Club vs country: Big 5 clubs count cost of African stars as AFCON set for kick off

January 12 – As European league seasons hot up in the second half of campaigns, the impact of losing players to the African Nations Cup, which begins on Saturday, is once again likely to take its toll.

Clubs in England and France have lost 89 players to the three-week event, with Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish clubs also affected.

According to a Reuters report, just under two-thirds of the 368 players at the tournament come from Europe – with 232 representing 28 different countries.

English champions Leicester City, this season struggling to stay clear of relegation, have lost three regulars to the tournament – African Footballer of the Year Riyad Mahrez, his highly prized Algerian compatriot Islam Slimani and lesser-known Ghanaian defender Daniel Amartey.

Sunday’s mouth-watering Premier league clash between Manchester United and Liverpool will see both sides having to do without one important player. Defender Eric Bailly is playing for defending champions Ivory Coast with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane leading Senegal’s challenge for a first African title.

FIFA regulations say players can be called up a fortnight before a continental championship begins but so alarmed are some top-flight clubs about injuries that Liverpool have even sent a physiotherapist to travel with Mane.

In France, leaders Nice must do without in-form Ivorian Jean-Michael Seri for a tournament that regularly incurs the wrath of club coaches and always prompts debate about whether it should be moved from its Jan-Feb slot. French clubs have more players on AFCON duty than any of the other Big 5 leagues.

“The Nations Cup is an aberration for the players who are (at clubs) in Europe,” said Stade Rennes manager Christian Gourcuff, who last year left his job as coach of Algeria to return to France.

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