No calculations over Zaha call-up, says Hodgson
STOCKHOLM (AFP) –
England coach Roy Hodgson on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that he only called up Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha to prevent him from choosing to represent the Ivory Coast.
Zaha, who was born in the Ivory Coast and moved to England with his family at the age of four, has helped Palace climb to the top of the Championship (second-tier) table this season.
The 20-year-old winger was a surprise inclusion in the squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Sweden in Stockholm, after Wayne Rooney and four other players were ruled out by injury on Sunday.
It made Zaha the first outfield player plying his trade below the Premier League to be called up by England since Jay Bothroyd, then of Cardiff City, in 2010.
Zaha has revealed he has been in contact with Ivory Coast captain Didier Drogba and also admitted he was “50-50″ over whether to play for England or the country of his birth.
He will still be eligible to play for the Ivory Coast until he has played a competitive fixture for another country, but Hodgson says he expects the player to commit himself to the nation that gave him his footballing education.
“I spoke to him, of course, before he joined up,” said Hodgson in Tuesday’s pre-game press conference.
“I made it clear to him that we were interested in him, but only if he was interested in us and he assured me that he was.
“He’s played for England at all levels, so it seems to me fairly obvious that if you decide you want to play for England Under-19s and you want to play for England Under-21s, you’re very happy to accept a call-up to the national team.
“It seems pretty obvious to me that’s where you want to play, but then, perhaps I’m too simple. He’s told me that’s what he wants to do.”
Hodgson admitted that he has been a fan of Zaha for some time, and wanted to sign him during his time as manager of West Bromwich Albion.
“I’ve watched him over a couple of years,” said Hodgson.
“He was a transfer target at West Brom and I know what kind of player he was. For me, when an opportunity arose (to call him into the squad), it was the obvious thing to do.”
Hodgson also revealed that England have received assurances from FIFA that Carl Jenkinson, who also qualifies to play for Finland, will receive international clearance in time for Wednesday’s game at the Friends Arena.
“Has Jenkinson got international clearance? We think so. I think it is coming tomorrow. We are assured it is coming,” said Hodgson.
Zaha and Arsenal full-back Jenkinson could be among eight players to win their first England caps against Sweden, with Hodgson obliged to experiment after injuries deprived him of several important players.
Steven Gerrard, meanwhile, is at a very different stage of his international career, and stands to win his 100th cap when he captains England against Erik Hamren’s side.
The Liverpool midfielder, 32, will join Peter Shilton, David Beckham, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Billy Wright in a select group of England centurions.
“I’m slightly nervous, very excited and can’t wait for the game to start,” he said on Tuesday.
“I try to be the driving force, get assists and goals and lead by example. My England journey has been full of ups and downs, and I feel there are a few chapters to write. I don’t feel my England career is coming to an end.”
Beckham’s record of 115 caps for an outfield player will be the next target in Gerrard’s sights, but he says he is not motivated by the desire to outdo his former international colleague.
“David is a hero of mine. I’ve always looked up to him and I enjoyed playing alongside him,” he said.
“But to be honest, it is not important to me if I beat David’s record. I just want to qualify this team for the next big tournament.”