Several of Senegal national team coach Aliou Cissé's key players joined clubs in the Gulf this summer, just a few months ahead of the CAN 2023 in Côte d'Ivoire.With the ambition of retaining their African championship title, the level expected of these Lions raises questions.
Europe, and especially the Premier League, has a major competitor this summer. Saudi Arabia has been aggressive in recruiting several of the world's top soccer stars. Already with Cristiano Ronaldo last winter, the Saudi Pro League has welcomed Sadio Mané, Riyad Mahrez and recently Neymar Junior. A great bunch! But one team is starting to collect players in the Gulf: Senegal. With their status as reigning African champions, the Lions of Senegal are aiming to make the back-to-back in Côte d'Ivoire from January 13 to February 11, 2023. At the time they lifted the AFCON trophy for the first time in their history, most of Senegal's players, and particularly their managers, were playing for top European clubs. Sadio Mané was even in the Champions League final and 2nd in the Ballon d'Or France Football. But that was before the arrival of Saudi Arabia.
Is it still possible to aim for victory at the African Cup of Nations with some of your key players playing for clubs in the Gulf? If coach Aliou Cissé couldn't have imagined this new map of soccer for a moment, he is obliged to put together his squad with his best players from this region.From now on, it's time to get used to it. Senegalese national team star Sadio Mané plays alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr. While Edouard Mendy guards the Al-Ahli goal and Kalidou Koulibaly is the boss of the Al-Hilal defence. Even Habib Diallo, despite his 27 years and the possibility of joining the Premier League, has given in to the siren calls of Al-Shabab. This Tuesday, August 16, 2023, Paris SG officially announced the departure of Abdou Diallo for 15 million euros to Al-Arabi SC on a 4-year contract.The 27-year-old defender's move to Qatar makes him the most expensive player in the league's history.
Playing time and intensity guaranteed for these Lions
SNA wonders about the exodus of Senegalese players to the Gulf, a few months ahead of the 2023 AFCON. We spoke to Papa Mahmoud Guèye, Senegalese journalist and editor-in-chief of the Taggat media. He refutes the idea that this exodus is a cause for concern, saying that on the contrary, it would enable the players, who will no doubt be playing in their last AFCON finals, to maintain an optimum rhythm before the event in Côte d'Ivoire.
"I don't see any concern.I consider that several of these Lions who have gone to the Gulf countries will be playing their last AFCON in Côte d'Ivoire. And if you take a closer look at the context of their departure, they were almost undesirable at their respective clubs. Abdou Diallo was even sent to the loft with PSG. Bayern Munich and Thomas Tuchel were pushing Sadio Mané out the door. The same goes for Chelsea's Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly. So they might have had very little playing time if they'd stayed, and that would have been worrying at the time. Most of our players would have had problems with their playing time.So this move to Saudi Arabia and Qatar for Abdou Diallo means that these Senegalese players, who are eagerly awaited for the competition, will have plenty of playing time to keep up the necessary pace until the competition," explains Papa Mahmoud Guèye.
He also takes the opportunity to point out that the level of Saudi clubs is reassuring: "We also saw at the Arab Cup that three Saudi clubs (Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad) were in the last four.And during the confrontation between Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal the level of intensity was clearly high. Contrary to what many believe, the level is far from low.