Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion are set to be badly affected by the kick off of the Asian Cup in January in the United Arab Emirates.
Asia’s showpiece football tournament every four years, the confederation’s equivalent of the Euros, gets underway in Abu Dhabi on January 5. Twenty-four nations from across the region, including the likes of Japan, China, India, Thailand and Australia, have gathered in the Middle Eastern country for the month-long tournament.
With the Asian Cup played outside of a FIFA international window, but clubs are still obligated to release players, it will hit some English sides hard over the next five weeks. The most to be influenced are Brighton and Newcastle, who each have two players involved in the tournament.
The Seagulls will lose influential goalkeeper Mat Ryan for up to six Premier League matches as Ryan joins the Australian team. The Socceroos are trying to defend the Asian Cup after winning it on home soil in 2015. Ryan has been in outstanding form for Brighton and has been a regular starter, so it is a real blow for manager Chris Hughton. The club will also be without Iranian midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh. The 25-year-old has racked up 45 caps for his country, but has been unavailable for the Seagulls’ past 10 games with a hamstring injury. However Jahanbakhsh plays week-in-week-out for Hughton when fit.
Like the south coast side, Newcastle will be severely impacted. The Magpies will lose both Ki Sung-Yeung, to South Korea, and Yoshinori Muto, to Japan. Ki joined the Toon in the summer and has made 12 appearances for his new club. Muto has bagged one goal in 12 matches for Newcastle in 2018-2019. With Rafa Benitez’s team battling to avoid relegation, January will be a crucial period for them and they will have to contend without the Asian pair.
Japan’s tilt at the Asian Cup, which they won back in 2011, will come at a cost to Southampton as well. Maya Yoshida is captain of Samurai Blue and is an important member of the team. The centre-back has been a regular in the starting XI for the Saints for the past two months. However, Leicester City has received a reprieve as its forward Shinji Okazaki has missed out on selection. The striker was part of Japan’s squad at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but has not made the cut for the Asian Cup.
Tottenham will be without their star striker Son Heung-min for only three matches Premier League games, instead of five, after they did a deal with South Korea. Spurs allowed him to play in the Asian Games in the off-season in return for him missing his country’s first two Asian Cup matches against the Philippines on January 7 and against Kyrgyzstan on January 11. Son will instead land in the UAE for the last group game against China, and for the knockout stages, after Tottenham play Manchester United on January 13. So a big comprise between the Premier League club and the Taegeuk Warriors, who both need his immense quality.
Cardiff City has managed a sweet outcome for themselves with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge not picked by the Philippines. Etheridge is the country’s star player and they will miss him at the Asian Cup. The keeper is also crucial at Cardiff and manager Neil Warnock said he spoke with Philippines boss Sven Goran-Eriksson: “He was really pleased Neil was in the Cardiff first team and wanted him to stay in the first team”. Etheridge admitted: “Of course it was a difficult decision. Playing in the Premier League, the best league in the world, it is hard to leave behind. As far as I know, the national team have understood it."
But it is not just Premier League clubs that will feel the bite of the Asian Cup. Several sides in the Championship are also losing players. Hull City will have to make do without Socceroo Jackson Irvine, as will QPR without their Aussie midfielder Massimo Luongo. Nottingham Forest will be without the services of Iranian forward Karim Ansarifard. Overall, nine English clubs have sent players to the tournament.
For just how long depends on how far nations like Iran, Japan, Australia and South Korea progress in the Asian Cup, with the final to take place on February 2.