National pride the spur for exodus to Ghana

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The Independent Online

Those managers complaining about the timing of the African Nations Cup, and frantically trying to plug the holes left by those players who this week left to prepare for the finals, should bear in mind that the competition began in 1957, pre-dating the European Championship.

The timing is forced by the climate, not the bloody-mindedness of the African federation as some clubs seem to think. The northern summer, when European clubs would prefer the tournament to be played, is Africa's rainy season. In much of the continent it would be impossible to stage the event at that time as the transport infrastructure would be unable to cope and the pitches would be even worse than usual.

So for the foreseeable future clubs will have to accept the loss of their African players for six weeks every two years. Avram Grant has suggested he may change Chelsea's buying policy but African players are in demand for a reason: they are talented and, usually, motivated. They are also proud of their heritage, which is why most have resisted club pressure to withdraw from this year's finals, which start in Ghana a week tomorrow.

The competition could determine the destination of the Premier League title by allowing Manchester United to steal a march on their main rivals. The champions are unaffected as their only representative, the Angolan Manucho, is not in contention for a first-team place. Chelsea, however, lose four players and Arsenal three.

Chelsea's anguish is mitigated by the signing of Nicolas Anelka, and the knowledge that, following his midweek dismissal, John Obi Mikel would be suspended for the next four matches anyway. They will nevertheless, in their injury-hit state, miss Michael Essien in particular.

Arsenal, with a lack of quality cover in central defence, will similarly miss Kolo Touré, with Emmanuel Eboué's absence further limiting Arsène Wenger's options.

Of the rest of the division, Everton, Newcastle United and Portsmouth lose 11 first-team players between them. Everton at least managed to hang on to Victor Anichebe, who should get a run in the absence of his fellow Nigerian Ayegbeni Yakubu.

Portsmouth are grateful that Lauren resisted Cameroon requests for him to come out of international retirement. Newcastle's quartet, meanwhile, will be following domestic developments with interest knowing they will be unable to impress the new manager for at least a month.

The final will take place on 10 February. Most clubs will have played six games by then. Do not expect club managers to be cheering their players on.

African absentees: Who clubs will be missing

* ARSENAL Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Eboué (Ivory Coast), Alexandre Song (Cameroon)

* BIRMINGHAM CITY Richard Kingson (Ghana), Medhi Nafti and Radhi Jaidi (Tunisia)

* BLACKBURN ROVERSAaron Mokoena (S Africa)

* BOLTON El Hadji Diouf (Senegal), Abdoulaye Meite (Ivory Coast)

* CHELSEA John Obi Mikel (Nigeria), Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast), Michael Essien (Ghana)

* EVERTON Joseph Yobo and Ayegbeni Yakubu (Nigeria), Steven Pienaar (South Africa)

* FULHAM Diomansy Kamara (Senegal)

* LIVERPOOL Nabil El-Zhar (Morocco), Mohamed Sissoko (Mali)

* MANCHESTER UNITED Manucho (Angola)

* MIDDLESBROUGHMohamed Shawky (Egypt)

* NEWCASTLE UNITED Obafemi Martins (Nigeria), Geremi (Cameroon), Abdoulaye Faye and Habib Beye (Senegal)

* PORTSMOUTH Papa Bouba Diop (Senegal), Kanu and John Utaka (Nigeria), Sulley Muntari (Ghana)

* READING André Bikey (Cameroon), Emerse Fae (Ivory Coast), Ibrahima Sonko (Senegal)

* SUNDERLAND Dickson Etuhu (Nigeria)

* TOTTENHAM Didier Zokora (Ivory Coast)

* WEST HAM UNITED John Pantsil (Ghana), Henri Camara (Senegal)

* WIGAN ATHLETIC Salomon Olembe (Cameroon)

* CHAMPIONSHIP Southampton: Youssef Safri (Morocco), Stoke: Mamady Sidibe (Mali). Watford: Danny Shittu (Nigeria), Wolves: Seyi Olofinjana (Nigeria)

* LEAGUE ONE Nottingham Forest: Junior Agogo (Ghana)

* LEAGUE TWO Accrington Stanley: Romauld Boco (Benin)

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