Fulham manager Chris Coleman has ruled out any permanent move for on-loan left-back Wayne Bridge.
Bridge has been in impressive form since he joined the club on loan from west London neighbours Chelsea for the remainder of the season.
The 25-year-old is determined to earn a place in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England squad for the World Cup finals in Germany this summer after recovering from a horrific ankle injury he sustained 12 months ago.
The arrival in the summer of Asier del Horno then further limited Bridge’s first-team chances.
Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho allowed £7million Bridge to join Fulham for the rest of the season in order to prove his fitness and win a place in Eriksson’s plans.
But although he has been full of admiration for Bridge’s contribution since he arrived, Coleman insists he has no plans to try and make his switch a permanent one – out of respect for Mourinho and, more importantly, because Fulham would not be able to afford him.
“If we could afford Wayne I’d make him my first signing, without a shadow of doubt,” admitted Coleman. “But I don’t think we can afford him, and Jose Mourinho has made it clear to me this arrangement is not about us signing Wayne permanently. It’s a loan deal and he wants him back.
“So unless Jose says to me that there is a deal to be done, I wouldn’t push it any further. I wouldn’t disrespect him when he’s already been good enough to give Wayne to us like this.
“From Chelsea’s point of view I can see what they’re trying to do – Wayne’s had a nasty injury and he needs to get fit. But Jose’s made it clear that Wayne is a big part of his plans in the future so I wouldn’t disrespect him and try and push for a permanent deal.
“But he’s with us for the season. I’m not going to comment on what’s going on up the road with regard to left backs, but he’s definitely with us until the end of the season.”
Coleman insists Bridge is a must for the World Cup and, if he was in Eriksson’s position, he would play him and Arsenal left-back Ashley Cole in the same team.
“For me, Wayne and Ashley are the two best left-backs in the country,” said Coleman. “Ashley’s a wonderful player and I’d actually play the pair of them – Wayne at left back and Ashley further forward.
“I’m not trying to tell Sven how to do his job – it’s just my opinion. I think Cole is marginally better going forward, but I think Wayne is a better defender.
“He has a better positional sense and he plays off the centre-back much better. Ashley is so quick his pace gets him out of a bit of trouble sometimes. But that said, I also think Wayne is very strong going forward as well.
“Maybe I’m biased, but if Wayne keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s got to be a must for the World Cup, surely. If you look at his form for us, he’s been fantastic. All he has to do is keep fit.
“He’ll be a very hard act to follow when he goes back to Chelsea, and that’s the only downfall. It’s been tough on Nic Jensen. Prior to Wayne coming, he played in the game when we beat Newcastle and did very, very well.
“But if you put your cards on the table, you’re talking about one of the best left- backs in the world, never mind just in this country. So if you have the chance of bringing him in, he’s got to come.
“I’ve said from day one that we’ve always admired Wayne. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have asked Jose if we could take him on loan until the end of the season. But there is a big difference between looking at someone and thinking they’re good, and actually working with them.
“He’s been absolutely superb since he came here, and not just in football terms, but also in the way he’s integrated into the dressing room. He’s such a down to earth kid and the rest of the lads love him.
“He loves training and he loves being involved in the games. It’s not been easy for him since he came here. He’s not been match fit and he’s been thrown in from the off and he’s coped with it unbelievably. He’s gone from strength to strength.”