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Jean Tigana says Zat Knight for England

last updated Friday 12th October 2001, 5:35 PM
Fulham's young defender Zatyiah Knight was always going to stand out in football. Not only does he have an unusual first name, but at 6ft 6in tall he also tends to tower above most other players.

But it is the playing potential shown by the 21-year-old which has marked him out from the crowd and brought praise from manager Jean Tigana.
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After Knight's League debut in a goalless draw at Filbert Street last month, the Frenchman, who rarely gives much away, said to the then Leicester manager, Peter Taylor, that the defender would one day play for his country. Tigana did not say much to the player directly after the game or in the following week but pointedly asked Knight - known as Zat - if he qualified to play for England's Under-21 team.

Such a question would inflate the egos of many budding stars, but Fulham's find has taken everything in his stride and has deserved to keep his place in the team for his tough tackling and astute passing.

He is concentrating on staying there and keeping the experienced Kit Symons and Alain Goma, who has just recovered from a hip injury, out of the team, especially with a match on Sunday against the side he supported as a boy, Aston Villa.

"Things have been going pretty well for me at the moment and I am enjoying it. I always said to myself that if I worked hard and did well in the reserves I would get a chance," Knight said. "Everyone wants to play in the Premiership and now I have got my chance I just want to keep playing. It will mean a lot to me if I can play on Sunday.

"I felt I should have had a chance to play a couple of times last season and it was a bit frustrating, but I never showed it in training. The manager gives people a go when he feels they are ready."

Tigana may not have spelled it out for Knight, but he always had a plan for him. Instead of blooding him last season in the first team, he encouraged him to develop his game in the reserves. He played the defender in midfield to improve his touch, passing and increase his speed of thought on the ball.

They worked on his heading as well and when Tigana was busy in the transfer market in the summer he delayed bringing in another defender until he had a chance to test Knight in the Premiership. The manager said: "We worked hard with Zat last year to prepare him for this season and there has been a big margin in his progression, so when he plays it is because I believe that he can play at the top level."

Even though Solihull-born Knight is not the finished article yet, he says he feels comfortable playing in front of crowds now. He is not intimidated by star names either, as a well-timed tackle on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink - which left the striker hobbling - proved when Fulham drew 1-1 with Chelsea last month.

He said: "The way I look at it, is why should Zola be better than me?"

Fulham have Kevin Keegan to thank for bringing the confident but levelheaded player to the club nearly three years ago after Benfica, Birmingham and West Brom were all ready to offer him contracts. But he was not always destined to play professionally. Knight was happy playing at non-League level and working with computers before Fulham came along.

"There were too many potential problems with going to play abroad and that is why I did not go to Benfica. I also wanted to be able to get home and visit my family when I wanted to and that is why London is okay."

Knight lives with Fulham's other young success story, midfielder Sean Davis, who is already an England Under-21 international and has set an example for his flatmate by establishing himself in Tigana's team. If he can emulate Davis' achievements, all Knight will need to do is work out which country to play for as he qualifies for Jamaica and Ireland as well as England.

"I don't think playing for Jamaica would be good for my career so I have ruled them out. But none of them have been in touch with me anyway," he said.

But it won't be long before they are.
Source Evening Standard by Leo Spall
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