well have a role to play in Germany, writes Andy Hampson.

Manchester United striker Louis Saha has not only returned to form in 2006, but produced some of the best performances of his career after finally shaking off a series of persistent injuries. The pacy former Fulham striker and France international has endured difficult times since moving to Old Trafford early in 2004 but has finally started to produce regularly in front of goal. Saha could well have a role to play in Germany.

Saha, who hails from Paris, is a product of the revered Clairfontaine French football academy, which also produced Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka. He joined Metz as a teenager, signing professional forms in 1997, and impressed enough to earn a five-month loan move to English Premier League side Newcastle in 1999.

This was Saha's first brush with top-flight English football and he was hardly a roaring success, netting just two goals. Yet his potential had caught former France international Jean Tigana's eye and after another season at Metz, the then Fulham manager brought him back to England. Saha fired in 32 goals to lift then First Division Fulham to the Premier League.

Saha was without doubt the hottest property outside the top flight that season and he immediately announced his return to the Premier League with two goals in a defeat to United on the first day of the following campaign.

He could not maintain such high standards but he gradually came to terms with the higher level, particularly after Chris Coleman took over as manager from Tigana at Craven Cottage from April 2003.

Saha made a blistering start to the following campaign and soon began to attract the attention of United. Saha's head was turned and he became the subject of a long and bitter transfer saga between the two clubs. Coleman, naturally, wanted to keep him but his persistent denials that the player would be sold became harder to maintain as Saha himself claimed United was his "dream" move and Fulham were standing in his way.

Coleman said Saha would only be sold over his "dead body" but United refused to back down as Fulham continually rebutted their offers. Saha eventually waded in to try to hasten a move saying he was being denied "the chance of a lifetime" and that Fulham should not be refusing bids in excess of GBP8million because he was "not Ronaldo". The row grew increasingly bitter and a move became inevitable. A GBP12.82million deal was finally concluded during the January transfer window of 2003-04, Saha having already scored 15 goals in 22 games for the Cottagers that term.

The Frenchman carried on with United where he had left off with the Londoners, scoring within 18 minutes of his debut against Southampton. International recognition soon followed and Saha was part of the France squad for Euro 2004 but injuries and competition for places at Old Trafford, the `Theatre of Dreams', prevented him from making the impact he may have wished thereafter.

His 2004-05 season was a frustrating one, with Wayne Rooney and Alan Smith arriving and jumping ahead of him in the pecking order and Ruud van Nistelrooy seemingly undroppable. There were also a number of injuries and Saha managed just two goals all season.

Saha was linked with a move away from Old Trafford less than a year after arriving but he battled through his problems and finally started to re-emerge towards the end of 2005 as United moved through the early rounds of the Carling Cup. That often-maligned competition proved his salvation as, playing to allow others to rest, he scored the goals that carried the team through to the final.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson then kept faith with him for the Millennium Stadium clash with Wigan in February and, after scoring again to help United win the Cup, he was retained for Premier League duty.

Saha is now very much part of the United first-team picture and, amazingly, it is prolific Dutchman Van Nistelrooy's future that is being questioned.

Saha lives in a four-bedroom, four-bathroom house near Manchester with his wife Coralie and son Stanley. Toddler Stanley wants for little with a jungle-themed bedroom and a playroom decorated with large screen TV, DVD collection and a table football game. Saha himself has his own room where he plays music, particularly keyboards. He has also bought the family a house in France and his parents one in the Caribbean.

Saha parks two luxury black cars outside his house, a Mercedes M-Class and a Porsche 911. The M-Class could have set him back GBP46,000 with his 192mph top-speed 911 probably costing over GBP100,000.

FACT FILE Position: Striker Club: Manchester United D.O.B: August 8, 1978 France Caps: 8 France Goals: 2 France debut: v Belgium, February 2002

Moment to remember: Made a dream debut for France with a goal in a friendly against Belgium. A picture of himself celebrating the goal with Zinedine Zidane takes pride of place in his house.

Moment to forget: The Euro 2004 quarterfinal against Greece was not especially memorable for France or Saha. The French were beaten 1-0 in Lisbon while Saha was booked after coming on as a 72nd-minute substitute.

WHAT THEY SAID

"I am feeling a lot of pressure with this swan in Scotland. I am serious _ to me, pressure is bird flu. I am more scared of the swan than football. What is football compared to life? A swan with bird flu: that for me is the drama of the last two days. I will have to buy some masks."

- Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho claims he is more worried about bird flu than Manchester United's challenge for the Barclays English Premier League title.

"He has to learn his lesson. I hope this has hurt him because if it has, then he will stop. However, I don't care who he is or what he does in 20 years' time, if he is still betting like that, he won't have a penny to his name."

- Reformed gambling addict and veteran striker Steve Claridge advises Wayne Rooney to learn the lessons and move on from his reported GBP700,000 betting binge.

"Football brings people from around the world together but some people don't realise this and they want to make chants about a player's colour. I have had some problems with this in the past and it is wrong. We have to think about what we can do to let these people know we do not want this."

- Chelsea striker Didier Drogba says he will consider leaving the pitch if he is subjected to racist taunts.

"Here at Liverpool, it's Stevie G who teases me about my clothes. Sometimes I go to the showers, and when I come back he's wearing my clothes. I have funny underwear, like zebra print, so he puts on my underpants and walks around the dressing room." Djibril Cisse on life at Liverpool.

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