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May 1, 2009

Wenger backing for ''England's best'' Almunia

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger still believes Manuel Almunia could represent England one day and declared: "He is the best."

The Spaniard produced a superb display in the midweek Champions League semi-final first leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford, helping keep the score down to just 1-0.

Almunia joined the Gunners from Celta Vigo in July 2004, and so under residency laws would soon be eligible to apply to become a naturalised British citizen.

Given the 31-year-old has yet to be called up into the Spain national team, there remains genuine possibility Almunia would, under FIFA regulations, be available for selection to England coach Fabio Capello in time for the build-up to the 2010 World Cup.

However, the issue continues to draw controversy, with both former England keepers Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence voicing their concerns.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of precedents. Arsenal's Brazil-born striker Eduardo is a regular for Croatia having moved there when he was a teenager. Manchester United and England midfielder Owen Hargreaves was born in Canada. And Marcel Desailly, born in Ghana, and Zinedine Zidane, of Algerian descent, both helped France win the World Cup in 1998.

In other sports, England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen was born in South Africa and rugby player Riki Flutey is from New Zealand, but is now a British resident.

"There are international rules which have to be respected, but if it is possible legally, why not?" said Wenger. "Then it is more a choice left to the English Football Association or to Manuel Almunia's desire. I believe he is not only good enough, but he is the best."

The Gunners boss added: "It is down to what you expect morally and mentally from a national team. I believe at some stage you have to observe just the rules and decide what you want.

"On the English side, for the national team, it is not so much a problem because if the guy decides to become English, he has had to observe and respect the rules like anybody else. Why should he then not be qualified to play for the national team?

"It is more a moral problem maybe for Manuel Almunia, because does he consider he has a chance to play in the Spanish national team or not?"

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