Lou can do it

Friday 17 August 2001

Fulham fans across the World have been sending in their good luck messages by the thousand before Sunday's Premiership opener at Old Trafford.

And the message is simple: "Lou can do it"

Whites fans are convinced that in French striker Louis Saha they have a match winner and Saha himself is confident that he'll be more than capable of haunting Premiership defences.

Ho told Fulham Today earlier this week:

"Scoring more goals than last season is a big target for me. To be playing in the Premiership is a dream, playing against excellent players, on good pitches and in nice stadiums. The quality of players is better than the First Division, but I'm confident I can score goals at this level.

"I'm looking forward to it like everyone, and when you've got a good match to start off with, it's a pleasure to be in the side."

Bookies odds on Saha being Sunday's first goalscorer range from 5 to 7/1.



Fulham in safe hands

When Edwin van der Sar was given the task of keeping out England's finest on Wednesday night, his role turned out to be mostly that of a spectator.

The Holland goalkeeper was so underemployed he was lucky officials at White Hart Lane did not ask him to pay an admission fee.

During the 45 minutes he was on the pitch he was called on to show his class only once, when he produced a great stop to tip over Gary Neville's thunderous first-half shot.

Otherwise the 30-year-old did little more than watch the impotency of England's attack and applaud the brilliance of his own strikers.

Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy, who scored one of the goals in Holland's 2-0 friendly win, was particularly impressive and Van der Sar might find Wednesday turns out to be more productive than it first appeared.

He will be between the posts at Old Trafford with his new team, Fulham, on Sunday and the recent knowledge acquired from a few days training with the striker and watching him in action might just come in handy.

"He is in very good form and good shape and it will be hard to play against him," said the former Juventus goalkeeper who Fulham signed for £7 million two weeks ago.

"It is not good for the game on Sunday that he is looking so sharp but he did that for Holland and I was very pleased for him. I expect there will be a lot of shots to deal with at Old Trafford but, of course, Fulham are not the favourites."

Van der Sar is sensible to play the underdog card for the newlypromoted team he has joined, even if it is one the stopper who previously attracted interest from United and Arsenal is not used to using.

But that does not mean that on an individual level he is particularly anxious about the task he faces. Van der Sar came up against several United players on Wednesday night and did not come out of the contest with any psychological scars.

"I was happy with my own form. I made some nice saves and it was good for my self-confidence," he said. "It was the first big game in this country since I have come to play here and it is good to have a good memory."

As for the £19m Van Nistelrooy, he added: "I know Van Nistelrooy well because we have both been with the national team for the last two years. He is a nice guy with great potential in front of goal.

"He is really good and we see that all the time in training, but when I come up against him we come off about equal. He scores some past me but I save my fair share too. I do not fear him or anybody else."

So Fulham's goalkeeper is confident he can make a big contribution on his full competitive debut for the club, not least because he knows one of United's main threats so well.

His team-mate Alain Goma, however, who may be asked to mark United's Dutch striker, said he has never watched Van Nistelrooy in action and is happy not to until Sunday.

Manager Jean Tigana is also relaxed about what will be his first game in charge in the Premiership.

He may want three more players to make his squad good enough and he will be without the suspended Luis Boa Morte and Rufus Brevett on Sunday, but he did not start specific preparations for the game until today.

Tigana said: "It is not difficult to play against Manchester in the first game. I think for the players it is a fantastic opportunity.

"Also, if you lose it is not a problem. I do not like to lose but it is only the start of the season and there is a long way to go.

"We need to progress quickly and what Ipswich did last season is a good example for us. But I have only managed and played at the top level and the pressure is not a problem. I will sleep well on Saturday night.

"I have many young players and it will be a journey of discovery for me and them in the Premiership. After about 15 games it will be possible to see how good my team are.

"But I would not think of it as a success if we finished fourth from bottom this season, I would not like that. To finish around 10th would be not too bad."


Tigana rises to challenge of lifting Fulham to new heights

Jean Tigana seems to be the exception to every rule about football managers. For example, most men in charge of teams newly promoted to the Premiership would settle for seventeenth place and safety. Not the Fulham manager. "Tenth would be not too bad, and after that do as well as Ipswich or Charlton last year," he said. "Why not?" Why not, indeed?

A year ago, there were doubts whether Tigana could cope with the demands of the Nationwide League first division, but he silenced those, taking the championship in style. And now?

"The step is different. I don't know if the players are ready to play at the top level," he said. "It's possible to say after ten games what is the big difference between last year and this year.
But I'm sure we are ready to manage that."

Tigana's first management challenge will be to strengthen the squad and he would like to pursue contacts with Arsenal about Kanu, their unsettled Nigeria forward. "We need three more players," Tigana said. "The people I wanted all want to play in the European Cup, which is a difficulty. I have bought young players and also Edwin Van der Sar, but I would like to buy three or four more - I hope, next week.

"I have two players injured and two suspended, which isn't good for my squad. We have many young players and some players who have not played a long time at the top level. It will be a big experience for the players and also for me."

But not too big. The pressures of expectant fans and media do not worry Tigana, who avoids predictions or talk about himself or his team. "I never read the newspaper and I change channels when they speak about Fulham," he said. "Not only here, also in France. I've never given a press conference in France, only here."

He has broken his habit, perhaps out of respect for his new surroundings. "I'm impressed by the level of the enthusiasm, the facilities, the will power. The first priority is to stay in the Premiership and build from there, which is why I've bought young players, to work with them and progress with them here in England." More signings would be British if he could afford the fees.

Whether progress has been rapid enough will begin to be judged in earnest on Sunday.

Manchester United at Old Trafford could hardly be a tougher test as an opener, but Tigana has tasted triumph there before, in the European Cup with Monaco - a 1-1 draw brought a quarter-final victory on the away goals rule in 1998 - a useful experience, but a different one.

"I know exactly what I need to beat Manchester United, but I haven't got the same team - no David Trezeguet or Thierry Henry. So we have to play in a different way."

Different, however, does not mean negative. Tigana will not betray his philosophy. "They (United) are the best team in the league, and, for me, in Europe. I want, absolutely, that we should play in Manchester, not stay back," he insisted. "We have to keep the ball in their half. For me, just to defend is the wrong way. But we have to learn, and learn quickly."

He will enjoy pitting his wits against Sir Alex Ferguson again, who came out on top when the two clubs met at Craven Cottage in the FA Cup third round in January. "For me, he's the No 1, a good example for me," Tigana said. "I have great respect for him because he has built a good team not just for now, but for ten years. It's easy to win one year, but every time? It's very difficult. And I like the strong personality."

Other managers might have preferred something a little easier to start with. "No, it's good," Tigana said. "Afterwards, they will know exactly how big the step is. It's a fantastic possibility for the players. It's not a problem. Also, if you lose it's normal."

So, no immediate fears then, despite the prospect of facing the champions? "Fear? No, not at all, never. Don't worry about me. There is never pressure on me. My area is the pitch. I watch my players' progress. And I've always played and managed only at the top level and I know what pressure is. It's not a problem. I'll sleep well on Saturday night."


Jean Tigana is determined to add further reinforcements to his squad by the end of the month as Fulham embark on their first Premiership campaign.

The Frenchman has splashed £15.5million on new signings this summer, but he insists that the Division One champions must buy again to realise their potential in the top flight.

"I will try to buy more players because I think my squad is insufficient," admitted Tigana.
"I need three more players and I will try to sign them soon."

Tigana would like to capture another striker to supplement the likes of Louis Saha, Luis Boa Morte and Barry Hayles.

Kanu and Tore Andre Flo have been linked with a move to Craven Cottage, but Fulham MD Michael Fiddy rejected the speculation.

He insisted that no move had been made to sign the Norwegian Flo from Rangers, while talks with Arsenal have ended.

"We have had discussions with Arsenal over Kanu but we are not currently discussing the matter," said Fiddy.

Regardless of prospective moves in the transfer market, Tigana believes that a top 10 Premiership finish would represent success for Fulham.

"Success would be 10th at least, and perhaps we can be like Ipswich and Charlton last season," said the Frenchman.

Following the example of George Burley's Ipswich would be an ideal baptism to Premiership football for Tigana's young squad.
But Tigana is aware that consolidating their top-flight status is the priority after last season's runaway Division One title success.

"Here it is difficult to beat the big teams unlike in France," he said.

"My first priority is to stay in the Premiership and build from there. That is why I bought young players to progress with them in England."