Ex-Chelsea star Ola Aina says he will choose to play for Nigeria at the AFCON again
The biggest sporting competition in Africa does not have many fans in Europe due to its timing, which has made some African players lose their spots at their clubs.
Super Eagles star Ola Aina has said that he would always choose to represent Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations even though it cost him his place at Torino.
This year’s AFCON took place between January and February but did not have the support of European clubs, who felt they were losing their players at a crucial time of the season.
Aina was part of Nigeria’s squad that played in the competition. The ex-Chelsea star was arguably the best player in a side that crashed out in the round of 16 after winning their group games, including the opener against Egypt.
However, Aina’s decision to represent Nigeria in the competition came at a price, as he lost his place on his return to Torino.
Having started the season well with the Turin-based side, playing all but three of the first 19 league games of the season, Aina only played just five league games on his return to the club after Nigeria’s exit from the Nations Cup.
Still, the 25-year-old insists he has no regrets over his decision, saying he will do it again if the situation repeats itself.
“My season was up and down, Aina told BBC. The first half from August before I left for the Afcon was okay, a few good performances and some things in those games I think were quite nice as well,” Aina told BBC Sport Africa.
“And then after the Afcon, things really slowed up for me.
“I wasn’t being selected in the starting XI, and playing games wasn’t free-flowing as prior, but I have no regrets whatsoever.”
The timing of AFCON remains a problem for players and clubs, but Aina believes it’s time for the European clubs to reach a compromise with CAF just like they did with FIFA, relating to the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
“The next World Cup [in Qatar] is happening during the season, and everyone is stopping because it’s the World Cup – it’s an international tournament, and there’s no problem with that.
“For me, I didn’t have any issue. I was looking forward to it (the Nations Cup) from the time we had qualified to go and play in that tournament.
“I think there should be a middle ground. Obviously, as players, we understand that while we are away, the team have to adapt, and other players may take their opportunities, and that’s understandable and acceptable because we are not there.
“In my case, that’s what happened. Someone took their opportunity, and they did very well, and that’s just the nature of the game,” Aina added.
Aina has represented Nigeria in two major tournaments, the 2019 and 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.