From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.34 :: NO.10 :: Mar. 10, 2011
Sadly for a striker of Louis Saha's undeniable quality, his legacy is likely to be one of unfulfilled potential in a career plagued by injury.
But, in scoring his first ever English Premier League hat-trick, against Blackpool in February, the Frenchman is showing that, despite still being a regular on the treatment table, when it comes to netting goals, old habits die hard.
Saha got his first taste of English football when Ruud Gullit brought him on loan to Newcastle as a 21-year-old from French side Metz. With a reputation for pace, power and an eye for goal, Saha did not quite live up to his billing — in 12 games for the Magpies, he scored two goals.
When Gullit omitted a young Saha from his FA Cup final squad in 1999, a return to France beckoned and the striker may have been forgiven for thinking his chance in England had passed him by.
But luckily for the him, there was another Frenchman who had just touched down on English soil and in new Fulham boss Jean Tigana, Saha found a second chance of cracking at English football.
That chance, Saha did not spurn. In his first season at Craven Cottage, he scored 27 goals, leading the Mohamed Al-Fayed revolution in west London and sending Fulham into top flight for the first time since 1968.
After two successful years with Fulham, Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United came calling in 2004 and the step up to playing for the European giant was one that Saha took in his stride.
Sadly for the striker, it was at United where his injury woes began. In his four-year spell at Old Trafford, Saha was dogged by a series of knee, ankle, calf and hamstring problems that sidelined him for months at a time.
In 124 appearances in a United shirt, Saha scored 42 times and won the Premier League title in 2007 and 2008. He also got his hands on the League Cup in 2006 when he netted in the 4-0 demolition of Wigan in the final.
For Saha, his lengthy time on the sidelines left him with mixed feelings about his stay with the Red Devils. He said: “It's difficult for me to think they were good years. There were some really good times. Of course there were. It was a great club, the number one in Europe, and it was great being part of such a successful team, but in the end, I could understand why the manager did not want to keep me any longer. I just guess I was unlucky.
“I look at my (2008) league winner's medal and, in some ways, I'm not sure that I really deserve it. I know that I worked hard to get fit and when I played I did as well as I could so, yes, I probably did deserve it because I gave everything. But it's difficult to feel you have made an important contribution when you have missed half of the season. If you ask any competitor, he will tell you the same.
“Every time I was close to getting some consistency my injuries dragged me down, I would even find myself getting jealous of the other players because they had one year after another to improve and that's the only way really to get better as a player.
“For me, it was really hard to get five or 10 games in a row and I don't think I was improving as much as the others. But there was nothing I could do.”
Everton offered Saha the opportunity to stay in England in 2008 and he left United worth considerably less than the GBP12.8 million spent to lure him to Old Trafford.
In his time at Goodison Park, he has shown that further career achievements are not beyond him. In 2009, Saha's strike after 25 seconds against Chelsea became the fastest in FA Cup final history, although he did end up on the losing side. And his haul against Blackpool this season saw him become the first striker to score four goals for Everton since Graeme Sharp in 1987.
Still Everton's first-choice striker, Saha has failed to shake his injury problems. But flashes of class in between his spells on the sidelines have seen him score nine goals this season, putting him on target to top his best league total for the Blues of 15 last year.
In the 2005/06 campaign, back-to-back knee and hamstring problems keep Saha out for a total of eight months and saw him cruelly dubbed ‘Mr. Glass' by some fans and he has never shaken his injury trouble since.
Saha is married to Aurelie and the couple has two children. A Ferrari 548 Italia takes pride of place in Saha's car collection.
Name: Louis Saha
France caps: 19
France goals: 4
France debut: v Belgium, 2004
Moment to remember
Scoring the fastest ever FA Cup final goal 25 seconds into the 2009 showpiece event against Chelsea will take some beating.
Moment to forget
Saha was recalled to the France squad last year for the first time in four years by Raymond Domenech only to be forced to withdraw through injury.
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