Another French makeover


Louis Saha is still getting to grips with English and you fear the worst when told that the dressing-room is the setting of his linguistic learning. Yet his thoughts are not expressed in the depressingly familiar cliches of footballers.

Instead, except for an occasional lapse into franglais, Saha speaks with refreshing purity, describing Fulham's visit to Anfield for tonight's League Cup tie as "a pleasure for us because we can learn very quickly for next season. You have to have a mark for players and we can find that tonight. It is more a game to show what we can do, more a game for confidence than for us to believe we can win."

The League Cup has become so debased by clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United refusing to take it seriously that it is now a back-door route to Europe for the rest. Usually, there would also be little reason to assume that it would end in anything but a comfortable victory for Liverpool, who inflicted a club record 10-0 defeat on Fulham in this competition in 1986.

This season, though, under manager Jean Tigana, it is an encounter that will intrigue the most jaundiced fan. Certainly, says Saha, there will be no discernible increase in nerves in the Fulham dressingroom at Anfield. "We can relax and play our game," he says. "It's easy for us to play a big match because they have great players and if we lose, it is normal. Also the manager has given us so much confidence that it is possible to play football without pressure. We think only of the football."

Saha (22), who played five Premiership games for Newcastle while on loan two seasons ago, joined Fulham from Metz in June for £2.1 million sterling. As Tigana's first signing he has been transformed from a hesitant winger to one of the deadliest strikers in the country, much like the metamorphosis of Thierry Henry at Arsenal.

Saha says: "It is similar to Henry because like him, I started on the wing. To be changed into a central striker, you have to have a good manager to give you confidence and progress you in the position. Mr Tigana said to me that I was a good player but that I did not have the confidence to play well all season and he would progress me mentally. When you have a good manager, you have to trust him and I want to give him lots of things, I want to say to him by my play, yes, you were right."

The message could not be clearer if he used a loud-hailer. Having set himself a seemingly wildly optimistic goals target of 20 for the season, Saha has already reached it, 15 coming in the English League.

However Fulham do tonight, none of their vanquished English League rivals doubts that their brilliant football will carry them into the top division for the first time in 32 years, completing a journey from Division Three that will have taken five seasons and five managers. Opposing sides' fans regularly applaud Tigana's team off, Saha gasping: "It's unbelievable and I think you only see that in England. In Francois, never."