Allardyce asks Okocha to ignore Nigeria's call

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The Independent Football

The Bolton Wanderers manager, Sam Allardyce, has asked his Nigerian captain, Jay-Jay Okocha, to stay at home and forget about playing in the African Nations Cup next month.

Allardyce is annoyed that Okocha is due to miss the Carling Cup semi-final as he is scheduled to report to a Nigerian training camp in Tunisia. The midfielder is due to fly out shortly after the match against Manchester United on 7 January and could be away for five weeks.

However, Allardyce believes Okocha should retire from international football and concentrate on his career in England. He said: "The rules are so unfair, it just shouldn't happen. If I could get a court order, I'd go and get one tomorrow and slap it on Nigeria. The only thing I can do is if he retires and I will put the question to him.

"It's probably a better thing that he doesn't go there," Allardyce added, "and stays with us and takes us through to the final. It's been a magnificent effort and once you get this far, you want your best players.

"He will probably say 'no' to me because it is the African Nations Cup and it would be like asking a European player not to play in the European Championship. But he will have to have a serious think about it."

The final is being played in Cardiff on 29 February and Allardyce said: "He hasn't played at the Millennium Stadium and I think it would be wonderful for him to have it on his CV. If he gets there and sees what I mean, I think he'll understand the reasons behind why I'm asking."

Meanwhile, Allardyce is set to offer the midfielder Ibrahim Ba a long-term contract. Ba, who was part of the France World Cup-winning squad of 1998, signed until the end of this month when he arrived in the summer from Milan. He has yet to start a League match but his performances in the Carling Cup have convinced Allardyce that he should sign him permanently.

Ba was again impressive on Tuesday when Bolton defeated Southampton 1-0 in extra-time to secure a place in the semi-finals. When asked if Ba had done enough to secure a new deal, Allardyce said: "I don't think there is any problem with that, apart from how much he wants. He has proved in the Cup games against Southampton and Liverpool that he is capable of coming into the side and doing a great job.

"I think eventually he could push for a place on a regular basis with the kind of performance he showed last night.

"A lot of the players who play on a regular basis saw some of the skills and some of the talent that took him to the World Cup final with France. Hopefully that talent is now re-emerging and he can continue in the same vein."

Arsène Wenger has insisted that his "unbelievable", ageless defender Martin Keown can claim more silverware before he retires from playing. The Arsenal manager said his 37-year-old centre-back will continue to play a key role in the Gunners' squad this season. Keown marked yet another return from injury and suspension by leading his inexperienced team-mates into the Carling Cup semi-finals against West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday night.

Wenger said: "Martin Keown is unbelievable. It is amazing that he can come back at his age from seven weeks out and is outstanding. Taking it easy does not exist for Martin. It is his way of life and I think he will be just the same when he is 60."

Keown did incur the anger of the Albion fans for two first-half challenges which could have earned the home side penalties. First he tangled with the striker Rob Hulse and then he was involved in a more clear-cut challenge on Andy Johnson, both of which were ignored by the referee, Matt Messias. Wenger admitted: "Maybe there was one incident where the ball was in the air and he had his hands on the shirt of a West Brom player, but he decided not to give a penalty."

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