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This time, James Ireson gives us his take on the African Cup of Nations and the imminent player exodus.
The January transfer window is always an important time of year in the football season for all clubs looking to push forward in the second half of the season. With the African Cup of Nations fast approaching, the importance of this transfer window has just rocketed as clubs look to deputise for their missing stars.
The Premiership could be represented by no few than 40 players in the African Nations tournament. Newcastle, Chelsea and more significantly Portsmouth will be feeling the strains of their squad becoming stretched as they could provide a minimum of 15 players between them.
Harry Redknapp’s Pompey side have been highly impressive so far this season sitting comfortably in fifth place and undefeated in 11 games. Sully Muntari, Lauren, John Utaka have all played pivotal roles in the clubs success so far this season and all three, possibly even more, could be leaving next month to take part in the tournament. Redknapp has conceded that the African nations will cause problems for his side as he will be left with just 14 senior players unless something is done during the transfer window.
Everton will find themselves in a similar situation when their clubs top scorer departs to play for Nigeria. Yakubu’s importance to the team was furthered highlighted against Fulham last weekend were he notched a hat-trick. Chelsea will have to make do without their midfield trio of Michael Essien, Salamon Kalou and John Obi Mikel who will be playing for Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria respectively. Didier Drogba will also be playing for Ivory Coast, and given the form of Andriy Shevchenko and Claudio Pizzaro, Chelsea’s hitman, who recently has been labelled more important to Avram Grant’s side than skipper John Terry, will be sorely missed.
Arsenal have managed to keep hold of their main striker Adebayor as Togo failed to reach the finals but they will be without Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue both playing for Ivory Coast. Newcastle United’s most notable absentees will be club captain Geremi and striker Obefemi Martins who will miss out as Sam Allardyce looks to revive the Toon’s bad fortune so far this season.
The first group match starts on the 20th of January and the competition runs until the 10th of February (the final) meaning players could miss ten games or more depending on European and domestic cup commitments. During this stage of the season many managers have said that the league can be won or lost over the festive period where games come thick and fast and losing important players will not do any team any good. One of the few Premiership teams that will not be represented in the African Cup of Nations will be Manchester United. The big four clubs have never been so close in terms of ability and the destination of the league title this year has got everyone helplessly second guessing. But the fact that United have no one in the first team currently on the pay role of African origin could have a massive bearing on the title race.
At the other end of the table Reading, Birmingham Wigan Athletic and West Ham could fall victim of the tournament where as Fulham will remain with a full strength squad. So as England’s African contingency departs next month to take part in the African home nation’s tournament, the effects will be felt all over the world, well in the Premiership anyway. Managers will be desperately looking to provide adequate cover for their missing stars as an international tournament has once again left the state of English football in a worrying predicament. January could decide all in the Premiership – watch this space.