PARIS: When the African Cup of Nations comes around, Europe s top clubs tend to suffer.
Since nearly all the best players from Africa play in Europe, the biennial tournament that starts Sunday in Angola will have a strong impact on some of the world s top leagues.
Chelsea, which leads the English Premier League, will be without Ivory Coast forwards Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel and Ghana midfielder Michael Essien. Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, however, has enough depth to cope.
I think that we can do a good January and secure good performances without the African players, said Ancelotti, whose team faces Hull, Sunderland, Birmingham and Burnley during the African competition.
Even Drogba is confident the Blues will still be on top of the league standing when he returns from Angola.
The team is strong and I know that we have the squad to be champions, Drogba said. We could put two teams in this league and they would perform well.
In the French league, 38 players from 17 clubs are expected to leave for the continental tournament, which ends on Jan. 31. Fourth-place Marseille is letting four important players go: Cameroon s Stephane M Bia, Ivory Coast s Baky Kone, Nigeria s Taye Taiwo and Burkina Faso s Charles Kabore.
League leader Bordeaux has less to worry about with only one player departing for Angola – Mali midfielder Abdou Traore- but Nice coach Didier Olle-Nicolle will have to do without eight players.
Some league matches are postponed because two or three players have been hit by swine flu, Olle-Nicolle said. I have to do without about 10 players that have been hit by an epidemic of international duties.
To compensate for the departures, the French club is thinking about signing a defender and a midfielder during the January transfer window.
In England, second-place Manchester United will be looking to close in on Chelsea. United s sole African player is Senegal striker Mame Biram Diouf, and his team failed to qualify for the African Cup.
Last-place Portsmouth, however, will have to do without four players – Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria), Aruna Dindane (Ivory Coast) and Nadir Belhadj and Hassan Yebda (Algeria).
I don t know why FIFA allow this. I don t know why they have the African Cup of Nations in January, said Portsmouth manager Avram Grant, whose club has debts estimated around £60 million. The players go two weeks before and need one or two weeks afterwards to recover.
Europe s other top leagues will also be affected. Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto o is expected to shine with Cameroon and Egypt forward Mohamed Zidan is leaving Borussia Dortmund.
Many complaints have been raised about the African Cup s scheduling, with Nancy coach Pablo Correa asking for the competition to be played in June.
Portsmouth goalkeeper David James, however, defended the timing of the tournament – even though the competition will cause havoc at his club.
Why should they change the date to suit us? James wrote in a column for The Guardian newspaper. The competition has been going since 1957, three years before the European Championship began. Imagine if they suggested shifting the Euros to suit them, how would we feel?