Mark Hughes will enter a critical spell of Manchester City's season minus Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Touré, with the players' nations both demanding that they leave the club before the end of the month to join up for African Nations Cup duty.
Hughes had been hopeful his prime striker and captain would be available to him throughout the Christmas period and might play in the FA Cup on 3 January, rather than be called back to Africa in accordance with Fifa rules which allow players to be called up a full two weeks before the tournament, which starts in Angola on 10 January.
Touré is under particular pressure to make a full contribution to an Ivory Coast side who are desperate for success after the disappointing defeat to Egypt in 2006 was followed by fourth place two years ago and face huge expectation in their homeland in an historic election year. The Ivorians are to play a friendly in Tunisia on 28 December, which means Touré seems destined to miss the match at Wolves on that day and a FA cup tie at Middlesbrough on 2 January.
Adebayor is required to be at a Togo training camp in Congo on 27 December and since the Togolese players are assembling on Christmas Day there were some prospects that the striker might even be missing for City's Boxing Day fixture with Stoke City. Sources in Togo said yesterday that the national football association there was prepared to allow Adebayor to leave immediately after the Stoke game and fly directly to Congo. So he, too, will miss the Wolves and Middlesbrough games at the start of a leave of absence which could amount to 10 games for both players – dependent on how far the two nations progress.
Both associations have indicated they want their entire squads together, despite the demands of the Christmas programme. The group stages of the tournament conclude on 21 January – ruling the players out of both legs of the Carling Cup semi-final against Manchester United. The next stage is concluded on 25 January and Touré seems likely to be in Angola until 30 or 31 January, given the likelihood that Ivory Coast, in the same first-round group as Togo, will reach the last four again.
As The Independent revealed yesterday, midfielder Michael Johnson has compounded his run of injuries when he damaged knee ligaments on Thursday and will miss the rest of the season. Hughes, whose side face Bolton at the Reebok Stadium today, said: "It was something and nothing. He has just hyper-extended his knee and popped his ligament. He will get through it and he understands that there is long work ahead but he will be focused and I sense he is ready to do that."Reuse content