Wenger backs Almunia for England

Spanish-born goalkeeper Manuel Almunia is the best goalkeeper for England's World Cup campaign, his Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said today.

Speaking at his weekly news briefing before Arsenal's Premier League match at Portsmouth, Wenger said that if England select their 2010 squad according to qualifying residency rules, then the Spaniard would not only qualify but would also be the best available to England manager Fabio Capello.

David James of Portsmouth is currently England's first choice goalkeeper, but Wenger backed his own man.

"Of course he is good enough - he is the best," said Wenger.

"But in the end, it is up to him if he wants to play for England if he is given the chance."

Almunia will complete his five years residency in England this summer.

Born in Pamplona, he joined Arsenal in July 2004 from Celta Vigo and, following the departure of German international Jens Lehmann at the end of last season, has established himself as the London club's number one choice.

Wenger said that in his opinion it was just a matter of following the residency qualifying rules and then picking the strongest team.

"It is down to the English (FA) to pick him and it is down to his desire to play for England," he said.

"Why should he not qualify and play for England? But Manuel Almunia is really Spanish and he also has to consider if he is going to have a chance to play in the Spanish national team or not."

Wenger's views were not backed up by Harry Redknapp, the manager of Arsenal's arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Writing in his column in The Sun newspaper, Redknapp said that only English players should play for England and that Almunia should not be eligible just because he has lived in the country for five years.

"If it came to a choice between England winning the World Cup with a Spanish goalkeeper or not winning it, I would rather not win it," he wrote.

"If we cannot produce our own footballers, our own generation of keepers to play for England, then we don't deserve to win anything in the first place."

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