Last updated : 15 January 2004 By Editor
The Times reports:

Chelsea have been offered an unexpected opportunity to buy Louis Saha in what has been interpreted as a deliberate attempt by Mohamed Fayed, the Fulham chairman, to spite Manchester United.

Fayed was close to sanctioning the sale of the forward to Old Trafford on Tuesday but, having been irked by United’s approach to the negotiations, he has offered the player to Chelsea, whose 4-0 victory over Watford last night set up an FA Cup fourth-round tie against Scarborough, of the Nationwide Conference.

United are confident that Saha will join them for about £10 million before the close of the transfer window on February 2, having been reassured yesterday that Manchester remains his favoured destination, but they are concerned by what they view as a concerted effort by Fayed to scupper the deal. They have threatened to withdraw their most recent offer if the situation escalates into an auction.

It has emerged that Chelsea asked Fulham about the availability of Saha, 25, earlier in the season but they had no plans to challenge United for his signature until they were contacted by their London rivals late on Tuesday. Sources suggest that the prospect of outbidding United holds a strong appeal for Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner.

From the MEN:

Fulham have slapped a prohibitive £18million price tag on the head of Louis Saha as Chelsea joined Manchester United in the chase for the French forward.
The Cottagers insist reports their star striker is poised to join United for £9.8m are without foundation.

And the transfer saga stepped up today when Fulham sources told the Press Association their west London rivals Chelsea have now "expressed an interest" in Saha.

No "serious negotiations" have taken place with the Blues and nor has Saha been given permission to talk to any club.

However, Mohamed Al Fayed's club rate the 25-year-old's value at £18m - almost a tenfold increase on the £2.1m they paid Metz for him four years ago.

A Fulham spokesman said: "There has been no fresh bid from Manchester United. There is no truth in the story at all."