The African Nations Cup comes around every two years, but why?
Is it just to annoy the all-powerful Lord of football that is the FA Premier League, or is it because, like every other continent, Africa deserves its own championships?
Well, yes, it’s the latter, but in between BBC football folk's parroted clichés about the ANC providing a shop window for raw emerging talent, we can also hear the whines and moans of Premiership managers who don’t want their prized possessions taken away for three weeks to compete for the continent’s greatest honour.
Where’s it at this year?
This year’s ANC will take place in Angola from the 10th to 31st of January, with the group stages ending on the 21st.
All the usual big guns are involved – Egypt, Tunisia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Mali – while a few names are yet to be confirmed as the final qualifying games take place on the 14th of November.
The draw for the ANC will happen in the Angolan capital, Luanda, on the 20th of November. It’s a day that matters a lot for some Premiership managers. They already know that some of their star players will miss two games, but if their players end up in an easy group,they could well be away for four.
Who’ll be going?
Manchester United have precisely no players who will be off to Angola, so Sir Alex will instead by able to concentrate on blaming referees for any misfortunes his team might stumble upon.
Chelsea will be hardest hit, with Michael Essien (Ghana), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast) and John Obi Mikel (Nigeria) all packing their bags.
Arsenal and Manchester City will take the next heaviest blows. The Gunners will be without Emmanuel Eboué (Ivory Coast) and Alexandre Song (Cameroon), while City could lose a couple of former-Gunners.
Kolo Touré (Ivory Coast) is definitely going to Angola, but Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo) might not be. Togo play Gabon on the 14th of November in a game they need to win in order to guarantee qualification, although they could lose and still qualify if Cameroon beat Morocco.
If however Morocco qualify by beating Cameroon and hoping Togo lose, Liverpool’s Nabil El Zhar will be booking his ticket to Angola. If they don’t qualify, Liverpool won’t have any players in Africa come January.
Though they won’t be winning the league come May, Tottenham still have their eyes on the top four. Their intentions may be somewhat affected though by Sébastien Bassong and Benoît Assou-Ekotto jetting out of town to hook up with their pals from Cameroon.
What are they going to miss in the Premier League?
Arguably the biggest Premier League fixture during the ANC is Arsenal vs Manchester United on the 30th of January, although Liverpool vs Tottenham on the 9th is also of some significance.
If Cameroon or Ivory Coast make it to the final Arsenal will be marginally weakened by the absence of Song or Eboué. Arsène Wenger would rather have them both available, and would certainly like to have Song available, but his squad is good enough to live without them both.
Being without Essien would decimate a lot of team’s midfields, but Chelsea have the depth to cope, with Lampard, Ballack, Joe Cole, Deco, Malouda and Zhirkov all able to come in.
Where they’ll be most hurt is up front, with only two recognised strikers - Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge - available during the ANC.
In 2006 they lost 2-0 to Liverpool while Drogba was away and went on to miss out on the title by six points. No one can say the ANC cost them the league, but it might have played a small part in it.
Drogba’s importance to Chelsea was highlighted on his recent return to the Champions League with two goals against Atletico Madrid. With Chelsea’s transfer ban now suspended by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and this year’s title race looking like a tight one, Ancelloti may therefore want to think about picking up a striker in the January transfer window.
However, he has said he’s happy with his squad: “It's not necessary at the moment to take new players. I know we will lose four in January but if we maintain the players' fitness we can do a good period also without the African players.”
He might be right as they don’t have any massive fixtures to play during the ANC. First up is Hull away, then Sunderland away, before Birmingham at home and a trip to Burnley, who will themselves be weakened by the loss of André Bikey to the Cameroon squad.
Mark Hughes will certainly be hoping Togo blow it against Gabon so that his side don’t have to face Everton away without Adebayor. They also have the hardly tasty prospect of an away day in Stoke to cope with without Touré, which, considering their hardly exemplary away record against mid-table opposition, could easily make the Britannia Stadium the site of something of a upset.
So how will the African Nations Cup affect the title race?
Probably not that much. The only team really hit by it, Chelsea, have a more than adequate squad to manage without the four players they will lose. The absence of Mikel and Kalou is not going to upset anyone, and the only problem could arise with Drogba being away.
City could come a cropper depending on what happens to Togo, while Liverpool and Manchester United are barely affected.
Arsenal might stumble on trips to Aston Villa and Bolton or when Everton visit, but are no more likely to do so than they apparently would be anyway, considering their recent capitulation away at West Ham.
So when you hear the whines and moans of certain Premiership managers, you need not pity them. Instead you should drown them out by tuning into the inevitable sound of kettle drums and Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the BBC’s no doubt trite and parochial ANC coverage.
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
How will the African Nations Cup influence the title race?
Originally published on Sport.co.uk in November 2009