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Martinez losing Kone battle

ESPN staff
December 3, 2012 « Injury setback for Michael Owen | Chartbeat test »
Arouna Kone is Wigan's top scorer this season © PA Photos
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Wigan manager Roberto Martinez fears losing striker Arouna Kone to the upcoming African Nations Cup for more than a month.

Kone, 29, whose four goals have made him the club's leading scorer in the Premier League this season, is set to be selected by Ivory Coast for the tournament in South Africa in January.

Under FIFA rules, the former Levante man can be called up two weeks before his country's opening game against Togo in Rustenburg on January 22. And with the competition due to finish on February 10, Kone faces missing five league games, plus a potential FA Cup fourth-round tie.

Martinez is hoping to strike a deal with the Federation Ivoirienne de Football to hang on to his player until after the league trip to Fulham on January 12.

However, he told the Daily Star: "It's not looking good. We have a great relationship with the Ivory Coast federation. They want their best players as fresh as possible and we understand that. The worst-case scenario will be him being away for six or seven weeks, which is obviously a huge chunk of the season."

Kone, though, will still fly to South Africa with the best wishes of his manager, even though he will miss a number of key games.

"He has been a joy to work with," Martinez said. "I have never seen a foreign player arrive in England and adapt so quickly. He has incredible finishing ability and technical quality, and we've been blessed to have Arouna in our dressing room.

"Arouna had a long period when he wasn't involved with the national team, and that was hard because he loves representing his country. When he is happy, we are happy, and I am very pleased he is back in the Ivory Coast squad."

Martinez takes his side to face Newcastle on Monday night and believes that Magpies boss Alan Pardew has been fortunate regarding the African Nations Cup.

Senegal's failure to qualify means that Pardew will not lose strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse next month.

"It is a catastrophe from Senegal's point of view that they failed to qualify, but from Newcastle's point of view, it's a blessing," Martinez said.

"These kind of players can really make a difference. To lose one key player for over a month can be devastating. To lose two is a major problem. Sometimes small margins have big results, and for Newcastle to be able to keep their two main strikers will have a massive bearing on their month."

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