Football: Hughes effect lures Johnson to pick Wales

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The Independent Online
DAVID JOHNSON, the Ipswich Town forward, yesterday admitted a Manchester United connection had convinced him to choose Wales for his international future. The 23-year-old said it was his admiration for Mark Hughes, and his former United youth coach, Eric Harrison, that persuaded him to opt for Wales.

Johnson, who was born in Jamaica and holds a British passport, is the surprise inclusion in the Welsh squad for their Euro 2000 match against Switzerland at Wrexham on 9 October. He was a member of the Manchester United youth squad when Hughes was a first-team player and Harrison was in charge of the youth players, can expect to win his first cap.

Johnson has already played twice for Jamaica and once for England B, but those appearances have come in friendly matches which, in the eyes of Fifa, the game's world governing body, do not oblige the player to commit himself to either country. His British passport means he is still free to choose a senior international career with any of the home countries.

"I have long admired Mark Hughes from the time I was in the youth team at United, and Eric Harrison is the best coach I have ever played under," Johnson said. "I have had approaches in the past from Northern Ireland to play for them, but I was very impressed with what Mark and Eric had to say.

"It is one of the toughest decisions a player in my situation can have to make. I'm not Welsh, I'm not Irish or Scottish and I'm not even English, although I have lived here since I was four. But my wife Alison and her parents are Welsh, so it is a country I have been to regularly and have some affection for and affiliation with.

"I had a couple of games for Jamaica, and enjoyed them. But I found the flights there and back very tiring. I felt all the travelling affected my performances for Ipswich and I dipped below my own standards. If that was going to be the case every time I travelled it was not going to work."

With Hughes, now in semi-international retirement, and his fellow 35- year-old Dean Saunders coming to the end of their Wales careers, there is the need for more strikers with only John Hartson, Nathan Blake and the Under-21 prospect Simon Haworth looking like serious contenders for the future.

Hartson and Robbie Savage are both back in the squad after withdrawing through injury from the win in Belarus, while Ryan Giggs has also been named, although his hamstring problem will surely mean his eventual withdrawal.

Notts County's Darren Ward has also been named as cover for the first- choice goalkeeper, Paul Jones, and Nottingham Forest's Mark Crossley, who is recovering from injury.

Hartson's hopes of escaping a ban following his sending-off in Wimbledon's draw with Tottenham on Sunday have been dashed. The Welshman was adjudged to have elbowed the Tottenham defender Luke Young and was shown a second yellow card.

However, Football Association rules state that because Hartson was effectively awarded a yellow card for the incident - even though it ultimately led to a red - there is no appeal procedure for him to pursue.