With the African Cup of Nations coming up, many teams will start counting their players, because losing some of them for a period which could range between 4 to 6 weeks is not very funny if you are a Premier League manager. Especially since most of them will return injured and exhausted.
So, in the utter boredom of my extended Christmas break, I have decided to estimate the damage that this severely misplaced, but highly entertaining competition has caused to the Premier League clubs.
SEX! Now that I have your attention, please read the following: not all squads have been confirmed as I am writing this, but most of the mentioned players are likely to go since they were included in the initial squad.
So if Utaka ends up staying with Portsmouth, do not blame me. I am only partly at fault.
Arsenal (Emmanuel Eboue; Kolo Toure)
Arsene Wenger is not one to keep quiet and he has made his opinion about the ACN known. It is not hard to see why as he will lose two of the players which have been key to Arsenal’s success so far. Eboue has been the chosen right midfielder in the Arsenal line up for much of the season and he has done very well for the most part, while Kolo Toure has been phenomenal. Djourou will most likely be the one to fill the gap left by Kolo, but Gallas will be left with a difficult task to keep Almunia as safe as he has been so far this season.
Blackburn (Aaron Mokoena)
He has had 12 appearances in all this season and has looked good when he played. He is good, but Mark Hughes should not be too cranky this time of year; he should be thankful Samba’s Congo did not qualify. That would have been a loss.
Bolton (Abdoulaye MéÃ¯té; El Hadji Diouf)
MéÃ¯té has been the one constant in Bolton’s defensive department this season. He leads the team in appearances and he has not done a bad job at all given the situation Bolton find themselves in. Diouf has also been good this season. After all of the criticism which was thrown his way in his Liverpool days, I think he is a good player and although he has not been as good this season as he was under Allardyce, he will be sorely missed.
Damage: it would be safe to say that Megson is cranky. Medium/high.
Chelsea (Michael Essien; Didier Drogba; Salomon Kalou; Jon Obi Mikel)
Okay, so where do I start? Drogba: losing one of the world’s best strikers for the better part of a month should be painful enough, but to add insult to injury, Chelsea is most effective when they play Drogba alone up front and most ineffective when they do not. Kalou would have given them another option: play him as a support striker in a 4-4-2 formation, but now that bird has flown too. Grant will have to dip into Rom’s pockets heavily.
But wait! There is more. On top of being left with not cover up front, Grant will also have to go to Ghana if he wants to find two of his three defensive midfielders. With Essien and Mikel also gone, only 34 year old Makelele has the qualities to fill that gap, and I will eat oatmeal if his legs keep him going for the next 6 weeks or so. Grant will have to either: a) loan players or b) reshuffle his team from Cech to Pizzaro. It will be hard.
Damage: ‘high’ would be an understatement
Everton (Joseph Yobo; Yakubu Aiyegbeni; Steven Pienaar)
Lescott has not been the only one receiving praise for his defensive exploits this season. Yobo has been receiving them as well; but his have come for other, less noisy and rather obscure sources. Either way, Nigeria’s vice captain is a key player for Moyes. Another key player for Moyes is Yakubu. Nine Premier League goals and one assist. In the Everton ranks he is as high as Arteta and Cahill. But let’s face it: he has as much of a chance to become an Everton legend as Wayne Rooney. He is good but not that good and there is adequate cover for him in Johnson and ummm. Anichebe?
Okay. For those who do know Pienaar from his Ajax days, he is a talented but unreliable lad. Quality? He has plenty. Need a player to concede a penalty in the last minute of a game with the score tied at one? He’s the man! Not bad and almost an automatic selection for Moyes, he will be missed quite a bit.
Damage: the absence of either of these players does not amount to a huge loss, but all three of them are good and their cumulated absence will hurt Everton. Medium/high.
Middlesbrough (Mido; Mohamed Shawky)
I do not know much about Shawky. I do not suppose many Middlesbrough fans do either. Apparently he has played one game this season as a defensive midfielder. I did not see that match.
When it comes to Mido it is a similar story. Nobody has seen much of Mido for a long time because injuries and a love affair with the bench at Tottenham have kept him out of action. So Gareth Southgate will just have to pretend that it is business as usual and that Mido is injured for 4-6 weeks. Aliadiere is not a very efficient striker, but Tuncay Sanli has done a good job so far this season considering he is playing for a struggling team.
Damage: medium/low. Not much is changing.
Newcastle (Obafemi Martins; Geremi; Habib Beye)
Big Sam will have to do without a midfielder, a striker and a defender. That is the football equivalent of a plague. Martins has not been amazing since his switch from Inter Milan; he has been just good, but he does score quite often and is almost always a threat when Newcastle do revert to route one footy. But seriously, if Owen does return from injury sometime soon, Sam’s attacking department will be made of three qualified strikers and Duff. Which is more than enough. (HA! Made it rhyme.)
The midfield will not be left uncovered either unless Barton does end up going to jail and it might be time for Carr to explore the hole which will be left by Beye. That of course, unless he gets injured some more. All in all there is a lot of talent going away, but nothing that a squad like Newcastle’s cannot cover up albeit superficially.
Portsmouth (Sulley Muntari; Nwankwo Kanu; John Utaka; Papa Bouba Diop; Djimi Traore)
Da da da dum. Yep, this is the big one. Assuming that Traore is not much of a loss, ‘Arry will still ‘ave to do without four awesome players. Those four players have, between them eleven Premier League goals and thirteen assists.
Assuming that the front two are somewhat covered by the talented Benjani and Nugent, I cannot imagine what Redknapp will do to fill in the game left by Muntari or Bouba Diop. These four have been so very crucial to Portsmouth’s fine form this season and I really fear that all the hard work will be undone by their absence. If they manage to get the points in their absence and all four of them return unscathed from their exploits in Ghana that we will be looking at a solid team when we will watch Portsmouth.
Damage: twice worse than anybody else’s
Sunderland (Dickson Etuhu)
Roy Keane will be fuming these days, but it will not be because one of his players has been called up to the African Cup of Nations. If anything, Keane will be able to profit from the departure of his player, which might convince Niall Quin that a new and better midfielder is indeed needed to fill the gap left by the Nigerian.
Tottenham (Didier Zokora)
Miss Zokora? You must be having a good laugh. Sure he is a good player and he fits well in the Tottenham set up, but after seeing O’Hara play under Ramos, Tottenham fans should have no worries: Huddelstone will get some more games.
Birmingham City: (Richard Kingson; Mehdi Nafti; Radhi Jaidi) Frankly I know very little about these three players, but looking at the statistics, they do not seem to be of maximum importance to the club.
Fulham: (Diomansy Kamara) I see no damage here other than a surface scratch. No offence to Kamara or Fulham fans, but the team will fare just the same without him, methinks.
Liverpool: (Mohamed Sissoko) If he is not at the ACN, than he is injured, so it is better if he gets to play sometime and on top of that, Rafa is used to coping without the lad. I feel sorry for him because he has some talent.
Manchester United: (Manucho Gonclaves) I do not think he will be missed much. In fact I think it is a good move for him because he will get some footy under his belt rather than just train with others. On top of that, at least he can get into his national team squad.
Reading: (Emerse Faé; Andre Bikey; Ibrahima Sonko) I know Bikey is good and Sonko is even better, but I have not watched enough of Reading to be able to judge how much these players will be missed.
West Ham: (John Paintsil; Henri Camara) Well, neither of them has played enough to make an impression on the West Ham team and I am pretty sure that there is more than enough cover for these players in Curbisley’s 30 man squad.
Also See: Measuring the 2008 African Nations Cup’s effect on Premier League clubs – by Eddie and Anthony.