The African Cup of Nations 2017 is fast approaching, just a month and a half away now. Hosted by Gabon, the tournament will include 16 teams and run from 14th January to 5th February. In order to get the squads gelled together and get them prepared for the tournament, the players will have to be released by their respective clubs by 2nd January 2017.
The timing of the tournament is such that all the clubs with talented African players in active leagues across the world will be affected. Premier League is a vital hub for African players, with over three dozen African stars currently plying their trade in the league.
Any country that progresses to the finals of the AFCON 2017 will ensure that their players in the Premier League will miss at least 6 games, rising up to 9 games. Between 2nd January and 5th February, there are five game weeks scheduled in the Premier League, while the third and fourth rounds of the FA Cup are to be played on 7th and 28th January respectively.
In a few days’ time, the EFL Cup’s quarterfinals are to be played which includes six teams from England’s top division - Manchester United, Arsenal, Southampton, West Ham, Liverpool and Hull City. With two all-Premier League ties, and Liverpool and Hull City facing Championship division sides, four teams from the Premier League could be playing the two legs of the semi-finals while the AFCON is underway.
These sides could play up to nine games without their African stars. The tournament will have consequences on the transfer window dealings as well. While a few clubs should and will aim to replace the absent stars, an influx of African talent this January will be a doubt or could happen in the later stages of the window.
Clubs that will face no impact of AFCON
Four teams will face no disruption whatsoever due to the AFCON – Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, and Swansea. Nigeria’s inability to qualify is a positive for Chelsea and City as their players John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Kelechi Iheanacho will remain available for selection.
Similarly, Victor Wanyama and Modou Barrow representing Kenya and Gambia respectively have failed to qualify as well. Yaya Toure’s resurgence in the City squad is further boosted by his recent retirement from international duty. Thus, these teams will be unscathed for the entire AFCON.
Clubs that will face minimal impact of AFCON
Burnley’s Tendayi Darikwa could be drafted into the Zimbabwe squad but this will not have any effect on the club as Darikwa hasn’t even played a single minute this season. Similarly, Bournemouth’s Max Gradel could be representing Ivory Coast in January but has barely featured for the Cherries this season.
Arsenal could be without the services of Mohamed Elneny but are fortunate that Alex Iwobi will not be a part of the tournament with Nigeria. Although Elneny is a valuable squad member at Arsenal, the Gunners will be able to fare decently without the Egyptian.
Southampton could have a slight discomfort during the AFCON as their record signing, Sofiane Boufal will be representing Morocco. Middlesbrough finds themselves in the same situation as they will be missing their recent star performer and La Masia graduate, Adama Traore.
Although Crystal Palace could lose two players, Bakary Sako and Kwesi Appiah, both are insignificant members of the squad and won’t really feel their absence. West Brom, similarly, will just be missing two substitutes – Allan Nyom and Brendan Galloway.
Hull City will be without two valuable squad members - Ahmed Elmohamady and Dieumerci Mbokani. Considering Hull’s abysmal form this season and the expected relegation battle, Hull has another incentive to delve into the winter transfer window.
Clubs that could lose vital players due to AFCON
Although the arch rivals, Manchester United and Liverpool will be without the services of just one player each, Eric Bailly and Sadio Mane respectively, they both have been essential to their respective teams. Bailly has been the standout centre back for Manchester United while Liverpool’s triple threat up front which formed Premier League’s best-attacking unit includes Mane.
While there may be good players to fill in for both of them on a temporary basis, replicating their performance and impact is a very big ask for the replacement player. Stoke City and Watford could lose up to three players but both will significantly miss one player each – Wilfried Bony and Nordin Amrabat respectively.
Watford could have been dealt a vital blow had Nigeria qualified, as two of their three strikers, Odion Ighalo and Isaac Success could have been called up.
Clubs that will be seriously affected by AFCON
The teams that will be most heavily affected by the tournament are Leicester City, Sunderland, Everton and West Ham. Each of them can expect to be without the services of four vital team members. Sunderland, despite a recent upturn in form, will particularly despise the tournament as crucial first team members like Lamine Kone will remain absent.
Idrissa Gueye has somewhat performed the role of Ngolo Kante at Leicester City last season, and his absence will be a big miss for the Merseysiders. The excellent link up play between Romelu Lukaku and Bolasie will also be disrupted as the latter will be representing DR Congo.
Reigning champions Leicester City will be without two of their star players, last season’s PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez and their record signing, Islam Slimani. Two important squad members in Amartey and Schlupp will also be absent making this Premier League campaign even more tough for the champions.
But Nigeria’s absence means they retain the services of Ahmed Musa. West Ham is also set to be without their star signing Andre Ayew and important first team members Kouyate, Sakho, and Feghouli.
Teams that will be most affected by AFCON 2017
Number of Missing Players
Yannick Bolasie, Idrissa Gueye, Arouna Kone, Oumar Niasse
Daniel Amartey, Riyad Mahrez, Jeffrey Schlupp, Islam Slimani
Papy Djilobodji, Wahib Khazri, Lamine Kone, Didier Ndong
Andre Ayew, Sofiane Feghouli, Cheikhou Kouyate, Diafra Sakho
Wilfried Bony, Mame Biram Diouf, Ramadan Sobhi
Nordin Amrabat, Brice Dja Djedje, Adlene Guedioura
Nigeria’s absence is single-handedly the most significant aspect about the AFCON next year. Besides West Ham, none of the teams with four absentees have fixtures that can be considered outrageously difficult as they play one or two big teams while AFCON is underway. West Ham, on the other hand, will be up against both the Manchester clubs and face tricky ties away at Southampton and Middlesbrough and a home game against patchy Crystal Palace.
If West Ham beats Manchester United in the coming EFL Cup quarter-finals, two semi-final games will be added to the fixture list in January and another two potentially in the FA Cup. Watford and Stoke will lose three, but don’t have a tough fixture list. The undoubted losers of the AFCON tournament are West Ham, while Leicester City, Everton, and Sunderland won’t be looking forward to it either.