Marlet's ambition

Friday 22 February 2002

To be taking on one of the finest teams in the Premiership in one of the most famous stadiums in the world should be incentive enough for any player to do well. When you are sweating on a World Cup place and two of your fiercest rivals are playing for the other side, then surely that is all the encouragement you need to give 110%.

That's the position that striker Steve Marlet finds himself in on Saturday. French national coach, Roger Lemerre, is likely to be sitting in the stand for the game as he runs the rule over Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord as well as our own £11.5 million record signing.

There's a quiet determination about Marlet as he faces the massed ranks of the press corps after training on Thursday. He plays down his chances of World Cup glory, but you sense a steely determination to do well for both his Club and Country.

"Things are going quite well for me now," he said, "Earlier in the season things were more difficult, but now I'm fit again and that makes things a lot easier. My confidence is getting better; I now have three goals in the Championship and two in the Cup, so that helps. I feel that I am getting better with each game I play.

"It is an important game on Saturday - perhaps Roger Lemerre will be there. So it will be important to prove that I am on the same level as the Arsenal players. I hope that he will be there.

"There are many players who are competing for places in the national squad, it's not just me or Sylvain Wiltord competing for one place. There are probably seven or eight strikers around who feel they should be in the squad. I will do my best playing for Fulham and if Roger Lemerre then wants to pick me, that's brilliant. But that's all I can do, play my best for my Club.

"I hope to play in one of the friendlies coming up. But I am a realist - I know that if I don't play well there will be nothing for me. I would like to play in the next game against Scotland."

Saturday's game would not seem out of place if it was being played in Paris. In addition to Henry and Wiltord, Arsenal will probably field Pires and Vierra. Add to those Fulham's French contingent, Marlet, Saha, Malbranque, Legwinski and Goma and that's an incredible number of Gallic speakers filling that little corner of North London for a couple of hours. How well does Marlet know his counterparts?

"I know the players," he said, "We're not amazingly close, but I did speak to some of them on the telephone the other month. Thierry Henry was very supportive when I sustained my injury, and that sort of thing is always important for you. We will have a joke after the game if the score is good for us.

"I have played alongside Henry, against Chile. I didn't see a lot of him, he played on the left, and I was on the right! That was the match where I got injured unfortunately."

It was that game and that injury that blighted Marlet's arrival at the Club. Clearly struggling for fitness, the weight of expectation on his shoulders can't have helped him make the difficult transition to English football. He concedes that he was aware of the pressure, but that at times like that it's important that you don't lose your self-belief.

"It was difficult when I first arrived at Fulham," the striker said, "Everyone talked about how much money I had cost, but I had an injury and I wasn't able to prove that I was a good player. So there was pressure, and missing games later added to that. When I read bad comments about me in the newspapers it is difficult, but I have confidence in my own ability, so that is not a big problem for me.

"When you are injured you do need support, but at the same time I can understand that some people questioned my move, because when you pay a lot of money you want a very quick return.

"When we played Arsenal before, it was difficult for me, I played only twenty-five minutes and I wasn't very fit. It was my first game for Fulham. The match on Saturday now gives me a much better chance to show what I can do. I'm a lot fitter now. I hope that I can put in a good performance and that we can go there and get a good result."

The other Fulham player particularly keen to turn out against Arsenal is Luis Boa Morte, who having pronounced himself fit and available, would love to put in an appearance against his old team. The Portuguese international has good memories of his time at Arsenal but would like nothing better than to show the Highbury faithful what they are missing.

Motivation amongst the players should not be a problem on Saturday - pride, ambition, revenge, all of these should figure strongly. Add to the equation the little bit of luck that you need on occasions like these and perhaps and we can get the result that we're all desperately hoping for.