Fashanu says sorry to Kanu and Arsenal

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The Independent Football

John Fashanu, the former Wimbledon striker who is now a sports ambassador for Nigeria, was yesterday forced into making a profuse apology for his criticism of the Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu, who had asked to withdraw from the Nigerian Olympic squad.

John Fashanu, the former Wimbledon striker who is now a sports ambassador for Nigeria, was yesterday forced into making a profuse apology for his criticism of the Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu, who had asked to withdraw from the Nigerian Olympic squad.

Fashanu had earlier claimed that Kanu had reneged upon a verbal agreement to play for his country at the forthcoming Sydney Games, but yesterday he accepted the player should remain with Arsenal instead of travelling to Australia.

His apology follows a withering attack on him by Kanu, who had accused Fashanu of hypocrisy.

Fashanu had initially said that there would be "no point Kanu going back to Nigeria for his holidays" because of ill feeling in the west African country. But yesterday he withdrew the criticism, saying: "Kanu is my brother. He's Nigerian like me.

"Kanu has some personal reasons why he can't play for Nigeria which I fully appreciate and, having heard them explained to me, I 100 per cent support Kanu.

"I've listened to both sides and I believe, having spoken to David Dein, that Kanu should be allowed to play for Arsenal and not Nigeria. His personal reasons are very valid.

"Kanu has sweat blood for Nigeria and helped us to achieve the gold medal in the last Olympics. Kanu is a very patriotic person and if it wasn't for serious reasons he would be in Sydney.

"I apologise to Arsenal Football Club and the wonderful Arsenal supporters if they had misinterpreted my previous comments about Kanu going back home. That was never my intention," Fashanu added.

Kanu had been angered by Fashanu's earlier remarks and responded yesterday with a statement in which he described Fashanu's comments as "both reprehensible and hypocritical.

"It should be remembered that in his playing days he chose to desert Nigeria and play for England instead," Kanu said.

The 24-year-old, who almost had to quit the game after he was diagnosed with major heart defects shortly after signing for Internazionale in 1996, paid tribute to the Arsenal manager. He added: "Today I find myself in a unique dilemma. Of course I would be proud to represent Nigeria at the Sydney Olympics but I also owe a debt to Arsenal, who pay my wages, and Arsÿne Wenger, who has resurrected my career.

"If I play all the Olympic and World Cup qualifying games this season I would miss over 10 games for Arsenal, including three Champions' League games at a time when unfortunately the club will not have the services of Patrick Vieira and Lauren."

He added: "The Olympics is predominantly a tournament for under-23s and the directive regarding over-age players is that the player should not be selected against his will." The row appears to be at an end now, after Kanu was not named in Nigeria's official 18-man Olympic squad sent to Fifa, world football's ruling body.

One Premiership player definitely on his way to the Olympics, Leeds United's Australian striker Mark Viduka, flew to Sydney yesterday expressing concern over his early-season form. He has yet to score for his new club since his £6m move from Celtic.

Speaking after Leeds' surprise 2-1 home defeat by Manchester City on Tuesday night, Viduka said: "It wasn't the greatest send-off for me to go to the Olympics." But he added: "I am looking forward to going back home, it's going to be a wonderful experience and hopefully I can do well for Australia and we can win the event."

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