Allardyce set to hand rejuvenated Okocha new contract

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The Bolton manager Sam Allardyce is ready to offer Jay-Jay Okocha a new contract following the Nigerian's recent impressive performances.

The 32-year-old looked set to quit the Premiership for a lucrative contract in Qatar during the January transfer window after struggling to force his way into the side on a regular basis during the early weeks of the campaign.

However, after returning from African Nations' Cup duty with Nigeria, Okocha has proved to be one of the inspirations behind Bolton's push for a second successive European berth and, when he gets round to deciding who he wants to keep during the summer, Allardyce is set to look favourably in the popular midfielder's direction.

"In the form Jay-Jay is in at the moment, he is saying, 'I am here, I am back and I want to play in the Premiership'," Allardyce said. "The offer from Qatar was huge but we rejected it in the end. Now we are seeing the form we knew he had. Jay-Jay is back to his best and playing like we know he can and we are all very pleased to see that again."

Bolton's European prospects are looking healthy - indeed, half the Premiership could find themselves in mainstream European competition next season if Middlesbrough go on to collect the Uefa Cup.

Boro tackle Basle in the first leg of their quarter-final tonight knowing that victory in the competition will open up an extra European space. Uefa amended the Champions' League qualification rules last summer to prevent any country having five representatives in the tournament, as was the case this year.

It means that if Arsenal win the Champions' League but finish outside the Premiership top four, the fourth-placed club - currently Tottenham - will drop into the Uefa Cup.

However, if Boro triumph England will gain an extra place, even if the Teessiders also win the FA Cup or are beaten by Chelsea or Liverpool in the final. In addition, England are in line to gain entry into the annual Fair Play draw, which could bring a place in the Uefa Cup first qualifying round, while a record seven teams have expressed an interest in taking part in this summer's Intertoto Cup.

Elsewhere, the Fifa president Sepp Blatter was criticised by friend and foe yesterday for warning Europe's richest clubs that he was ready to go to "war" if they refused to release players for international matches. The Uefa vice-president Per Ravn Omdal described Blatter's comments as "unhelpful and not necessary".

"I was travelling and didn't hear it exactly, but there is a situation at the moment which is delicate and I think we need to be more careful," Omdal said.

This month the Belgian club Charleroi, backed by the G14 grouping of Europe's wealthiest clubs, went to court demanding compensation from the world governing body Fifa after one of their players was injured playing for Morocco in 2004.

The G14 clubs are also supporting the French champions Lyon in a similar case and have been at loggerheads with Fifa over regulations for the release of players for internationals.

Emanuel Medeiros, the chief executive of the European Professional Football Leagues, said Blatter's comment that "if they [G14] want war, they will have it" were bad for the stability of the game.

"All this has done has thrown more fuel on an already highly flammable situation," Medeiros said. "It is not in football's interest to start any war. This is negative for future investment in the game, sponsors, etc, and we need to try and work things out through dialogue."

The G14 general manager Thomas Kurth said that Fifa should focus on finding peaceful solutions.

"Rather than waging war with threats of expulsion, the focus should be on finding solutions to the legitimate problems of clubs," Kurth said.

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