NIGEL Worthington fears he is about to lose Shane Ferguson to the Republic of Ireland.
The Newcastle United player is a full Northern Ireland international. But Fifa rules mean he could yet switch allegiance to the south.
Preston North End defender Daniel Devine is the latest to make the move, and Worthington expects the left-sided player to be next.
The rulebook allows a player to only be committed to a certain country once they have played competitive senior international football for them. Ferguson’s solitary cap was against Italy, in June 2009.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement allows those born in Northern Ireland to claim either British or Irish nationality. It has allowed Darron Gibson, Shane Duffy, Marc Wilson, Daniel Kearns and Paul George to play for the Republic.
Northern Ireland manager Worthington wants to see the rule changed.
“It needs to be more black and white – to put all the indecision to bed once and for all,” he said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing that a lot of time, energy, commitment and finance goes into these players over a period of years and then when they are 17, 18, 19 or even 20, there is the opportunity for them, because of the ruling, to vacate to another country.
“There is a good production line here and to lose them is disappointing.
“I’ve left voicemails, text messages and made random calls to Shane but at no time did we get a reply.”
The 19-year-old – a left-back or left-sided midfielder – made his second Premier League start at Chelsea in Sunday’s 2-2 draw. He also has four substitute appearances, and two League Cup run-outs for the Magpies.
But Ferguson is not the most notable absentee from Worthington’s latest squad, with record goalscorer David Healy out of next week’s Nations Cup double-header in Dublin.
The Rangers striker has found game-time hard to find as his side wrapped up the Scottish Premier League title, having left Sunderland for more regular football in January.
Worthington did not consider the 31-year-old for the friendly against Morocco in November, but recalled him for February’s Nations Cup defeat by Scotland. The former Manchester United striker was suspended for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Slovenia in March.
Meanwhile, Worthington has called up three new faces for the matches against the Republic of Ireland and Wales, 17-year-old Josh Carson, Stuart Dallas, 20, and Jordan Owens, 21.
Ipswich midfielder Carson, a graduate of the Suffolk club’s academy, only made his debut for the npower Championship side in March and the following month scored three goals in a week for Paul Jewell’s team.
Fellow midfielder Dallas picked up both the Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards after an impressive 2010-11 campaign, while Crusaders team-mate Jordan Owens has already represented his country at Under-19, Under-21 and Under-23 levels.
Irish League players Alan Blayney, Robert Garrett and Colin Coates are also included in a youthful 20-man squad.
Northern Ireland are without most of their key players for the contests at the Aviva Stadium, with Birmingham goalkeeper Maik Taylor, defenders Aaron Hughes (Fulham) and Stephen Craigan (Motherwell), West Brom midfielders Chris Brunt and Celtic winger Patrick McCourt all rested.
Worthington’s men face the Republic on Tuesday, before tackling Wales three days later.
Northern Ireland squad for Carling Nations Cup matches against the Republic of Ireland and Wales next week: Tuffey (Inverness), Blayney (Linfield); Hodson (Watford), Cathcart (Blackpool), Coates (Crusaders), McAuley (Ipswich), McGivern (Man City), Thompson (Watford); Carson (Ipswich), Clingan (Coventry), McGinn (Celtic), Dallas (Crusaders), Davis (Rangers), Garrett (Linfield), Gorman (Wolves), Norwood (Man Utd); Boyce (Werder Bremen), Feeney (Oldham), McQuoid (Millwall), Owens (Crusaders).