Let’s take a detailed look at how the African Cup of Nations will affect English Premier League clubs when it takes place from January 20th to February 10th in Ghana.
Many of the Premier League’s clubs will have at least one player represented at the competition, and some will have several, a few of whom could be there for the duration of the tournament.
If you’re Manchester United, you’re sitting pretty right now, as the only player from their ranks who’ll be at the competition will be newly-signed Angolan striker Manucho.
It’s a mixed bag for the other title hopefuls. Arsenal will take a hit at the back, with Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue both heading to Ghana to represent the Ivory Coast, but the Gunners have reinforcements at the back, in Justin Hoyte, Johan Douro (who’ll return from his loan spell at Birmingham in January), and Philippe Senderos, so Arsene’s worries should be minimal.
Chelsea will miss Solomon Kalou, John Obi Mikel, and Michael Essien, but it appears their problems stretch far beyond the African Cup of Nations, with their injury list growing daily, it seems.
Like Manchester United, Liverpool won’t be too bothered, since Momo Sissoko might be off to Valencia or Juventus or somewhere else in January, and midfielder Nabil El-Zhar isn’t a priority in Rafa Benitez’s plans or the Moroccan national team’s either.
The two clubs that stand to be most affected are Portsmouth and Everton, who are no doubt thankful for the African talent they boast in their ranks, but could be cursing it because some of that talent represents Africa’s top national sides.
Portsmouth are going to lose forwards Kanu and John Utaka (both Nigeria) to the competition, along with midfielder Sulley Muntari, defender Lauren and midfielder Papa Bouba Diop, who both started in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal.
Fortunately, Harry Redknapp will have the services of Benjani (Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the tournament), and he can turn to David Nugent (albeit a little reluctantly I imagine) to fill in for the Nigerians, and dealing with Lauren and Diop’s absences shouldn’t hurt too, too much.
However, the same can’t be said for Muntari’s, as he’s been one of the most influential parts of Pompey’s success thus far. With host Ghana being the favorite in the competition, the midfielder stands to miss at least key matches against Manchester United and Chelsea, along with an FA Cup fourth-round tie (Jan. 26/27) and a league tie against Derby. He could also miss a match on January 13 against Sunderland if he’s called up to the national team a week in advance, and if Ghana makes it deep into the tournament, he could also miss a league match against Bolton, and could be held out if Portsmouth makes the fifth round of the FA Cup (Feb. 16/17).
David Moyes can commiserate with Harry Redknapp, as he’ll be without Yakubu, Joseph Yobo, and midfielder Steven Pienaar, who could be called up early enough to miss an important league match against Manchester City on the 12th.
Even if the four arrive back after the group stage, they could miss league ties at Wigan and at home to Tottenham, and a Carling Cup tie against Chelsea.
And, if Nigeria and/or South Africa advance as far as the semifinals (guaranteed spot in the third-place game), that could see those key players out for league ties at Blackburn (2/2) and home to Reading (2/9), along with an FA Cup tie (or more).
Everton also have the first leg of their UEFA Cup round of 32 tie against SK Brann on February 13, and if Yakubu, Yobo, or Pienaar have had to play up to six matches in Ghana (group stage, quarters, semis, final), Moyes might have to decide between starting or sitting them in either the UEFA Cup tie during the week or an FA Cup fifth-rounder that weekend.
Moyes and Redknapp might be hoping that Ghana and Nigeria exit the competition early instead of making it deep, because it could not only mean missed time during the competition, but afterwards.
However, their headaches won’t turn to hemorrhages as long as both don’t have the injury bug hit them in the near future, which is always a worry, no matter the time of year.
At the lower end of the table, Birmingham (Tunisians Mehdi Nafti and Radhi Jaidi) and Sunderland (Nigeria’s Dickson Etuhu) will be absent for some key matches, so Alex McLeish and Roy Keane will have their fingers crossed as well.
The only thing that any of the clubs who will lose some of their key players next month can hope for is that the players that they will make sure that the storm is weathered and that hopes don’t go down the drain in a three-week stretch.
And for the players involved, their hope should be that glory for their respective countries won’t come at the expense of despair for their clubs.
|South Africa:||Steven Pienaar (Everton), Aaron Mokoena(Blackburn Rovers)|
|Tunisia:||Mehdi Nafti & Radhi Jaidi (Birmingham City)|
|Angola:||Manucho (Manchester United)|
|Mali:||Mohammed Sissoko (Liverpool)|
|Senegal:||El-Hadji Diouf* (Bolton Wanderers), Henri Camara (West Ham United), Abdoulaye Faye & Habib Beye (Newcastle United), Papa Boupa Diop (Portsmouth)|
|Cameroon:||Geremi (Newcastle United), Andre Bikey (Reading), Alexandre Song (Arsenal), Salomon Olembé (Wigan Athletic), Lauren (Portsmouth)|
|Nigeria:||Joseph Yobo & Aiyegbeni Yakubu &(Everton), Dickson Etuhu (Sunderland), John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Nwankwo Kanu & John Utaka (Portsmouth), Obafemi Martins (Newcastle United)|
|Egypt:||Mohamed Shawky(Middlesbrough), Hossam Ghaly (Tottenham Hotspur)|
|Ivory Coast:||Kolo Touré & Emmanuel Eboué (Arsenal), Didier Zokora (Tottenham Hotspur), Didier Drogba & Salomon Kalou (Chelsea), Emerse Fae (Reading), Abdoulaye Meité (Bolton Wanderers)|
|Ghana:||Richard Kingson (Birmingham City), John Pantsil (West Ham United), Michael Essien (Chelsea), Sulley Muntari (Portsmouth)|
|Benin, Zambia, Namibia, Guinea, Morocco, Sudan:||None|
*Diouf retired from international football in October 2007, but decided to come back. Mido (Egypt) will likely miss the competition through injury, and Drogba is still on the list, even though his status for the competition is unknown, due to injury. Celestine Babayaro was released from Newcastle and wasn’t named in Nigeria’s squad, and Portsmouth’s Djimi Traore (Mali), Liverpool’s Nabil El-Zhar (Morocco), Blackburn’s Benni McCarthy (South Africa), and Everton’s Victor Anichebe (Nigeria) weren’t listed in the squads of their respective countries.
Presuming that the clubs lose players around the middle of January, here are the fixtures in January for the four clubs mentioned (team, venue & date):
|Portsmouth:||Sunderland A 13/1
Derby H 19/1
Man Utd A 30/1
Chelsea H 2/2
Bolton A 9/2
|Everton:||Chelsea – A 8/1, H 22/1
Man City H 12/1
Wigan A 19/1
Tottenham H 30/1
Blackburn A 2/2
Reading H 9/2
|Newcastle United:||Man Utd A 12/1
Bolton H 19/1
Arsenal A 29/1 (still with Adebayor)
Middlesbrough H 2/2
Aston Villa A 9/2
|Chelsea:||Everton H 8/1, A 22/1
Tottenham H 14/1
Birmingham A 19/1
Reading H 30/1
Portsmouth A 2/2
Liverpool H 10/2
|Birmingham:||Arsenal A 12/1
Chelsea H 19/1
Sunderland A 29/1
Derby H 2/2
West Ham A 9/2
|Sunderland:||Portsmouth H 13/1
Tottenham A 19/1
Birmingham H 29/2
Liverpool A 2/2
Wigan H 9/2
[Note: Fixtures were added for Newcastle, Everton, and Chelsea, in case players are called up even further in advance. Nigeria’s Berti Vogts plans to call up his players two weeks ahead, so that could wind up putting players out for as much as the FA Cup third-round ties on January 5/6.]
There have been recent rumblings from the likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson advocating a winter break for the Premiership (Editor’s note: see James Massoud’s discussion on the topic here on SL). It’s a popular opinion on the continent that there are too many games played in quick succession in England. Countless foreign managers and players have made their feelings known about it. Naturally, it would depend on the specific dates, but presumably that would save clubs a game or two being played when the players were away. Next year, the Olympics and the European Championships increase the threat of burn-outs.
Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Anthony for writing the first version of this article upon which Eddie built his article after conducting his own research.