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Sava has more to offer

last updated Saturday 11th January 2003, 12:00 PM
As a footballer who admits to visiting art galleries and being interested in the industrial revolution, it is a surprise that Facundo Sava does not hide behind a mask all the time. Instead face coverings come out only to celebrate his goals and the Fulham forward could hardly pick a better time than this afternoon to delve into his sock to mark a winning strike.

"We need to win this game," he says, "and we feel it is possible. We know Bolton are a difficult team to beat at their stadium but we have confidence in our team. We have to impose ourselves from the first minute." So how desperate will the situation be if Fulham lose? "I don't even think about losing to Bolton."

  Fulham striker Facundo Sava  
  Fulham striker Facundo Sava  
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That is understandable, because if the affable, intelligent Argentinian had spent time analysing every negative since his summer arrival he might make Victor Meldrew seem cheery.

Like most of the strikers, he has struggled with injuries which have blunted the team and helped to suck them towards trouble. Moreover, the 28-year-old found himself at the centre of debate surrounding the ill-fated appointment of Franco Baresi as director of football, having been brought to the club on the Italian's recommendation while Tigana was on holiday.

Rumours persisted that Tigana was keen to offload Sava - "I never heard that," the striker says, "and anyway I came here to win and it didn't even occur to me" - and the £2m signing had a largely inauspicious start. Yet he has shown his value of late. Two goals against Liverpool were soon followed by injury but he has scored twice in three matches since returning.

"When I arrived here it was difficult because everything was new: the country, customs, football, language," Sava says. "I was a bit disorientated but I found very good people at this club who have helped me with everything. I have good team-mates and a good manager.

"The first problem for me was the language because I didn't speak English, not a word. Then the food is different, the people are different, the weather as well. And other things like driving on the left side of the road, not to mention the football.

"I have no problem with the food now because I like your vegetables and other things but at the start it was difficult. In Argentina meat, especially beef, is very important and here I didn't find very good meat. And of course the people are different. They're more distant. When I need help immediately people help me incredibly. But in Argentina all the time it's 'How are you?' and a friendly hit on the shoulder.

"My adaptation continues but I feel better. I feel very good now on the pitch and off it. My family is more tranquil and not having to move all the time. At the beginning we were in a hotel, then for 15 days we were in a stop-gap house, and I looked for a house for a month and was buying a car. Now we are settled."

Sava's English is impressive for someone who arrived not speaking a word, though it is the language of goals on which he will be judged. Failure to find the net more hindered Fulham last season, when they were the fifth lowest Premiership scorers and none of their strikers exceeded eight league goals.

Much was expected of Sava, top scorer last term for Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata as they lost out on the Argentinian championship to River Plate. Allied to Junichi Inamoto's ability to get goals from midfield, Fulham fans hoped he would help the club to progress. Yet Inamoto is injured, the club's strikers have been similarly afflicted and Sava has understandably needed time.

"In Argentina I played more static in the box," he says. "Here it's more movement. In Argentina there's more dribbling but I like it here because it's one-touch, two-touch, moving the ball quickly. And of course it's more powerful."

Sava believes recent performances have been better than results and hopes last weekend's FA Cup win over Birmingham proves a turning point. The absent strikers list is now down to two in Barry Hayles and Steve Marlet, though Tigana's future remains a talking point. It is unclear whether he wants to take up the two-year option to extend his contract or whether Al Fayed will want to keep him. The Frenchman's immediate job prospects are not in doubt but a top-half finish was expected.

Sava turned down offers from Germany and Italy, choosing a league never graced by his heroes Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Maradona. As a Boca Juniors player he trained with Maradona, then on his way out. "He was still a genius," says Sava, whose social psychology degree and trips to London's museums and galleries mark him as a genius in his sport.

"I did a five-year course and really liked studying," he says. "Your football career can be over at any time. You don't play until you are 50 and I believe it's important for me." Given the problems in his homeland, he knows the value of work. "Thankfully my family have work but they are having to work very hard just to make a living."

Despite many adjustments here, Sava has continued his masked celebrations. What started at the suggestion of a Gimnasia team-mate became his trademark and Fulham fans have sent him masks including Frankenstein and a bear. The more they see them, the happier they will be.

"There's a lot more I can give," Sava says. Today would be a fine time to prove that.
Source The Guardian by Jon Brodkin
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