It is said that good things come to those who wait. For Manchester United FC striker Louis Saha, this certainly appears to be the case as he prepares to play his first UEFA Champions League match at Old Trafford tonight.
A contemporary of Thierry Henry at France's National Football Institute in Clairefontaine, he is only now, at 25, joining the Arsenal FC man in football's fast lane. Since leaving Fulham FC for United in an €18.5m move in January, he has made a goalscoring international debut for France against Belgium and had his first taste of Champions League football, in last month's 2-1 first-leg defeat in Porto.
For a man who has "messed around singing the official music" of the Champions League with a friend, it is little wonder his excitement is almost tangible at the prospect of facing Porto with the vocal backing of some 65,000 United fans tonight. "Impressed is not a strong enough a word," he said of stepping out at Old Trafford.
'Privilege to play'
"Playing at home in this stadium gives me goose pimples, though I was expecting nothing less. Now the 'Theatre of Dreams' is my stage." On this stage he can now play out his dream of playing Champions League football. Saha, who "dreamt about the Champions League" said: "It's an exhilarating competition and it's a privilege to play in it."
How long he will get to play in it this season depends on events tonight, of course. United have not failed to reach at least the quarter-finals since 1996 yet trail 2-1 to the Portuguese champions. And while they have an away goal from the first leg, they have looked less than secure defensively in the absence of the suspended Rio Ferdinand and have conceded nine goals in their last five home matches.
Saha's primary concern, of course, is what happens at the other end of the pitch. He cannot speak more highly of his new strike partner, Ruud van Nistelrooij, last season's top scorer in the Champions League. The quality of the Dutchman makes his own job that much easier, according to Saha.
With Van Nistelrooij up front, everything is much simpler. It's incredible how easy it is for me to read his runs and calls. I adapt my game to his. My father and I used to watch tapes of his matches and we noticed that he is capable of looking three times in a single second to check where his team-mates are."
All the way
With Van Nistelrooij and Saha in tandem, United should carry a strong scoring threat. And not surprisingly, the Frenchman is optimistic United can progress. "The aim is to go as far as possible in the Champions League," he said. "With the players we have in our squad, we can even go all the way, though obviously it will be hard."
This is from an interview by Xavier Rivoire, originally conducted for Champions magazine, the next issue of which is published on 19 March. Click here to subscribe
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