Football: Fates entwined, Toure and Bony lead exodus for African Nations Cup

Ivory Coast team-mates and probable future club-mates Yaya Toure (left) and Wilfried Bony headline the departures from the English Premier League for the Africa Cup of Nations -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Ivory Coast team-mates and probable future club-mates Yaya Toure (left) and Wilfried Bony headline the departures from the English Premier League for the Africa Cup of Nations -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Ivory Coast team-mates and probable future club-mates Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony headline the departures from the English Premier League for the Africa Cup of Nations, which begins this week.

Toure, star of Manchester City's title success last season, made a sluggish start to the campaign, but he has rediscovered his best form in recent weeks, scoring seven times in his last 11 appearances.

His goals and driving midfield displays will be badly missed by Manuel Pellegrini's side, who are breathing down Chelsea's necks in the battle for the English crown.

But the blow has been softened by the news that Frank Lampard's contract has been extended until the end of the season, delaying his arrival at City's sister club New York City FC.

City also coped reasonably well in Toure's absence during the last Africa Cup in 2013, winning twice and drawing twice while the former Barcelona player was in South Africa. "Yaya is a big miss for us because of what he has done at the club, but we have to deal with that and carry on this run we have been on," said Toure's midfield colleague James Milner.

Swansea are likely to find it altogether more difficult to compensate for the absence of Bony, who was the league's top scorer in 2014 with 20 goals and has found the net nine times this season.

But with the 26-year-old poised to complete a £28 million (S$56.6 million) move to City, he is likely to have played his last game for Swansea already.

Swansea manager Garry Monk can at least turn to France international Bafetimbi Gomis, signed from Lyon during the close season, but he has found the net only four times in his 22 appearances to date. "Bafe is a different striker to Bony, but he is outstanding and I want him to enjoy this period and get some goals," Monk said. "He is a class striker and now he is our main striker."

Newcastle United will also lose the services of an in-form striker, with Papiss Cisse having been called up by Senegal, but he was due to serve a three-match ban anyway for elbowing Everton's Seamus Coleman.

Newcastle, currently without a manager following the departure of Alan Pardew, must also cede Ivorian midfielder Cheick Tiote.

West Ham United will lose Senegalese midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate, but his compatriot Diafra Sakho, who has scored nine goals since signing from Metz, has been ruled out of the tournament by a back injury.

On-loan midfielder Alex Song will also not be taking part in the tournament after being omitted from Cameroon's squad, which prompted him to announce his international retirement at the age of 27.

Bottom club Leicester must do without Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, who has had an influential role in the team's improved recent form, but Ghanaian full-back Jeff Schlupp stays behind.

Other Premier League players scheduled to compete in Equatorial Guinea include livewire Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolasie (Democratic Republic of Congo), Liverpool centre-back Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast), Stoke City striker Mame Biram Diouf (Senegal) and young Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nabil Bentaleb (Algeria).

Hull's Senegalese midfielder Mohamed Diame will miss the tournament through injury, but Senegal have put themselves at loggerheads with Southampton by calling up winger Sadio Mane despite the fact he is currently sidelined with a calf problem.

Two of the biggest African names in English football will not be competing, with Chelsea's Ivorian veteran Didier Drogba and Cameroonian great Samuel Eto'o of Everton having retired from the international game.

Chelsea midfielder John Mikel Obi (Nigeria), Southampton enforcer Victor Wanyama (Kenya) and West Bromwich Albion schemer Stephane Sessegnon (Benin) play for countries that did not qualify.

The Blues and seven other teams, meanwhile, will be untouched by the tournament, including Arsenal and Manchester United.