The last time such vast resources descended on Equatorial Guinea, Margaret Thatcher’s son was suspected of trying to take it over. The fabled “Wonga coup” attempt of 2004 failed spectacularly in the end, but the tiny West African country have pulled off one of their own. After Morocco withdrew from hosting the 30th African Cup of Nations over wildly paranoid concerns over ebola, Equatorial Guinea took on the task.
It means, as is the case every two years, the Premier League carries on regardless in the absence of many of its most glittering stars for most, if not all, of the tournament, which runs from 17 January to 8 February. This will cost many clubs very dearly indeed. And tomorrow, not to be outdone, the Asian Cup gets underway in Australia too.
The greatest compliment that can be paid to Yaya Touré is that he is simply the only player Manchester City cannot live without. They have been forced to play in recent weeks without a single one of their many strikers, but it has not stopped them winning. Touré on the other hand, is the Premier League’s outstanding midfielder. He has scored seven goals in his last 11 matches, many of them crucial to his team as they clawed their way back to equal points with Chelsea at the top of the table. Now they face league matches against Everton, Arsenal and, on 31 January, Chelsea themselves, in the absence of their Ivorian talisman. League titles are often decided on a lot less.
West Ham United
West African rhythms have been the heartbeat of West Ham’s brilliant resurgence in the first half of this season. But Senegalese striker Diafra Sakho, who ranks alongside Chelsea’s Diego Costa as the finest signing of the summer, is out injured. And now his Senegalese team-mate Cheikhou Kouyaté, whose dynamism in midfield, and goals as well, have been crucial, has left for the African tournament.
Mercifully for Hammers fans, but infuriatingly for Cameroon, West Ham’s loanee midfielder and more often than not, captain, Alex Song has terminated his difficult relationship with Cameroon’s German manager Volker Finke, by announcing his retirement from international football on the eve of the tournament. He is only 27, and arguably their finest player. At least he will be available for a run of matches that takes in Swansea, Hull and Liverpool, which are suddenly the type of games where West Ham would expect to take a large handful of points.
With Kouyaté gone, however, club captain Kevin Nolan is likely to re-establish his place in the side. Well liked at Upton Park, he is nevertheless emblematic of the dismal recent past, not the more promising future.
Still without a manager, this temporary exodus of important players is a further headache the club could do without. Senegalese Papiss Cissé has scored nine goals in 13 games this season, and Ivorian defensive midfielder Chieck Tioté, when fit, always starts. Today he wished his team-mates good luck as he departed, which they would have needed anyway at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. At some point before Southampton and Hull come around, they will surely have a new manager. Whoever it might be could surely do without this miniature African exodus.
Palace have rarely shined this year, but when they have there has been one man at the heart of it, and now he, too, is in Equatorial Guinea. Congolese winger Yannick Bolasie has been by far the brightest and most popular player at Selhurst Park all season
New manager Alan Pardew is expected to be busy in the transfer window, but he will do well to find anything as impressive as Bolasie. Burnley away on Saturday is the type of match from which they will need to pick up points if they are to survive. Without Bolasie they will simply not create anywhere near as many chances as they might have done.
And as if that was not enough, Australia captain Mile Jedinak is absent, back home in Australia for the Asia Cup, which runs until 31 January. He has scored five goals from midfield this season, which is more than their strikers have managed.
As things stand, Leicester’s squad is simply neither strong enough nor big enough to avoid relegation. Nevertheless, off go Ghanaian Jeff Schlupp and Algerian Riyad Mahrez, who, like most of Leicester’s players, have played almost every league match this season. Their absence is a misery Nigel Pearson could do without.
Ivorian Kolo Touré has been one of the more reliable pillars in Liverpool’s ever-shakier defence, and he will be missed. Ghanian Christian Atsu, on loan at Everton from Chelsea, has disappointed this season, much like most of his team-mates but his manager would still rather he was around. Southampton are without Senegalese Sadio Mané, who’s scored five goals in his 16 matches.
Nabil Bentaleb has established himself at the heart of Tottenham’s midfield, but now disappears just as his team are showing signs of consistency and real improvement. Spurs might have had designs on six points from Palace and Sunderland and progress in the FA Cup against Burnley. If they manage that without the Algerian it will be no small achievement.
Swansea will miss Asia Cup-bound South Korean Ki Sung-yueng every bit as much. Wolves’ Bakary Sako of Mali is off too. He has scored seven Championship goals this season, keeping the team very much in the play-off hunt.
League two Cambridge United will have to live without the goals of Ghanian striker and Crystal Palace loanee Kwesi Appiah. And Yaser Kasim, born in Baghdad during the Gulf War of 1991, will also no doubt be sad to be spending January in Australia instead of Swindon.
Who's missing who: British-based absentees
African Cup of Nations
Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham)
Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)
Dominique Malonga (Hibernian)
Gabriel Zakuani (Peterborough)
Youssouf Mulumbu (West Bromwich Albion)
Yannick Bolasie (Crystal Palace)
Emilio Nsue (Middlesbrough)
Bruno Ecuele (Cardiff)
Frédéric Bulot (Charlton)
Jeff Schlupp (Leicester)
Christian Atsu (Everton)
Wakaso Mubarak (Celtic)
Kwesi Appiah (Cambridge)
Kamil Zayatte (Sheffield Wednesday)
Kolo Touré (Liverpool)
Yaya Touré (Manchester City)
Cheick Tioté (Newcastle)
Wilfried Bony (Swansea)
Bakary Sako (Wolves)
Cheikhou Kouyaté (West Ham)
Papiss Cissé (Newcastle)
Mame Biram Diouf (Stoke)
*Sadio Mane (Southampton) and Diafra Sakho (West Ham) named in original squad but ruled out through injury
Dean Furman (Doncaster)
Tokelo Rantie (Bournemouth)
Bilel Mohsni (Rangers)
Emmanuel Mayuka (Southampton)
Massimo Luongo (Swindon)
Jason Davidson (West Brom)
Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace)
Chris Herd (Aston Villa)
Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton)
Yaser Kasim (Swindon)
Maya Yoshida (Southampton)
Ali al Habsi (Wigan)
Lee Chung-yong (Bolton)
Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea)Reuse content