Starting on January 9th, the 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON for short) kicks off in Cameroon. As always, this means clubs in Europe's top leagues lose some of their best players as they go and travel for up to a month for their country. While this leads to complaints from some European fans, there’s no question that winter is the best possible time to play the tournament due to less turbulent and dangerous weather. And it’s a bit rich for fans who get to watch the best players from countries such as Senegal or Morrocco every week at home complain when those players return to where they were developed to compete and help inspire the next generation of African footballers.
From a Fiorentina perspective, AFCON had the potential to drain Fiorentina’s midfield depth in at least four matches. Sofyan Amrabat and Youssef Maleh are both Moroccan internationals, and Alfred Duncan has appeared 12 times for Ghana.
This go-around, however, Viola can breathe a sigh of relief. Of the three players, only Amrabat was called up.
Expect Amrabat to start for the Atlas Lions, and whether he returns to Florence after the tournament is an open question. What we do know is that regardless of whether he’s sold or not this January, Fiorentina will need Erick Pulgar to get healthy as a fallback option for Lucas Torreira.
Maleh not being called up isn’t too surprising, as he hasn’t yet featured in his two callups under Vahid Halilhozic. None of Morocco’s other midfield options play for clubs as prestigious as Fiorentina, so I expect Maleh to keep getting called up after the tournament ends. With a Viola starting spot not out of the question in the near future, I expect Maleh to be in Morocco’s World Cup squad next winter should they qualify.
Duncan’s lack of a callup is more mysterious. I’m no expert on Ghanian football, but it’s clear from Ghana’s final roster that Thomas Partey is the only other midfielder who is at or above Alfred’s quality.
Duncan being a consistent starter for the 7th best team in Serie A should not just have him on the final squad, but as a starter for the black stars. This could be an issue with the manager, or maybe with the Ghanian federation itself. Whatever it is, it’s fishy, and I’d like to know what’s going on here. Regardless, Duncan will be at Vincenzo Italiano’s disposal this January, and for us Fiorentina fans that is a very good thing indeed. Some clubs, Napoli especially, will be feeling the pressure much more, with a Serie A leading four players at the tournament. For the Viola, however, AFCON can’t be an excuse for any poor run of form in January.