African players still a good buy

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP

The 2008 African Cup of Nations will kick-off on 20 January and much has been said about players leaving their Clubs to participate in this FIFA event, especially from the Barclays Premier League.  In recent years there has been an influx of African players involved in the league and they’ve been great value to watch.

African players add a certain charm to a team, maybe it’s their post-goal celebrations which usually include a variety of back-flips or dancing around the corner flag.  Whatever they do, I find it enjoyable and entertaining.

The event is to be held in Ghana with probably the best African talent ever to be involved.  It should be a colourful and positive experience for everyone, and a great advertisement for African football which will be broadcast around the world.

So why so much fuss over the players participating?  Well, it’s all about timing.  Usually tournaments like these are organised during the off-season which do not interfere with the domestic competitions around the world.  The African Cup of Nations commences around the halfway point of all the big leagues, and Clubs who pay player wages, want a return on their investment.

In the Barclays Premier League alone there will be thirty-four players absent during this time and for most Clubs it will have an immediate impact.  Arsenal will lose two reliable defenders in Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast) and Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast).  Chelsea will be without Michael Essien (Ghana), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast) and John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), who are all preferred in the starting line-up.  Everton, high-flyers this season, will miss defender Joseph Yobo (Nigeria), in-form striker Ayegbeni Yakubu (Nigeria) and winger Steven Pienaar (South Africa).

Perhaps the hardest hit will be Portsmouth and Newcastle United, who desperately want to stay in the top half of the competition.  Pompey will feel the absence of Sulley Muntari (Ghana) who has been in outstanding form.  Bouba Papa Diop (Senegal), Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria) and John Utaka (Nigeria) have all been playing their part in a good turnout this season.  The Geordies, who’ve also just lost their Manager, will be without Obafemi Martins (Nigeria), Geremi (Cameroon), Habib Beye (Senegal) and Abdoulaye Faye (Senegal).

It baffles me how Clubs and Managers both know the player is African when they sign him and they know if the player is involved with the national team that he will be required to join the squad when necessary, so why buy him?  Some Clubs have steered clear of importing too many African players, like Manchester United, who only have new signing Manucho Gonçalves (Angola), he is already on loan to Panathinaikos, and Liverpool with just Mohamed Sissoko (Mali), the defensive midfielder is out of favour anyway and looks to be on the move.

English Clubs should be promoting their home-grown talent during this time and not worrying about losing their African players which they have no control over anyway.  The tournament has a duration of less than a month every two years, it’s really not such a big ask when considering the bigger picture – promoting African football.

African players over the past decade have contributed to the game, and their Clubs, in a purposeful way and we can only hope this trend continues.  The 2008 African Cup of Nations should be just a taste of what’s to come from Africa, we’ll see the rest in 2010 when South Africa host the FIFA World Cup which should be another triumph for the continent.

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