Over the years a tussle that involves club loyalty against country duties is increasingly placing footballers in an uncomfortable position, forcing them to choose one over the other.
If you are a footballer and you go out of that tunnel every match to play for yourself, your club, country and fans, delivering for both parties is the ultimate reward.
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Clubs want to protect their star players during international tournaments, and to some extent this is justifiable, but it is not reason enough to bar them from donning their national colours. It means a lot to the fans back home – especially when gracing the one tournament that every African footballer dreams of competing in.
It is three weeks until the Africa Cup of Nations is staged in South Africa and, once again, the debate between club and country has re-emerged.
It can be no surprise that if you sign African players you should know the consequences. Legitimate fears of career-halting injuries are genuine frustrations of club managers – particularly if the injuries are long term and affect club football.
“It is an unnecessary distraction,”says Colin Udoh, Editor KickOffNigeria.com.
“The coach and team need to ignore it and focus on tournament preparations.”
The same sentiments are shared by CCTV Sports Journalist Celestine Karoney:
“This debate is often more in the African continent during AFCON because of its placing in the calendar when it comes to the European leagues [where most ply their trade].
“Although it is important to recognise the role in clubs in building a ready-made product for national teams to pluck when they need players for national duty … when many return with injuries from national duty it is the club that suffers in trying to get the player back into shape.”
“This said many players owe their great careers to their national teams since it offers an avenue for scouts … especially in Africa where it’s harder for European scouts to visit local leagues.
Karoney believes it is a delicate balance satisfying both club and country demands:
“Many players feel complete when they hang their boots and say I was capped this number of times for my country and enjoyed a successful career for my club. Though players must always make time for national duty it provides a holistic feel to their careers, but in cases like Michael Essien where he felt his performance at club was being affected by national duty then such are personal calls and should be respected – after all it is his livelihood.”
There are often many upsides to competing at a national level, however.
Putting on an amazing show can prove invaluable to the career path of a footballer. A perfect example has to be Kevin Prince Boateng with Ghana at 2010 World Cup, his award-winning performance at the rainbow nation sealed him a move to Serie A’s AC Milan.
All said and done, when signing an African footballer, an agent, scout or club knows when he will be needed by country for qualifiers, tournaments and friendlies.
But ultimately the decision boils down to the player who will choose what benefits them in the long run.
Whether you agree or not the debate will continue, but this begs the question – does the tussle even have to exist in the first place?
This edition of the African Cup of Nations will be no different from the rest.
Some clubs are likely to hold on to their players and some players will opt out of the tournament, but this doesn’t mean that we should cling onto them.
It would give the chance to another player who will proudly play for his country without excuses.
Claudia Ekai is a football writer and sports producer. She has covered major African football events, regularly writes for supersport.com and has previously had work published on Goal.com, Setanta and various agencies.