Manchester United striker Louis Saha has admitted he was surprised to start yesterday’s Carling Cup final.
Alex Ferguson’s decision to play Saha ahead of axed top scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was by far the most contentious incident of an otherwise routine day out at the Millennium Stadium for the Red Devils.
Ferguson justified the selection on the basis Saha’s five goals had played a major role in getting United to Cardiff and he compounded the controversy by leaving Van Nistelrooy on the bench throughout the 4-0 win.
The United boss played down rumours of a rift with the Dutchman, who was first to break away from United’s post-match celebrations, left the stadium without a word and has now joined up with the Holland squad for Wednesday’s friendly with Ecuador.
Talk of a big-money move to Spain or Italy for the 29-year-old is bound to be resurrected, even though Van Nistelrooy only restated his desire to remain at Old Trafford this weekend.
The Dutchman’s mood will not have been lightened by a scoreline and performance from Saha, which suggests Ferguson got the decision right.
Saha set up two of United’s goals, and scored one himself to provide further proof of an ability that is now blossoming again following a nightmare run of injuries.
But, even the £12.8m (€18.8m) front-man revealed it felt 'strange' to be handed a place up-front alongside Wayne Rooney.
“It was a bit strange to start,” said Saha, who has missed three previous finals with United and Newcastle due to suspension, injury and, in the case of the Magpies, being dropped himself.
“I want to start every game. Sometimes the choice goes my way and other times it doesn’t but thankfully I got the opportunity to play in a final.
“After my previous experiences in finals, it would have been great just to get a few minutes. I didn’t feel any extra pressure because Ruud wasn’t in the team.
“The most important thing is to remain focsed as a group to make sure you win the game.”
Saha has now scored 11 times this season, all but three of which have come in cup combat.
Admittedly, the 27-year-old’s tally is still 11 behind Van Nistelrooy, who remains on course to finish top of the Premiership sharp-shooters standings, but he does offer a vastly different threat to the former PSV Eindhoven man.
Saha could not claim to be anywhere near as clinical as Van Nistelrooy but he does have extra pace and strength, plus a neat first touch and aerial ability that saw him set up Wayne Rooney for United’s opener.
What Saha has never really had during his time at United is good fortune in the injury department and Ferguson would no doubt have had a sense of foreboding at the player’s call-up to the French squad for this week’s encounter with Slovakia, given the number of times he has been injured on international duty.
Given their respective talents, and United’s continued personnel problems in central midfield, the possibility of playing Saha, Van Nistelrooy and Rooney in the same side remains open.
It seems Saha would be delighted to remain involved in any team that has Rooney at its heart.
“Wayne Rooney is a complete player,” he said.
“Anyone who plays with him is bound to enjoy it because he has everything. He can pass the ball, he can score and he can create chances. It makes life a lot easier for everyone.
“Obviously I cannot say I want him to win the World Cup. But he has the potential to help England do it.”