African Exodus to be felt in La Liga
Spanish teams reluctantly send nine players to the continent's national Cup.9 January 2008
MADRID - Once every two years, customary roles are reversed in the soccer market, with the spotlight focused, albeit briefly, on Africa. The continent's best expats pack their bags, as they are ceded by their European teams and briefly reclaimed by their countries of origin to compete in their showcase tournament.
The African Cup of Nations, to take place in Ghana from 20 January to 10 February, will leave its mark on five Spanish clubs, which could lose their African stars for over a month in the middle of fierce Liga, King's Cup, and Champions League competition.
Of the five, Sevilla will suffer the greatest losses. As it stands, the Andalusian club will first feel the absence of three of its players against Barcelona in the first leg of the King's Cup last-16 on Wednesday, where it will compete sans star striker Frédéric Kanouté and midfielder Seydou Keita, rejoining Mali, and Arouna Koné, to the Ivory Coast side.
Barcelona will watch pace-setting forward Samuel Eto'o - who recently returned triumphantly to the pitch after a long absence - play for Cameroon, and will be looking to fill the hole left by defensive midfielder Yaya Touré of the Ivory Coast.
Real Madrid is to cede centerfielder Mahamadou Diarra to Mali; Espanyol will compete without starting keeper Carlos Kameni; Getafe will give up forward Kechukwu Uche and Celta, centerfielder Quincy Owusu.
While Liga teams repeatedly plead with Cup organisers to move the competition to other dates, Africa's harsh climate (excessive temperatures and summer storms) have caused this option to be ruled out.
So, as it is, the Spanish teams who can afford to shell out the biggest salaries for Africa's best will have to find other options during these dates.
Unsurprisingly, some have tried to get around the FIFA ruling that the players must be ceded 14 days before the tournament's start. Barcelona claims Eto'o pulls enough weight in Cameroon to have negotiated to stay another week in Spain (allowing him face Sevilla in the King's Cup on Wednesday) although the Cameroon Soccer Federation yesterday adamantly denied any deal and demanded its star player's immediate release. Sevilla, at a significant disadvantage in the King's Cup without its African trio, is negotiating with the Malian Federation to let Kanouté and Keita play against Barça, although they admit to "not being optimistic."
And Spain's Liga, embittered at having nine players on loan back home, will not even bear the brunt of the African exodus: England will say goodbye to 20 players; and France to 42.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / J. MORENILLA / K. RAMUNDO 2008]
Subject: Spanish news