09 January, 2008

Are you African or African’t?

Has it really been two years already? Wow, count me excited. Why you might ask. Well it’s because Africa’s finest are currently comandeering planes and stealing boats throughout Europe as we speak in preparation for the biggest showcase of African football since the 2006 tournament, won by five time champions Eygpt.

Given the incredible influx of African-born players into not only the Premier League, but also the other top European leagues, the word on everyone’s lips is not anticipation of the tournament, but rather beef over players lost from club sides for the three week duration of the Cup. Many figures connected with the English game such as Chelsea boss Avram Grant and Portsmouth Assistant Manager Joe Jordan have called for the tournament to be re-scheduled to the summer, when it would run concurrent with the European Championships, but so far the African FA have revealed no such plans.

While Aston Villa, Derby (potential new signing Hossam Ghaly has withdrawn from the Eygptian squad), Fulham, Manchester United and Manchester City currently have no players involved in the African Nations, every other top flight side in the country stands to lose at least one player. So, apart from Fantasy Football competitors around the country, who will be most affected?

Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue (Ivory Coast), Alexandre Song (Cameroon)

While Mr Song has featured only sporadically in the Carling Cup campaign, messers Eboue and Toure are obviously key members of Arsene Wenger’s preferred starting XI. Personally I think Eboue is no great loss, especially given the cover Arsenal have in his position, but Toure is truly irreplaceable. Sure Gallas is a great defender but who will partner him? Senderos? Djorou? Opposition forwards will be rubbing their hands in glee. The Gunners got lucky not losing Adebayor too though, as his Togo side were beaten by Mali in the match that sparked this incident.

Size of manager’s tumor – grapefruit
Richard Kingson (Ghana), Mehdi Nafti and Radhi Jaidi (Tunisia)

While keeper Kingson has played very little this year, the Tunisian pair have been on song for the Brummies all year and taking them out of an already stretched squad might prove too much for newly appointed Alex McLeish.

Size of manager’s tumor – canteloupe melon

Aaron Mokoena (South Africa)

With Benni McCarthy now retired from international football, Mark Hughes is lucky to be losing just the one player. Mokoena has played well this year but shouldn’t prove too large a hole to plug to keep the in-form Rovers rising up the table.

Size of manager’s tumor - satsuma

El-Hadji Diouf (Senegal), Abdoulaye Meite (Ivory Coast)

Coupled with the supposedly impending departure of Nikolas Anelka, Bolton could be in trouble here, with Diouf consistently worth his place for nuisance value alone. Meite too has been impressive this year, and as with Birmingham, such a small squad needs all hands to the pump if they are to survive the drop.

Size of manager’s tumor – ripe orange

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

Last season’s leading goal-scorer, one of the Premier League’s most powerful and influential midfielder, and then their two respective bitches, would certainly count as a significant loss, especially with Chelsea stretched across four competitions at the moment. Money might well solve the problem for Avram Grant though.

Size of manager’s tumor – swollen pear

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

Certainly a potential oil-slick for the rising Toffees. Pienaar has been tricky all year, and in Yobo and Yakubu they have one of the best central defenders and one of most dangerous forwards gone for many vital games. Cover exists in defence but the powers-that-be might need to dig into their pockets to find another decent striker.

Size of manager’s tumor – beef tomato (yes it’s a fruit)

Nabil El-Zhar (Morocco), Muhammed Sissoko (Mali)

You don’t miss what you never use. Sissoko has been side-lined all year due to the abundance of excellent central midfield talent at Anfield, and to be honest I’ve never even heard of El-Zhar.

Size of manager’s tumor – grape pip

Mohamed Shawky and Mido (Egypt)

Again, with neither of them regularly playing for Gareth Southgate’s side, the affect will be minimal. Well with Mido gone, maybe the other players will get more of a go at the buffet actually.

Size of manager’s tumor – lychee stone

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

With Allerdyce under so much pressure anyway, the loss of four first choice starters has to take it’s toll. Club captain Geremi is obviously a class act, Faye and Beye have been pretty good all season, and in Martins they have probably the most explosive player in the country. What’s the betting these four chaps come home to a different boss?

Size of manager’s tumor – pumpkin (again, yes it is a fruit, and the world’s largest fruit no less!)

Papa Bouba Diop (Senegal), Nwankwo Kanu and John Utaka (Nigeria), Sulley Muntari (Ghana), Lauren (Cameroon)

Another side on the up in the Premier League severely hit by the tournament. Admittedly Lauren has featured little, and Kanu is only good for twenty minutes here or there these days, but Bouba Diop, Muntari and Utaka have been three of the most exciting players of the season so far and no side in the world would fail to miss their influence.

Size of manager’s tumor - watermelon

Andre Bikey (Cameroon), Emerse Fae (Ivory Coast), Ibrahima Sonko (Senegal)

Three big losses in more ways than one, these guys have featured on and off for Reading all season. The Royals have a deep, albeit young, squad however and will most likely be able to just about paper over the cracks for three weeks.

Size of manager’s tumor - mango

Dickson Etuhu (Nigeria)

Just the one player, but a prominent one nonetheless. The ex-Norwich man has been decent when called on for Roy Keane’s side, but as with Reading, Sunderland should have enough to live without him for three weeks.

Size of manager’s tumor - apple

Didier Zokora (Ivory Coast)

Included in the vast group of players dubbed “the new Patrick Viera”, Zokora has done little to warrant the hyperbole since joining Spurs last year. With Jenas and Huddlestone performing so well for the resurgent North London outfit, Diddles will likely not be missed.

Size of manager’s tumor - cherry

John Pantsil (Ghana), Henri Camara (Senegal)

With superior cover in both positions, the Hammers will be fine without Pantsil and Camara for the duration of the tournament. They will miss Camara's fantastic wristbands, though.

Size of manager’s tumor - fig

Salomon Olembe (Cameroon), Julius Aghahowa (Nigeria)

Having played just thrice for Wigan Olembe will be no great loss, however with Emile Heskey still sidelined, Aghahowa would undoubtedly have played a part for Steve Bruce’s side in the coming matches. The former Shakhtar Donetsk man may not have hit the back of the net for Wigan yet but his overall play has been steadily improving this season.

Size of manager’s tumor – passion fruit

Bonus extra - African Cup of Nations Mascots of the Week

This year's mascot is named Agro-Hene, the 'King of the Game'. He's an attractive large eagle, but a big fluffy Black Star would have been more appealing.

Still, Agro-Hene beats the loincloth off of Egypt's 2006's mascot. Called 'Croconile', (a clever fusing of the words Crocodile and Nile) this punk has more in common with Gunnersaurus Rex than a mighty bird of prey.