Nigeria reject Kanu compromise

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The Independent Football

Arsenal are expected to lose out in any attempt to delay Nwankwo Kanu's release to join up with Nigeria for the African Nations Cup.

Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, had been hoping Kanu would join the Nigeria squad on 18 January, after his side's Premiership fixture away to Aston Villa. But the rules of the world governing body, Fifa, on the release of players for international competitions are very clear.

They state that players must be allowed to join up with their respective countries 14 days before the start of the competition.

With the African Nations Cup kicking off on 25 January, Kanu can play against Everton today and Middlesbrough on Saturday, but would miss out on the trip to Villa Park. Arsenal may request a delay from the Nigerian FA because Kanu's compatriot Jay-Jay Okocha is expected to be allowed to join up on 16 January, after Bolton's FA Cup third-round replay against Tranmere.

Wenger, who will be without the injured strikers Sylvain Wiltord and Dennis Bergkamp for the next 10 days, said: "We respect that he has to play for his country as we knew when we bought him that he would go away to play in the African Nations Cup. But equally we want to use the players as long as we can. We need his presence and quality and we would otherwise be a bit short up front.

"I had a chat with Okocha and Kanu when we played at Bolton. Okocha told me: 'Let him go and I will stay'.

"But Nigeria expect Okocha and Kanu [to be there] as they're the experienced players and they rely a lot on them to have a successful tournament. That's why maybe they expect them to turn up a little bit earlier to be at the centre of the team. I can understand that but I need Kanu as well."

A spokesman for the Nigerian Football Federation insisted there was already "an understanding with the clubs for players to report to our training camp by 11 January".

He added: "We will expect them to respect the gentleman's agreement we have reached with them. They know what Fifa's rules say about matters like this. Otherwise, the situation will be brought to our attention. We will look at it critically and make the appropriate decision.

"The African Nations Cup is as important as the European Championships. We expect clubs in Europe to respect this important tournament for the African continent."