January will once again see many of the Premier Leagueteams in England lose a number of their key players to the annual Africa Cup ofNations’ tournament. The event is an important one for many African people, sothe ‘call’ for the players to return to Africa to represent their countries isa powerful one in their psyche and one not dismissed easily.

For the English teams affected it is a headache theycould well do without, although they are commonly aware when signing an Africanplayer that they may participate in the tournament, so can make arrangements tobolster their squads accordingly to fill any sizeable gaps as a result whenthey do leave.

However, when consideringthe signing of an African player they have to weigh up the potential loss of theiracquisition for a month or so at a key stage in the season, and also thepossibility that they may be injured while away and miss further games on theirreturn as a result, with the benefits that their talent can bring when they areavailable for selection.

Yaya Toure is one of the biggest names to be shortly departingfor the competition, leaving title chasing Manchester City without their maindriving force in midfield, although they should have the squad to cope with hisnon-availability.

Crystal Palace may be more affected by the loss of DR Congo’sYannick Bolasie and the trickery he bring up front for them, having beeninstrumental in destroying Liverpool this season. Leicester also look hamperedwith the Algerian-born Riyad Mahrez and Jeff Schlupp for Ghana also off back toAfrica. Liverpool’s defensive frailties will not be improved by veterancentre-half Kolo Toure joining up with the Ivory Coast squad.

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Premier League

Newcastle losetwo key players in striker Papiss Cisse (Senegal) and Check Tiote (IvoryCoast). Perhaps the greatest loss will be Swansea’s, as their in-form strikerWilfried Bony is another one to be part of the Ivory Coast’s squad.

Some of the bigger names playing for English league clubshave already pulled out of the tournament, such as Senegalese striker SadioMane at Southampton, who picked up a calf injury against Arsenal on New Year’sDay.

Sadly for the Saints, they will not see a benefit from his staying at homeas he is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks as a result. Newcastle’s Algerianplayer Mehdi Abeid has also pulled out with a toe injury that has hampered himin recent weeks.

This year’s tournament, scheduled to take place betweenJanuary 17th and February 8th has already courtedcontroversy, with the host nation havingbeing switched from Morocco to Equatorial Guinea late in 2014, followingconcerns over the Ebola virus epidemic expressed by Morocco.

The Confederationof African Football (CAF) has subsequently indicated that they would take legalaction against Morocco due to their reneging on a contract for the event signedback in April 2014.

It will be the 30th running of the competitionand sixteen nations will compete. Morocco were originally to have qualified bybeing the hosts, but after their decision to pull out of that duty, they havebeen excluded from this year’s competition by the CAF.

The new hosts, EquatorialGuinea will now take Morocco’s place in the tournament, having originally beendisqualified during the qualifiers for fielding an ineligible player.

Unlike other major competitions, the defending championsare not automatically invited to the following year’s event, so Nigeria (havingfailed to qualify) do not take part this time. Algeria are hotly tipped by manyto win the cup this year. 

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