Louis Saha signed for United for £12.8 million midway through the 2003/2004 season. He scored his first goal for us just eighteen minutes in to his debut, scoring our first in a 3-2 win over Southampton. The following week he scored two against Everton, his first coming on nine minutes, in a 4-3 victory at Goodison. Two weeks later he scored our only goal in a 1-1 draw against his former club, Fulham. The highlight of his first season as a United player came in March, scoring four minutes from time to give us a 1-1 draw at Highbury, canceling out Henry’s goal. He racked up seven goals from his ten starting appearances, and was appearing to be worth every penny United had paid for him.
The following season was much more difficult, picking up an injury in September playing for France, which was then aggravated upon return in November, again whilst representing his country. He returned in January to score against Villa, but in February he picked up yet another injury, which saw him ruled out until April. Patience was wearing thin. Memories of his great start with the club were long forgotten by the time it was announced he’d miss the first three months of the following season.
November 2005 saw Saha return to the team, coming on with nine minutes to play against Villarreal in the Champions League, then scored for United the following week in the League Cup. It was his first goal in ten months and was the start of what would be a fantastic run for him in the League Cup. He was used as a sub in the Premiership and Champions League until the next League Cup game came against Birmingham, the quarter final, where he scored two goals in our 3-1 away win. He got his first league goal of the season on New Years Eve against Bolton, then scored again in our 1-1 draw with Blackburn in the League Cup semi-final. He scored the winning goal in the second leg at Old Trafford and United were in the final. What had been looking like a rather bleak season now had some sort of silver lining, and we had Louis Saha’s five goals in four games to thank for it.
Ruud van Nistelrooy was dropped in favour of Saha in the league as we traveled to Ewood Park in February. Saha partnered Rooney up front and scored our first goal two minutes after Blackburn took the lead. But a comedy of errors ensued, and United were 3-1 down at half time. Ruud was brought on for Richardson (oh remember the days, when Kieran Richardson actually used to start for United) after we went 4-1 down, and managed to claw back two goals, but none of our strikers could save us from defeat.
Saha started alongside van Nistelrooy in our next league game, scoring in our 4-2 victory over Fulham. Saha was then started ahead of Ruud in the League Cup final against Wigan and scored, his sixth in five League Cup games. He was also involved with all three of our other goals. I wrote about Fergie’s decision to play Louis ahead of Ruud, questioning whether it was the right thing to do.
A week prior to the final, United were dumped gutlessly out of the FA Cup at the hands of Liverpool. It was their first win over us in the FA Cup in 85 years, and Sir Alex Ferguson certainly wasn’t too happy about being the manager to lose that impressive record. Ruud van Nistelrooy didn’t look up for it, obviously feeling more than a bit miffed at being dropped for Saha in the league. It seemed obvious this spineless and effortless performance from Ruud swayed Ferguson’s decision when making his team selection for the final. Ruud was pissed when he didn’t even get to make an appearance in the final, Ferguson instead opting to bring new signings Vidic and Evra, as well as Richardson off the bench.
This was only the beginning. Saha was picked ahead of Ruud in the following league game against Wigan, after rumours were rife that the Dutch striker had stormed off after the Cup final. It was Saha’s deflected shot that gave us the winning goal in the final minute at the JJB. Saha was played ahead of Ruud in the following league games against Newcastle, West Brom and Birmingham, scoring twice. Ruud was given the nod over Saha against West Ham, scoring our only and winning goal, with Saha retaining his place in the first XI again against Bolton, scoring in our 2-1 victory.
Ferguson spent the remaining few games of the season chopping and changing between Ruud and Louis, with neither doing enough to save us from a second place finish. Saha got thirteen goals in thirty appearances, seventeen starts. Ruud van Nistelrooy left us, the press said Ferguson had gone mad, and a season later we’re the Champions.
Last season, Louis Saha had scored five goals by the end of September, and went on to score regularly for the rest of the year. His most noteworthy goals of that first half of the season came against Chelsea, City, Benfica and Blackburn. He scored six goals in the ten games between November and December, United were cruising in the league, and we no need to look back after the sale of Ruud. Saha had bided his time with us, waiting patiently on the bench for his time to shine, and after two years of waiting, hauling himself back from injury time and again, he got his chance. Ruud had been asked to do this for a few months and didn’t have the character to hack it.
Saha was rewarded with a new contract in the December which would keep him at the club until 2010. However, after signing, in the second half of the season he scored just once, in our 3-2 FA Cup win against Reading, when we scored three goals in six minutes. His injury problems came back to haunt him and thankfully Ferguson ingeniously brought in Henrik Larsson for a three month loan. Saha stayed fit throughout most of February, but played in just three games in the last three months of the season, coming on with no longer than fifteen minutes to go each time.
Come May, Louis Saha was far from popular among large groups of United fans, with rumours circulating that the reason Saha had featured so infrequently was due to psychological issues. It was believed he was too scared to play for fears he would injure himself. United lacked the pace and goalscoring ability in the final month of the season, costing us dearly in the European Cup semi final and FA Cup final. Our players were tired after a match packed season and really could have done with someone like Saha on the park.
His injuries have continued this season, as well as the talk of the psychological effect his injuries have had on him, with Saha rarely available to start a match. He scored our winning goal against Sunderland after coming off the bench in September, and netted an injury time penalty against Chelsea later in the month. He set up Evra beautifully against Arsenal, who laid the ball on to Ronaldo to score our second. Other than these occasions, I struggle to think of much positive he has contributed to our season so far, and it’s starting to look as though time is up for Louis. He had a dreadful game against Bolton, in his first full ninety minutes since last December, and looks a mile off the mark at the moment.
Louis Saha has hit back at the claims that he has on occasion refused to play, claiming he has always played when available. “At United, I have had an incredible amount of bad luck,” said Saha today. “But that does not explain everything. Playing all the time takes its toll on the body. My game is based on speed, quick movements and changes of direction. It’s very demanding for the body. For a long time, I had an injury on my left knee. I changed the way I ran and I injured my right knee. But I never refused to play. Everytime I missed a game I was not able to play. For sure, before playing again, I was a bit anxious. Every player feels that. But it did not go further than that. People are ill-informed. I had six pieces of cartilage in my knee. Can you say this is psychological? Sometimes I would take part in training during the week and feel good and then drop out at the weekend. But you can explain that easily. My knee could support short training exercises, but not the intensity of a game. Should I have played without being 100 per cent fit? That would have been ridiculous.”
However, his effort has been questioned and talk of selling him on in January has begun to increase.
Now, trying to bring in some sanity to the argument, it would be absolutely ludicrous to sell Saha on in January, whether Ferguson brings in a replacement or not. Rooney and Tevez, along with Ronaldo, are just about sharing the goalscoring duties out at the moment, but another injury to Rooney could leave us to regret selling on Saha if he manages to keep up his fitness for another club from January. But is it time for him to move on in the summer?
My patience is wearing thin, but there is still some remaining, and I’d like to see how he gets on for the rest of this season before coming down too hard on him. Saha has worked bloody hard to get his place in our side, never grumbling or complaining at rarely getting a chance to play and prove himself when van Nistelrooy was around. I think he contributed massively to our title winning season, helping propel us high above the other clubs before the turn of the New Year. He fits in superbly with our attacking football, able to score goals for himself as well as set them up for others, the latter being a quality Ruud rarely possessed. When fit, he is certainly worth having around, although I acknowledge, there’s no point keeping a player who is able, but always injured.
So I’m going to give him a few more months yet and if he struggles to remain fit, then it’s time to move him on. Clearly, he will have to go at a knock down price, if he’s able to pass another’s club medical! But for now I believe we should sit tight, support him when he comes on the field, and hope he can repay our faith in him sooner rather than later, the same way he repaid Ferguson over the past two seasons.
Have you had enough of Saha?