Fulham manager Chris Coleman has urged Zat Knight not to rush a decision to declare international allegiance to the Republic of Ireland – because he believes he is good enough for England.
The 6ft 6in Knight, now 24, has a small collection of England Under-21 caps but has never played at senior level and, under new FIFA rules, he can switch to Ireland for whom he is also qualified through his family.
But Coleman said: “I have told Zat not to make a hasty decision because I believe he is good enough to have a chance with the England squad.
“In my eyes, he has to still have a go for that. Definitely.
“He is certainly our number one centre-half now at Fulham whereas not so long ago he was being punished for too many individual mistakes.
“But he has always had the talent and the power and in the last 12 months he has improved tremendously as far as consistency goes.
“He played extremely well again against Spurs on Saturday and compared favourably in my opinion with Ledley King, who people think is the natural one to come in for England if Sol Campbell is missing.
“Zat will make up his own mind, no doubt, but my advice is to stick with England.”
Knight is currently charged with the extra responsibility of overseeing the development of Zesh Rehman, 20, his new centre-back partner and one of the few players from an Asian family to have made his mark in the Barclays Premiership.
The Birmingham-born Rehman, who was on loan at Brighton last season, has been pressed into senior action following injuries to Alain Goma and Ian Pearce and will face up to the likes of Alan Shearer, Craig Bellamy and Patrick Kluivert at St James’ Park.
Coleman added: “He has already had to cope with Heskey and Yorke against Birmingham and Keane and Defoe against Spurs. So what has he got to fear? He has already met top strikers and done well.
“He will be like Zat 12 months ago. He will make the odd mistake and his concentration levels will not always be what they should but we will expect him to improve like Zat also.”