Saha A Good Fit For Sunderland, But Can O’Neill Be Trusted?
As Michael Owen proved with his nobody-saw-it-coming-except-really-everybody-did move to Man United in 2009, if you have a proven goalscoring record you will always be in high demand, regardless of age and injury record.
At 33, Saha is still expected to find a Premier League club before the season restarts, with Sunderland emerging as the likely destination.
Modern football facilities are of an unparalleled excellence. Only 15 years ago a broken leg would end a career; today it is a three month lay-off. The sport is awash with physicians, fitness coaches, psychologists, and dieticians, offering the 21st century footballer with an opportunity to reach an unimaginable level of physical perfection.
The advances in medical treatment, coupled with the incredibly complex diets and fitness regimes coaches demand of their players, means players are still riding steadily in their peak as they approach their mid-30s. In Serie A last season we saw Di Natale (35, Udinese) Del Piero (38, Juventus) and Totti (36, Roma) all play regularly, to name but three.
In England, United narrowly missed out on the title with a midfield consisting of Paul Scholes (37) and Ryan Giggs (38). Louis Saha may not quite have the ability of these players, and the injuries that have hampered his career certainly limit his potential for first-team football when he approaches 40, but at 33 years of age there is no reason why he cannot find his feet once again.
Can he cut it?
The injury problems of the French striker are a major concern for any potential buyers, but in his defence Saha remained entirely injury free in the 2011/12 campaign. In a strange way, this track record is to Sunderland’s advantage: if Saha had had an injury-free career, he would be way out of their league.
Louis Saha has been a potent goalscoring force since he moved to Fulham in 2001. During his time at the club he scored 53 goals, including 12 in 15 games in his final season for the club, before moving to Manchester United.
It is here that his injury problems really started to take control of his career, and his time at Old Trafford was stuttering and frustrating, although he still managed 42 goals in 120 appearances over 4 years.
At Everton, he was never a regular, but he was given a new lease of life by Redknapp in the latter half of last season, in which Saha scored several goals including one in the FA cup semi-final win over Bolton.
Sunderland could be a great venue for Saha, as the Black Cats continue their search for a Darren Bent replacement. And Saha would come cheap, considering he signed for Everton on a ‘pay-as-you-play’ deal, which meant he trained at the club for free whilst recovering from his injuries.
Despite all this, one cannot help but question any potential O’Neill signing. His record at Aston Villa, although still praised in media circles, is widely regarded as an exaggeration amongst the Aston Villa faithful, with three 6th place finishes (and failure to leave any remnants of a legacy at the club) hardly worth the £120 million spent on players and £80 million a year wage bill.
Some of the highlights of O’Neill’s spending include Curtis Davies, Wayne Routledge, Steven Sidwell, Habib Beye, Fabian Delph, Didier Agathe… the list goes on. In the striker department, his record is even worse: John Carew, Emile Heskey, Marlon Harewood, and Chris Sutton. It is difficult to trust players O’Neill is interested in, and Sunderland will need to be careful they don’t pay over the odds (Beye, on £40 000 per week, still ghosts around the recesses of Villa Park somewhere, apparently).
Saha is hardly a safe option, but on a contract based upon appearances only, he represents a good signing for the likes of Sunderland, or perhaps one of the promoted teams in need of a finisher. West Ham perhaps, or even QPR, who would most probably be a preferred option for the Frenchman, being based in London. If anyone in late July finds themselves without adequate fire-power, Louis Saha (and to rival him, Michael Owen) will be waiting in the stands, still hungry for Premier League action, and still capable of finding the net.