Football: Premier clubs to escape Fifa ban

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL'S WORLD governing body, Fifa, have threatened to ban clubs if they do not release players for the World Under-20 Championships in Nigeria next month, but the Football Association has insisted that Premiership clubs will not be weakened.

The FA's technical director, Howard Wilkinson, has already stated that he will not be picking first-team regulars, and the FA's spokesman, Steve Double, confirmed that the tournament would be used to develop young players.

"Tournaments like these are all about developing the internationals of the future," Double said. "We will be sending a strong team which will do their country proud and we have liaised with Fifa throughout.

"We have spoken to Fifa and have been assured that there is no question of action being taken against the FA."

The FA added that the Liverpool striker Michael Owen, who is eligible for the tournament, was never going to be considered for selection. "Somebody has raised the question of Michael Owen but tournaments like these are all about developing the full internationals of the future and for somebody like Michael that would be a backward step," said Double.

Originally, the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, had been angered by England not sending a full-strength squad to Nigeria and he threatened suspension against England and the FA. "They have to send the best teams otherwise it will not work," Blatter said. "If they don't send the best teams, they will be suspended by Fifa."

Fifa's general secretary, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, also warned if the clubs do not release their players they risk being banned. "If a national association reports to us that a club has withheld a player from competing we will take action," he said.

The Leeds manager, David O'Leary, announced recently that he would not allow his first-team players to take part in the tournament, and Wilkinson assured him such players were unlikely to be selected. The Everton striker Francis Jeffers, Aston Villa centre-back Gareth Barry, Manchester United full-back Wes Brown and West Ham midfielder Joe Cole are other Premiership players set to be excluded. Wilkinson said: "I never had any intentions of taking players who are involved on a regular basis with their first teams."

n Blatter is taking legal action to stop a new book, How They Stole the Game by David Yallop, that alleges corruption in his election battle with the Uefa president, Lennart Johannson, to take over from the retiring Fifa president, Joao Havelange.