January 4th, 2010
04:23 PM ET

Africa Cup of Nations: Headache or adventure?

The start of a new decade is a romantic time for many, bringing forth hopes of renewal, rebirth and change. Optimism - that hindrance could be transformed into release, that obstacle could be overcome by opportunity and that historical grievance could be replaced with agreement - reigns supreme in the minds of millions around the world.

Samuel Eto'o joined Cameroon on time despite the protestations of Jose Mourinho.
Samuel Eto'o joined Cameroon on time despite the protestations of Jose Mourinho.

The New Year brings hope to many, though not this year to the minds of European football's top club coaches one would imagine. This is because, within 10 days of the recycling of the calendar, a familiar recurring nightmare has revealed itself to a young 2010 to dispel any remaining celebratory zeal - namely the Africa Cup of Nations.

It is not so much the tournament itself which causes despair to those charged with capturing glory for their clubs, more the timing of the event and the logistical problems it presents.

The tournament - which starts on January 10 in Angola - is traditionally played during January and February in a bid to avoid the impossible heat or heavy rain of the continent at other times of the year; so say the Confederation of African Football (CAF). A convenient time for those participating but highly inconvenient if, like most European fixture lists allude to, the fight for domestic honors moves into a crucial phase.

To make things worse, the Nations Cup has long since been a competition which involves players known only to local audiences, Africa currently boasts some of the finest footballers to be found on the planet, most of whom will be taking part at this year's edition in Angola. Which leaves European coaches with a problem - how do you replace the irreplaceable?

Consider finding fill-ins for the following first eleven: Didier Drogba (Chelsea / Ivory Coast), Samuel Eto'o (Inter Milan / Cameroon), Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg / Nigeria), Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan / Ghana), Yaya Toure (Barcelona / Ivory Coast), Seydou Keita (Barcelona / Mali), Alexandre Song (Arsenal / Cameroon), Joseph Yobo (Everton, Nigeria), Kolo Toure (Manchester City, Ivory Coast), Taye Taiwo (Marseilles / Nigeria), Carlos Kameni (Espanyol / Cameroon).

Coaches, in an seemingly biennial ritual, line up to moan and whine about how the tournament depletes their resources and hampers progress. The release of the top names to play for their country is also a subject that incurs much negotiation and consternation, Inter's fight to delay Eto'o flying out to join Cameroon being a recent example.

But why should the Africa Cup of Nations be treated in any different way to other confederation tournaments? Coaches are well aware of the nationality - and commitment - of the players they sign, so what right do they have to complain about an athlete wanting to represent his country?

Surely, the Nations Cup and the participation of the teams and players who have qualified should be respected in the same way as those wishes of soccer superstars who participate in the European and South American version of the event.

Whether the tournament should be played in the same year as the inaugural "African World Cup" - where the potential for top players to be overworked seems inescapable - is another matter ...

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Filed under:  Football