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What the Africa Cup of Nations means for Premier League players and their clubs

By Sir Hardly Anyone

As you may have noticed, the Africa Cup of Nations has begun.  A little later than planned, but it has begun.

What it means is that those players involved will not be available at the start of the season since they won’t have had a proper summer rest.   In this case for Arsenal that means that Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny will be discounted from the squad in August and probably well into September.

The competition was originally planned to be in Cameroon, but delays in getting their stadia ready, plus the continuing Boko Haram uprising and also the continuing problem in the Anglophone territories which declared independence under the name Ambazonia and began a civil war, meant they had the right to the competition removed.

On 8 January 2019, Egypt was chosen by the CAF Executive Committee as the host nation of the competition.  But then the tournament was also moved from the original dates of 15 June – 13 July to the later period of 21 June to 19 July to avoid the problems of playing and training caused by the observance of Ramadan.  

Altogether 21 players will miss the start of the Premier League season because of this competition, although it is interesting that few, if any, newspapers or web sites have actually listed the players who will be missing, let alone assigned them to clubs.    So, with us losing two players, I thought I’d live up to the name of Untold and take a look at the situation.

In the current tournament two clubs have lost three players – Crystal Palace and Liverpool.  Altogether 13 of the Premier League’s clubs have at least one player missing.   Here is the list


  • Mohamed El Neny (Egypt)
  • Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)

Aston Villa

  • Ahmed El Mohamady (Egypt)
  • Jonathan Kodjia (Ivory Coast)

Brighton and Hove Albion

  • Leon Balogun (Nigeria)
  • Gaëtan Bong (Cameroon)

Crystal Palace

  • Cheikhou Kouyaté (Senegal)
  • Wilfred Zaha (Ivory Coast)
  • Jordan Ayew (Ghana)


  • Idriss Gueye (Senegal)

Leicester City

  • Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria)


  • Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
  • Naby Keita (Guinea)
  • Sadio Mane (Senegal)

Manchester City

  • Riyad Mahrez (Algeria)

Newcastle United

  • Christian Atsu (Ghana)


  • Moussa Djenepo (Mali)

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Victor Wanyama (Kenya)
  • Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast)

West Ham United

  • Arthur Masuaku (DR Congo)

Wolverhampton Wanderers

  • Romain Saiss (Morocco)

Players who are not involved in any international match can get up to six weeks off in the summer but four weeks is generally considered the minimum.   Of course a player will be able to play with far less break, but the chances of that player getting an injury later in the season are then enhanced.  And in such a case, because the body is not used to periods without training, there can be further reactions and the chance of additional injuries once the player starts training again.

The final of the Africa Cup of Nations will be played on 19 July, meaning that players involved then will not resume training until around mid-August, which is six weeks after the players not involved will have returned to their clubs.  They will then need about a month of preparation before they are truly match fit – although of course some may well be rushed back sooner if the club feel the need.

Obviously for Arsenal it depends how far Egypt and Nigeria go in the competition, but if either country reach the final then we might expect to see our players back in mid-September.

The competition is being covered on Eurosport in the UK.    The next competition will be held in 2021, and the three countries currently bidding for that competition are Algeria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast.  Bids from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Zambia have been rejected.

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