Zakuani facing battle to regain first-team place after international duty

Boss Rob Page has warned Gaby Zakuani that he can't expect to walk back into the Cobblers starting line-up for Saturday's Sky Bet League One clash with Milwall at Sixfields.

Thursday, 13th October 2016, 4:06 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 8:47 pm
Rob Page and Gaby Zakuani

The 30-year-old central defender missed last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe United as he was on international duty with the Democratic Republic of Congo, athough he would have been suspended anyway following his dismissal in the 3-2 defeat to Bristol Rovers on October 1.

Zakuani’s place in the first team was taken by Lewin Nyatanga, who impressed alongside Zander Diamond as 10-man Cobblers secured a share of the spoils at Glanford Park, and Page hinted the Barnsley loan man could retain his place to take on the Lions.

The last time Zakuani missed a match due to international commitments - the 3-2 win over Milton Keynes Dones last month - he had to make do with a place on the bench for the first two matches after his return, and it could be a similar story this weekend.

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“If you go into the team and give a good account of yourself, it is over to you to lose the jersey,” said the Cobblers boss.

“What we wanted was competition for places, and we have certainly got that.

“Lewin has a vast amount of experience from Championship level, and other than a wonder strike (from Josh Morris) last Saturday, which is what it was, he would have helped keep a clean sheet and a deserved one as well.

“So it is good to have competition for places, but it does mean there are difficult decisions to make.”

Zakuani is not only a key player for DR Congo, he is also the captain of the team, and Page having to deal with his absence for international duty is something the Cobblers boss is going to have to get used to.

The former Peterborough United man will be missing again next month as he is set to play in a World Cup qualifier in Guinea, which means he will not be available for the trip to Gillingham on November 12.

Then there is the little matter of the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon in January and February which DR Congo have qualified for, and that could see Zakuani missing for anything up to three weeks.

It is a situation Page admits is frustrating for a manager. but after representing Wales on 41 occasions as a player and captaining them once - against Hungary in 2005 - he says he would never ask Zakuani to give such an honour up.

“He is playing for his country, and he is captain of his country, which is a great honour and I would never want him to give that up,” said Page.

“It is frustrating and it is annoying when your best players go away on international duty, but you also have to respect the fact that it is a great honour to play for your country, and to captain your country.

“I totally understand and respect his decision to go away, and he has had a great result (DR Congo were 4-0 winners over Libya) so he will be full of confidence coming back into the group.

“But it is down to the bread and butter now, this is the club that pays his wages and it is back into Saturday now and he has to earn the right to get his place.”