It’s a quandary, isn’t it? You want your players to represent their countries at the highest levels, but you don’t want that to come at the cost of losing them for a portion of the Premier League season. Unfortunately for West Ham, we will lose four players this year to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, but of course for those four players, they’re incredibly fortunate to represent their respective countries.
While we wish Said Benrahma (Algeria), Mohammed Kudus (Ghana), Maxwel Cornet (Ivory Coast) and Nayef Aguerd (Morocco) well for the tournament, we selfishly hope they’re not missing for four games of the Premier League, a potential FA Cup fourth round tie and a (very) optimistic League Cup semi final. The biggest loss there in terms of minutes and consistency is Aguerd – he’s played more often across competitions than the other three who will be missing.
He’s become a solid part of the defence with eight appearances and two goals to date. We’ll miss Benrahma too, he’s a valuable asset whether Moyes agrees or not. He’s only seen out one full game this season and been substituted on or off in a further six.
But fans have been impressed by his attitude this season, he seems to have come a long way in his relationship with them, especially after his Europa League final heroics. However, it remains to be seen if he will definitely make the final Algeria squad after a rather public spat with his international manager, Djamel Belmadi, while being substituted in a recent friendly against Egypt.
If you haven’t seen it, Belmadi grabbed Benrahma by the collar on the touchline after his handshake was resisted and the player ignored his manager. Shortly after the game, Belmadi dismissed the claims that this was a major incident stating: ‘He came off, he wasn’t happy, I wasn’t happy, that’s all!’
So hopefully for Benrahma that’s water under the bridge and he will keep his place in the Algeria squad. In terms of losing a player for the longest time, Maxwel Cornet stands a chance of going far in the competition with Ivory Coast.
As a player, from what I’ve seen of him, I really like him. I was excited when I saw his first couple of appearances. However, after mysterious injury layoffs and lack of playing time, we really haven’t seen enough of Cornet to say we will miss him throughout the duration of AFCON.
That leaves us with Mohammed Kudus, who will be representing Ghana, and from what we’re hearing from David Moyes, his role could become more prominent in the squad. This could make him a big loss at a crucial time in the league season and the Europa League.
The manager has hinted that he’s tempted to start Kudus every game but admits that finding the balance is tricky, especially when we’ve actually had some decent games this season. How hard would it be to see him gain a starting place, set the league alight and then head off for five weeks?
It’s a tough one, but I suppose we have to look at the bigger picture, you can’t be that tentative – the AFCON is when it is, there’s no arguing with that. When you sign a player who is likely to be involved, that has to come into your decisions as a manager.
Perhaps that’s something we rarely consider as fans when we’re putting pressure on Moyes, in this case, to switch his selections up. Ultimately, we have cover for these players. We’ve seen the team minus Kudus and Cornet on regular occasions.
The loss of Aguerd can be covered by Konstantinos Mavropanos or Thilo Kehrer, who has already shown himself as an able performer. The concern is that any injury woes could derail plans and other defenders will have to become more versatile.
As the ever-ready substitute, it’s not unusual to see Benrahma taken off of the field anyway. This period could see Fornals gain form and confidence with some regular game time – that could be one big positive to take away from the Algerian’s absence? The maximum of four league games in question are away to Sheffield Utd, home to Bournemouth, a trip to Old Trafford and Arsenal at home.
Optimistically, there are probably eight points in there. January/February isn’t the time to be dropping points and tinkering with tactics with those fixtures at hand. Sheffield United themselves have four players potentially off too, so playing them at the start of the competition could work to our advantage.
It could be worse though, we could be Nottingham Forest, who stand to lose up to seven players to AFCON, all of which are regular players. Or we could be losing a major player, like Salah for Liverpool, for example.
In the grand scheme of things, I think we’ll cope without the four players but we don’t need any injuries or other interference with the squad. In reality, quite literally, it’s not possible to be without all four for the longevity of the AFCON tournament. Each of those four will return in their own time and hopefully be fit for league action. All that’s left to be said is ‘good luck’ to our men representing the claret and blue and their respective nations.