Coaches not happy over losing players to Asian Cup

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Coaches not happy over losing players to Asian Cup

SEOUL - The debate over club versus country has made its way to Asia as coaches in England and elsewhere in Europe voice their reluctance to lose players ahead of next month’s Asian Cup.

English Premier League clubs have been regularly annoyed every other January at the demand for players at the African Nations Cup. This biennial competition robs many teams of several of their stars for several weeks.

And while there is no African competition in 2012, Asia’s top national teams will meet in January at Qatar for the 2011 edition of its regional tournament.

The Asian Cup, last won by Iraq at the 2007 edition in Jakarta, is held every four years and usually takes place in the summer to coincide with the off season in Europe.

This time, however, temperatures in the Middle East are deemed more suitable for football if the competition is held in the winter.

Since it is a FIFA-sanctioned tournament, national teams have the right to summon their players regardless of the wishes of their clubs. Even so, a number of coaches in England and Scotland are none too happy.

Scottish giant Celtic will be hit harder than most, as the club has two South Korean internationals in its lineup - midfielder Ki Sung-yeung and defender Cha Du-ri.

“It’s a possibility we could lose both of them for this competition,’’ said Celtic coach Neil Lennon. “But I don’t want them to go, obviously, because they are two very important and influential players for us now.’’

Until now, Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson has stayed quiet about the prospect of losing Korean star Park Ji-sung. Park has expressed his desire to help his nation win the continental competition for the first time since 1960.

Everton boss David Moyes has been more forthcoming in his objection to losing star midfielder Tim Cahill who will aim to lead Australia to its first title since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.

“We sign African players and we accept that they will be away,’’ Moyes said. “But when we signed Tim Cahill, Australia was not in Asia’s pool, they were in Oceania. So we didn’t expect to be missing Tim Cahill.’’

Moyes is fighting to prevent Cahill from joining Australia for a pre-tournament training camp.

“They are due to take him in mid- to late December, and depending how far they go in the tournament, will determine how long he is away,’’ he said. “Tim is massively important for us. He is going to be a really big miss. I cannot do anything about it ... sadly, you start hoping they get knocked out of the tournament because you get them back quicker.’’

Owen Coyle has taken Bolton Wanderers to the top tier of the English Premier League, helped by impressive performances from Korean winger Lee Chung-yong.

“What I am wary of is we do not burn him out, as he has played two years without a break,’’ Coyle said. “He managed to have three weeks off after the World Cup, that’s all. I’ve had no contact yet about Lee playing in the Asian Cup. If and when that comes about then we’ll look at it.’’

The situation outside Britain is not quite as serious, as most leagues take a winter break. England-based stars would miss up to five league and two FA cup matches. Those based in Germany, for example, would miss three games if they were to reach the final of the Asian Cup.

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has called up 11 European-based players for the competition, including Shinji Kagawa. The 21-year-old midfielder has been a sensation at Bundesliga since arriving in the summer with seven goals from 14 league matches.

Dortmund sports director Michael Zorc is resigned to losing the young player. “I don’t see a big chance that he is allowed to stay with us,’’ he said. “Shinji has a central role in our team, but Japan wants to field its best players because of the importance of the Asian Cup.’’

It is not only the coaches who are reluctant to part with their Asian stars.

Japan’s Yuto Nagatomo has quickly established himself in Italy with Cesena. The club, however, is struggling near the bottom of Serie A and the defender wants to help in the fight against relegation.

“Of course, I always want to help out Japan, but given the situation, it’s difficult,’’ Nagatomo said.

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