This incredibly awkward competition is held bi-annually, unlike the European Championships which are held every four years. Also unlike the Euros, it is also usually held right in the middle of the bloody football season! This time the tournament will be jointly hosted by Gabon and Equitorial Guinea from January 21 to February 12 2012, but players will usually be called for duty by their national teams some time before that, even as early as the 8th of January for pre tournament training camps and warm up games.
Cheick Tiote and Demba Ba will definitely be there representing the Ivory Coast and Senegal respectively. Inspired by Manchester City, who also wish to hold back their talisman midfielder, Yaya Toure, from joining Tiote in the Ivory Coast team for as long as possible, Alan Pardew is now trying to delay Ba’s and Tiote’s departure until around the 15th January.
If Pardew and City manager Roberto Mancini fail in their quest to hold the players back until the middle of the month, the two Silver Supremos could be missing their important players for as many as six or seven games according to my calculation. Of course, this will almost certainly have a much greater effect on the Magpies than it will on moneybags Man City with their wealth of strength in depth. In Newcastle United’s case the potential games missed will be the following if Tiote and Ba depart on the 8th January:
Blackburn Rovers (FA Cup) Sat 7th January, Queen’s Park Rangers (H) Sunday 15th January, Fulham (A) Saturday 21st January, Blackburn Rovers again (A) Sat 7th January, Wednesday 1st February, Aston Villa (H) Sunday 5th February, and finally, Tottenham Hotspur (A) Saturday 11th February.
If Pardew is succesful in his bid to keep the players back until the 15th, they will only be missed from the Fulham game onwards, however the length of Ba’s and Tiote’s absence will also be determined of course by how well their respective teams do in the tournament, however Ivory Coast are hotly tipped to win the the tournament and Senegal are quite fancied too this time, despite recent problems centred around their head coach’s contract.
I need hardly tell you how important our very own Mr.T. has been as a sentinel guarding the back four. However Demba Ba has scored no less than 13 of our 23 Premiership goals so far, so to say that his absence will be worrying would be something of an understatement. The last person other than Ba to score was Dan Gosling in our 2-1 victory over Everton on the 5th November. This game was also our last victory. With a somewhat alarming dip in form since that time, with the Magpies only collecting a mere two points in their last six games since that victory, Ba’s goals are needed more than ever. As I pointed out in this piece a couple of days ago, if the form of our last six games continued until the end of the season, despite our great start this term, we would only end the season with the same amount of points we were relegated with (34) in the 2008/9 season.
Getting back to Alan Pardew and his bid to keep Ba’s and Tiote’s absences to a minimum though, he recently said on that subject:
“It’s important to keep players until January 15. The scheduling isn’t great but we aren’t going to moan, we knew about it.”
In another interview, he said of losing Ba next month:
“He’s a great player, and you are going to miss great players. He is going to the African Cup of Nations and he will probably want to win that. Knowing Demba and the way he is playing, he probably could. He has been absolutely terrific for us.”
Meanwhile, there is the good news that Newcastle United’s other African goal machine, Shola Ameobi, will be staying at St James’ Park for the duration of the tournament. For some bizarre reason, the Fenham Eusebio has missed out amidst competition from forwards such as West Bromwich Albion’s Peter Odemwingie and Toon old boy Obafemi Martins, who is now playing for Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga.
Finally of course the January transfer window could be a chance to bring in some reinforcements, however Pardew has been speaking more of bringing in defenders than forwards. On this he commented in a recent interview:
“We are having to look at our squad because we are stretched, especially defensively. We have made some calls to try to find out who is available, but it’s a difficult window. You want to try to get a good player in a window when teams don’t want to lose their good players, so it’s not just difficult for us, it’s difficult for every team. You locate a player, but then they have got to get a replacement and is another first-team going to let a replacement go? There’s a knock-on effect.”
We shall just have to wait and see on that front then.
Before I sign off, as this will almost certainly be our last blog before Christmas, I would just like to once again wish all of our readers very happy Christmas and a great new year!