2017 African Cup of Nations - an Albion bonus?
The 14th January 2017 sees the start of the 31st African Cup of Nations. Originally scheduled to be held in Libya, the tournament has been moved due to unrest and military action, to the West African state of Gabon.
The matches will be shared between four venues - two existing stadia in Franceville, and the capital Libreville - both built for the 2012 ACN, and in two new grounds currently being constructed by Shanghai Construction, in Port Gentil and Oyem. On the assumption that the new stadia are completed on time, the venues look impressive. Less adequate are the hotel and training facilities available to the 16 qualified teams, nor aspects of the transport infrastructure. Add in African football's traditional strong challenges and erratic officiating, and for those players used to a cossetted existence with European clubs, a less comfortable month beckons.
In all, from pre-tournament arrival, through to a potential final, a player selected will be unavailable to his club for at least six weeks - more still, should they return any less than fully fit. The period of absence covers six rounds of Championship matches, plus two FA Cup weekends.
So how does any of this affect the Albion? Well, directly, it doesn't - at least not unless Gaeten Bong makes an unexpected about-turn and settles his differences with the Cameroonian FA, that led to him calling time on his 12-cap International career in May 2104. Similarly untroubled by a tournament thousands of miles South, are Reading, Derby and most probably Leeds United (though their French born striker Soulemane Doukara has recently declared himself available for Senegal, so that might change). For the Albion's other promotion rivals, however, it is a different story...
In terms of numbers at least, the Magpies will be the most affected. It is worth noting though, that of the five players expecting a call up, only two are regular starters.
Mohamed Diamé, Senegal
Midfielder Diamé is a key figure for the Lions of Teranga (26 caps) and also a mainstay of the Newcastle engine-room, chalking up 16 appearances already, since signing from Hull this summer. A player that will be missed, regardless of the squad's depth - particularly so, should Jonjo Shelvey's upcoming FA charge hit hard.
Christian Atsu, Ghana
Like Diamé, right sided attacker Atsu, is another who will be missed (13 Newcastle appearances for the season). The Chelsea loanee is important to his country, having notched 10 goals in 39 games for the Black Stars.
Chancel Mbemba, DR Congo
Whilst £8.4million Mbemba is away adding to his 27 caps for The Leopards, Newcastle look short of quality cover for their first choice centre backs. He has been called on 8 times to date, including the Albion's defeat at St.James' Park.
Achraf Lazaar, Morocco
With just three starts at left back to his name, this Lion of the Atlas, a summer signing from Palermo, will not leave as large a hole as the others, though even fringe players missing leaves Rafa Benitez with less scope to rest first choice players in the FA Cup fixtures.
Cheick Tioté, Ivory Coast
Much less influential than in previous seasons for the Toon and for The Elephants, Tioté may not get the call up, having not featured since early 2015. That will be little consolation to Newcastle, who have used him just once this season - scant return for the huge wages thrown his way to ward off suitors in Premier League clover days.
The Blues will likely lose just the one player, but one who is a regular starter in their fourth-placed side.
Jacques Maghoma, DR Congo
Midfielder Maghoma has featured 17 times already for City, this season, so Gary Rowett will miss him.
One player for the Canaries - perhaps two.
Youssouf Mulumbu, DR Congo
Another Leopard, Mulumbu will definitely travel to Gabon, to add to his 31 caps. Not a nailed on starter for Alex Neill's side, but has featured in half of their fixtures.
Sebastien Bassong, Cameroon
Bassong hasn't featured for the Indomitable Lions for some time, so may likely not get the call. Given his form as an occasional part of the Canaries shambolic defence, their fans might be hoping he does.
2 or 3 Villa players will be involved, and the individuals in question, will probably hit Villa the hardest of all - albeit they have a healthy squad of alternatives.
Jonathon Kodjia, Ivory Coast
£11m striker Kodjia, is a man in form - both the Villians top score with 7 goals in 17, and 3 in 6 this year for the Elephants. Gestede and McCormack offer decent alternatives, but Villa will miss him.
Jordan Ayew, Ghana
Ayew was superb when arriving as a late substitute at the Amex last month. He's been heavily involved for Villa this season, featuring 17 times (3 goals). With 10 in 31 for Ghana, there is no chance he'll not be called up.
Albert Adomah, DR Congo
Adomah won the most recent of his 11 Leopards caps, in November last year, so its uncertain that he'll receive the call up. An important player for Steve Bruce though, so fingers crossed.