Darron Gibson's Manchester United team-mate Jonny Evans has backed his pal's decision to play for the Republic of Ireland instead of his native Northern Ireland.
Evans, who returns to Northern Ireland duty for the Euro 2008 qualifiers against Latvia and Iceland, believes the Irish FA failed to make Gibson feel part of their future plans after the defender opted to leave the schoolboy Victory Shield squad to take a trial at Old Trafford several years ago.
The IFA say, however, they have done everything to try and persuade Gibson to play for them and are continuing to do so.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed last week that Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington warned Republic manager Steve Staunton NOT to play Gibson in forthcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers against Slovakia or the Czech Republic in case they later lose points after FIFA give their verdict on the case.
Evans though says he understands Derry-born Gibson's decision and refutes previous claims his colleague switched countries for religious and political reasons.
Evans said: "I honestly believe Darron would be a Northern Ireland player today but for the IFA. I have spoken with him on many occasions about the issue and he always says it was Northern Ireland that left him with no choice.
"It's been written that Darron based his decision on religion and politics but that's rubbish. I know the guy and he's not like that. He just wants to play football at the highest level and the FAI made him feel welcome.
"Anyway, I think it's too far gone now for him to make a return. Hopefully, in the future, there will be less players switching from Northern Ireland."
In another twist, Blackburn Rovers defender Tony Kane, who had previously opted to play for the Republic, has accepted an invitation to return to the Northern Ireland squad for the weekend clash in Latvia and next Wednesday's game in Iceland.