Zat's the way

Monday 11 February 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

Young central defender Zat Knight spent a frenzied Saturday morning trying to get himself a new passport. The reason for the panic? Zat had just received his surprise call-up for the England Under 21's trip to Slovenia, and having had his old passport stolen was now in desperate need of a replacement.

Fulham Today caught up with Zat after the Blackburn game. His disappointment at being left out of the Fulham team was obvious, but his pride in his international selection shone through and was clearly some compensation to him.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he said, "I've got the option to play for the Republic of Ireland as well, and a lot of people have been saying that they thought a call-up was coming from them, but England jumped in first and basically gave me the nod.

"It's going to be a really nice occasion for me just to be there. If I do get involved on Tuesday it will be a big bonus for me."

Zat confirmed that the call-up was as much a surprise to him as it was to everybody else.

"A lot of people have said I'm good enough to play for the U 21's and that I should be in the squad, but I haven't really taken any notice of any of that, I've just concentrated on my club football. So it really came as a big surprise to me.

"It's a big step for me but it's also a big boost. Really, when you look at this season, I've played the last six matches for the first team and now I've got the call-up, I can't really believe everything that's happened to me.

"There's been a lot of talk that I've been playing out of position, and there's no doubt that I do prefer centre half, but I've been really enjoying it and basically I'll play anywhere. If I do get a run-out for England though, it would be nice to be at the back."

This is going to be a totally new experience for the young defender, never having had a representative call before. Nerves may well play a part, but Zat's over-riding emotion was clearly one of excitement.

"I've not been selected for anybody before," he said, "I had half been expecting a call from the Republic of Ireland, but this will be my first time.

"If the Republic had picked me for a friendly, then I would have said yes, and that would have left my options open. This game is obviously a friendly so the options are still open really.

"This is a such a big thing for me. I hope that I enjoy it, and if I get the chance I hope that I can do well for everybody."

The England U21 manager David Platt has taken the opportunity to look at some fresh blood for this game. In addition to losing Wayne Bridge, Ledley King, Darius Vassell and Joe Cole to the senior squad, he has rested our own Sean Davis, Luke Young and Jonathan Greening, players who are all well proven at this level.

Zat will be one of seventeen players in the squad and if he gets the opportunity to play it will be a tremendous experience for him. No game against Eastern European opposition is ever easy, but as Fulham's assistant manager says, one game at international level is worth ten games at club level in terms of development.

It has been a long time since Fulham have had a full England international. Sean Davis has been the name in the frame for a while, but it's interesting that competition may now come from his good friend Zat. Flat-mates, Fulham pros and England colleagues together. Sounds nice, doesn't it?

England play Slovenia in Novia Gorica on Tuesday, kick-off 2.00 local time.