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Shadow man Saha fears painful parting from United


Louis Saha, the luckless Manchester United striker, admitted last night that his injury problems could force Sir Alex Ferguson to replace him after the Champions League final. Saha, who is attracting tentative interest from several French clubs, spoke of another "hard, hard season" after being restricted to only six starts in the Premier League.

Saha qualifies for a Premier League winner's medal, having also appeared 11 times as a substitute, but the Frenchman acknowledged that his contribution had been minimal and that it had become a familiar story during his four-and-a-half years at the club. In that time the £12.8m signing has started only 52 league games, going down to a succession of knee and hamstring problems, and his was a notably downbeat tone as he contemplated an uncertain future.

"I know it [the final] could be my last game, and I would understand if the manager went for another striker," said Saha. "It would be painful if he did and it's painful even to talk about it because I love the club so much. But it's been very hard for me this season.

"This is the best and biggest club in the world and the fact is that I've had very few chances. I do get miserable when I am injured and it's very tense for my family because I want to play and I want to win things, so when that chance is taken away from me I can't help but be in a bad mood. I'm 29 now and I wanted to improve again this year because that's what you have to do at a club like this. But it's difficult when you get injured. You are staying in the same place all the time."

Although Ferguson's priority is to sign another full-back, with Mikaël Silvestre likely to leave for Bordeaux and misgivings about whether Gary Neville will ever be the same player after his own injury problems, it is an open secret that United are looking for another striker. That would mean Saha either leaving or being relegated to the role of fifth-choice forward, and the former Fulham striker believes he has paid the price for trying to rush himself back to fitness. "United is like an express train and sometimes you try to catch it but it can be very risky," he said. "That's what I've tried to do this season."

Saha went on to express his concerns that he would almost certainly be overlooked by France for next month's European Championship. "I doubt I will go. I take playing for my country very seriously but I cannot expect to be picked when I've been out of the United side for so long."

He is, however, expected to be on the bench in Wednesday's final and he said he would take his inspiration from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's heroic contribution, as a late substitute, in the 1999 final against Bayern Munich. "It would be a great way to end the season. To be talking now of a Champions League final is great and it makes it a lot easier for me personally. I see it as a big chance for me to prove I can help the team. I will try to get my head right, that's the main thing. I have been training for a week and, right now, I feel very good. It's the job of the management to pick the team and I accept that I won't start the game. But it's great just to be part of it and it would be unbelievable if I could do what Ole did."

United have announced they will wait until August to hold their official homecoming if they win the Champions League final. It had been anticipated a victory parade would take place on Thursday but, mindful of the violence that accompanied Wednesday's Uefa Cup final in Manchester, city councillors and the police were in no mood to allow more football fans to pour on to the streets as Rangers' did. Although no precise date has been set, United officials have earmarked Solskjaer's testimonial against Espanyol on August 2 as the most appropriate occasion.
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