Football: Compromise by Wilkinson

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The Independent Online
HOWARD WILKINSON has ruled out 28 first-choice players from his plans for the forthcoming world under-20 tournament in Nigeria to ward off expected opposition from clubs.

The Football Association's technical director held a meeting with the Premier League and the Football League last Friday before issuing a guarantee that any player involved regularly in first-team football would not be picked. So out of the list of 66 eligible players drawn up by Wilkinson, almost half will not be selected for the mid-season tournament in April.

The squad has not yet been announced but the likes of Michael Owen, Gareth Barry, Alan Smith, Jonathan Wood-gate, Jody Morris, Joe Cole and Wes Brown will now almost certainly not have to miss vital end-of-season domestic games.

Even though England will now be sending virtually a shadow 18-man squad, Wilkinson accepts that some managers may still object to the inclusion of certain players.

But the former Leeds manager, who outlined his exclusion criteria as being "players involved with a first-team squad on a week to week basis", said yesterday: "I have gone as far as I can and now we have to work through it. I have a reasonable rapport with most managers. I think the solution is as ideal as it can be. It would have been an exercise in futility to start a war concerning the release of first-team players."

Wilkinson said he had already received backing for his policy from two Premiership managers, while another was actually in favour of one of his players going.

Wilkinson accepts the demands on players are difficult, but also believes that the success of Kieron Dyer in the last tournament, in Malaysia, proves that those who are not household names can benefit.

Although Nigeria is a volatile country with a history of human rights abuses, there is no question of England unilaterally pulling out of a tournament which also involves the likes of Germany, the United States, Australia and Spain.

"Along with the other European countries and America, we have sought assurances from Fifa [the sport's world governing body] as to any concerns we have and if these are given then we will go' Wilkinson said.

England's standing in international football - and their chances of hosting the 2006 World Cup - would certainly be hurt if they unilaterally pulled out from what is seen by Wilkinson as the second most prestigious international competition.