Every two years the African Cup of Nations is held in January causing many teams to come up with a solution to losing players in the middle of the domestic campaigns. While the cup has been held since the late 1950s, the effect it has had on the domestic competitions has become more adverse over the last decade. With more players from Africa making their mark on the game, and with the tournament sitting at 16 teams, the effect is felt across the football world.
With the many factors that already determine the outcome of title races, adding the loss of a player or players for one month can lose a team important points that it may not be able to make up. Add a long term loss due to player injuries during the competition and it is easy to see why Sepp Blatter asked for the tournament to be moved to June or July by 2016.
England's Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal will be the teams at the top of the table who will feel the greatest effects from player losses for this tournament. While all three of these teams have quality depth to try and overcome the losses, the difference can be enough to cause a loss of some valuable points.
It is tough enough to overcome teams like Manchester United when you have all of your players. Manchester City is a totally different team without Yaya Toure, and ask any Arsenal fan how much Alex Song will be missed. If City struggles and falls behind United, Toure's absence will no doubt be a discussion point by City fans.
No one is going to feel sorry for the deep pocket teams who can more easily add cover during the transfer window if needed, but for the clubs with tighter transfer budgets, overcoming the loss of these key players is much more difficult. Teams like Newcastle who are only four points out of fourth could drop further without the services of goal scoring machine Demba Ba. The loss of not only his goals, but the attention he commands and the space it opens up will make achieving results much more difficult for the Magpies.
The domestic season where the greatest effect may take place is Ligue 1. France has always been the nurturing league for many African footballers, and this season is no different. PSG are the only top of the table team who will be largely unaffected by the ANC. PSG’s Sissoko has told Mali he is unavailable for selection leaving the Paris outfit unaffected by the completion.
The teams chasing PSG at the top are not as lucky. Lille will lose last year’s leading goal scorer Moussa Sow of Senegal, and possibly midfielder Mavuba. Marseille are looking at several weeks without offensive dynamos Andre and Jordan Ayew of Ghana, and defender Souleyman Diawara (Senegal). Lyon stand to lose starting defender Bakary Kone (Burkina Faso) and back up defender John Mensah (Ghana).
The competition for the European spots in the table could well be decided during this time as Rennes, Toulouse and Saint Etienne also must go through January without major contributors. In ASSE’s case, they must get thru this stretch without top goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang.
There are those who argue that teams put themselves in this position because they know every two years they could possibly lose these players for a month and should be better prepared to cover for their absence. While it is true teams are aware of this possibility, due to international dates, they do not have to deal with this regarding European and Asian players. The overall effect it has on potentially deciding champions and qualifiers for Europe is enough reason for the competition to move to the summer like Euro and Copa America.
No matter how much the loss of players to the ANC affects each league’s standings remains to be seen. What we know is the African Nations Cup will provide some good games and an opportunity for these players to represent their country in the quest to be “Kings of the Continent."