Fulham will listen to offers for Louis Saha at the end of the season if they do not qualify for Europe.

They have told Manchester United and other interested Premiership clubs that the striker is worth around £20million, but he is not for sale in the January transfer window.

A bid of close to £5m from Old Trafford for Saha has already been rejected and Fulham chief executive Jim Hone said yesterday that enquiries about the 25-year-old’s availability were “unsolicited and unwelcome”.

But the club would be tempted to cash in on the coveted Frenchman in the summer to improve finances if they fail to finish near the top of the Premiership. Selling their top scorer before then would cause too much disruption to a team that have exceeded expectations in the league so far this season.

Their prospects would fade fast if the goals dried up and manager Chris Coleman does not believe he could replace Saha mid-season.

He said: “We’re doing well and he’s a big part of that success, so we don’t want him to go.

“He will be leaving this club over my dead body – especially halfway through the season.

“He’s invaluable to the club. Even if we got £20m for him we wouldn’t sell.”

Fulham have been trying to tie down their key players on extended contracts this season and Saha is line for a new deal. Negotiations have not started, however, because he is already committed to the club until 2006.

The Frenchman has said he would be happy to sign for longer and has been convinced by Fulham that he is better staying with them as a first-choice striker than becoming a squad player at Old Trafford.

Coleman knows that Saha was flattered by interest from United and the episode unsettled him, but he will have no hesitation in playing him against Southampton on Boxing Day at Loftus Road and then at Aston Villa on Sunday.

The manager said: “Of course Louis will think about Manchester United. But he knows he’s got a job to do for us. He hasn’t thrown his toys out of the pram and he’s more than prepared to stay and fight with the rest of us.

“We need to use this Christmas period to put two consecutive defeats behind us and Louis will be helping us to achieve that.”