How the African Cup of Nations Could Affect the English Premier League

Brian RhodesSenior Analyst IDecember 18, 2009

KUMASI, GHANA - FEBRUARY 9:  Michael Essien of Ghana and Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast embrace after the AFCON 3rd Place Playoff between Ghana and Ivory Coast held at the Baba Yara Stadium February 9, 2008 in Kumasi, Ghana. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

When the African Cup of Nations gets underway on Jan. 10, some of the best African footballers will take part in one of the most exciting sporting events in the world.

The 16 best National teams from the continent will descend on Angola to try and be crowned the African Champions.

However, unlike the World Cup that will be in South Africa next year, and the UEFA European Football Championship, which are held in the summer, the African Nations Cup is held in winter and sits firmly in the middle of the European League seasons.

In the past, this wasn't such a big problem, but in recent years, with the rise of Africa football and its players there have been repercussions to teams that have African players in them.

This season could be the season that the African Cup of Nations helped to get a team relegated from the Premiership. Many of the Premier League's teams have African players, but none have as many as Portsmouth.

Portsmouth who were already suffering already with financial difficulties that have seen some of it's better players sold in the summer, they have now got the added disadvantage of having to release a possible six players to international duty for up to six weeks.

Kevin-Prince Boateng, Nadir Belhadj, Hassan Yebda, John Utaka, Nwankwo Kanu, and Aruna Dindane are all expected to be called up for the African Cup of Nations and their absence could spell relegation for Pompey.

All of them have played key roles for their club this season, and if Pompey are to stand a chance this season, they certainly can't afford to lose so many of them for six weeks. It isn't just Portsmouth that will be affected by the timing of the tournament.

The current leaders of the Premiership are going to loose four key players that are regulars in the Chelsea first team, not least the Premiership's leading goal scorer, Didier Drogba.

With Drogba are Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou, and John Obi Mikel and the loss of these players could be key in their attempt to win the title this season.

It doesn't end there, teams at both ends of the table are affected. Manchester City and Hull City have three Africans: The Blues will lose Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Kelvin Etuhu. The Tigers will be without the services of Kamel Ghilas, Daniel Cousin, and Seyi Olofinjana.

Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton, and Fulham have two each. Alex Song, Emmanuel Eboue for the Gunners. Sebastien Bassong, Benoit Assou-Ekotto at Spurs.

Joseph Yobo, Ayegbeni Yakubu will be missing for an under-pressure David Moyes at Everton, and John Pantsil, Dickson Etuhu will be unable to turn out for the Cottagers of Fulham.

Aston Villa, Sunderland, Stoke City, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Wolves only have one apiece.

The teams with a clear advantage in January will be Birmingham, Blackburn, Liverpool, Man Utd, and West Ham, who have no absentees away on international duty. 

The title race and the battle for relegation could all be clearly defined in January when every team in the Premiership will have definite advantages or disadvantages.

Chelsea will have to make up for the loss of four of their star players when their closest rival in the title race, Manchester United, have none. Portsmouth have half of their team travelling to the tournament, whilst relegation rivals Bolton and West Ham have no absentees.

It is not necessarily going to spell disaster for everyone as some will only be there for the first round and some of the players aren't first team regulars.

For example, Hull City, who have three players travelling to Angola, have only one who is a first team regular when fit. Seyi Olofinjana of Nigeria will be the only real absentee for the Tigers.

Olofinjana has also come out and said to the BBC, "I'm still trying to get an arrangement with them and try and get delayed."

If he could get this dispensation from the Nigerian Federation, then even if Nigeria go all the way to the final, he could still be out for five weeks. However, if one player can get an exception, then it isn't inconceivable that others could, too.

One of the most important points of the tournament is who the teams that have the most players missing are playing. Chelsea seemingly have a good period of Hull City, Sunderland, Birmingham and Burnley in the league and Watford in the F.A. Cup.

Portsmouth have Arsenal, Fulham, Birmingham, West Ham, Manchester City and Coventry in the F.A. Cup. A decidedly harder task for Pompey then Chelsea but when you have the nucleus of your team missing it could end up been a season killing challenge.

This season could be a defining moment in whether Premiership clubs invest so heavily in players from the African Continent in years when there is an African Nations Cup again.