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

For the English teams affected it is a headache they could well do without, although they are commonly aware when signing an African player that they may participate in the tournament, so can make arrangements to bolster their squads accordingly to fill any sizeable gaps as a result when they do leave. However, when considering the signing of an African player they have to weigh up the potential loss of their acquisition for a month or so at a key stage in the season, and also the possibility that they may be injured while away and miss further games on their return as a result, with the benefits that their talent can bring when they are available for selection.

Yaya Toure is one of the biggest names to be shortly departing for the competition, leaving title chasing Manchester City without their main driving force in midfield, although they should have the squad to cope with his non-availability. Crystal Palace may be more affected by the loss of DR Congo’s Yannick Bolasie and the trickery he bring up front for them, having been instrumental in destroying Liverpool this season. Leicester also look hampered with the Algerian-born Riyad Mahrez and Jeff Schlupp for Ghana also off back to Africa. Liverpool’s defensive frailties will not be improved by veteran centre-half Kolo Toure joining up with the Ivory Coast squad. Newcastle lose two key players in striker Papiss Cisse (Senegal) and Check Tiote (Ivory Coast). Perhaps the greatest loss will be Swansea’s, as their in-form striker Wilfried Bony is another one to be part of the Ivory Coast’s squad.

Some of the bigger names playing for English league clubs have already pulled out of the tournament, such as Senegalese striker Sadio Mane at Southampton, who picked up a calf injury against Arsenal on New Year’s Day. Sadly for the Saints, they will not see a benefit from his staying at home as he is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks as a result. Newcastle’s Algerian player Mehdi Abeid has also pulled out with a toe injury that has hampered him in recent weeks.

This year’s tournament, scheduled to take place between January 17th and February 8th has already courted controversy, with the host nation having being switched from Morocco to Equatorial Guinea late in 2014, following concerns over the Ebola virus epidemic expressed by Morocco. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has subsequently indicated that they would take legal action against Morocco due to their reneging on a contract for the event signed back in April 2014.

It will be the 30th running of the competition and sixteen nations will compete. Morocco were originally to have qualified by being the hosts, but after their decision to pull out of that duty, they have been excluded from this year’s competition by the CAF. The new hosts, Equatorial Guinea will now take Morocco’s place in the tournament, having originally been disqualified during the qualifiers for fielding an ineligible player.

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

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