Wilfried Zaha rejects chance to play in African cup of nations
England new boy turns down Ivory Coast offer to join squad for January tournament
The Crystal Palace prodigy Wilfried Zaha has turned down the Ivory Coast's invitation to join their squad for January's African Cup of Nations in South Africa, with the Football Association increasingly confident that he will now commit his future to England having been called up to Roy Hodgson's squad for tomorrow's friendly against Sweden.
Zaha, 20, who was born in Abidjan and moved to England at the age of four, is eligible to play for both and has told friends that he will wait to see if Hodgson continues to select him next year before he makes his decision on which country to play for. Even if he plays some part for England in Stockholm tomorrow, he will still be eligible to play for the Ivory Coast.
He has been the subject of a concerted effort by the Ivory Coast football federation (Fif) to persuade him to play for his country of birth. He has been visited at home in south London by the president of the federation, Sidy Diallo, and been contacted by manager Sabri Lamouchi as well as Didier Drogba, who is currently in London ahead of the team's friendly against Austria in Linz tomorrow.
The Palace academy graduate, rated at £15m, was offered a place in the squad for the tournament in January and his decision to turn it down is the clearest commitment yet that he is prepared to play for England. His priority is to become a regular international for whatever country he chooses and that will inform his decision. However, he has told Fifa officials that he will not play for them unless he makes up his mind to reject England.
Stephen Browett, one of Palace's four co-owners, underlined the club's position yesterday that they did not wish to sell the player in January with the prospect of promotion to the Premier League still a reality. Nevertheless, the club is sure to be tested with all the top Premier League sides, including Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal, interested.
The Fifa rules allow for a player to delay his final decision on which country he represents at international level. Article 18.1 of the Fifa regulations permit a player to change international allegiance providing he has not played "in an official competition at 'A' international level". Even if he was capped by England this week, Zaha could feasibly switch to the Ivory Coast as long as he did not play in a World Cup qualifier next year and made the change before his 21st birthday next November.
The former Palace manager Neil Warnock told The Independent yesterday the FA should do everything in its power to make sure that Zaha does not slip away from them as Chelsea's Victor Moses, another Palace academy graduate, did when he opted to play for Nigeria this year despite representing England at several junior levels after first arriving in the UK at the age of 11.
Now in charge at Leeds, Warnock believes England should not miss out on any naturalised players who have moved to the country as children. He said: "[Zaha] should have been courted by England, Stuart Pearce should have had him more involved in the Under-21s. I spoke to the FA about it at the time. It's no good waiting until he's playing for Chelsea. We're complaining about the amount of foreign players in the Premier League and we are losing ones who could play for England."
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