Although Ghanaian international Michael Essien may be the best of friends with fellow African players plying their trade in the English Premiership, that friendship will be cast aside next January as the Chelsea man is determined to help the Black Stars win a fifth Nations Cup.
Essien's home country of Ghana is hosting the next edition of Africa's premier football competition and the 23-year-old midfielder is keen to see the Black Stars triumph in front of home fans at the end of the three-week event.
"I want to be part of history and as things stand I'm confident that we (Black Stars) can make our people proud by winning the Nations Cup next year," he told THISDAYSports at Fratton Park, where he had played for Kanu XI against a Portsmouth XI in a charity match last Sunday.
When THISDAYSports pointed out that he would be playing against a lot of his friends during the competition, Essien, voted Chelsea's Player of the Year, replied: "Friendship will take a back seat at the Nations Cup. My country comes first and I will do everything in my power to ensure we become African champions again."
During the Charity Match Essien's closeness to match organiser Nwankwo Kanu, Arsenal stars Emmanuel Adebayor and Kollo Toure, Lomana Tresor Lua Lua and Benjani Mwaruwari (both of Portsmouth) and other African stars on display was clearly evident with the easy manner he related with them and shared banter.
In fact it is because of his closeness to Kanu that the Chelsea star, along with Arsenal's Toure, will be visiting Lagos next weekend to take part in a football competition and photo shooting session at Replica Studios in Ikeja.
Essien's down to earth character clearly extended beyond the playing field at Fratton Park because after the match, in which he guided Kanu XI to a 7-5 win, he was still ready to talk to every journalist and sign autographs and pose for photographs with fans.
However, Essien did acknowledge that he expected tough competition for the title to come from Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal.
"Our toughest opponents at the Nations Cup will be Nigeria, Senegal and Cote d'Ivoire because they have a lot of good players. See Kanu he has done well with Portsmouth, while there is also (Obafemi) Martins at Newcastle and Yakubu (Aiyegbeni) at Middlesbrough. They have all had very good seasons.
"Of course then there is John Mikel who has had a fantastic season with us at Chelsea. In fact for such a young player he does unbelievable things. Should he continue then there is no reason why he can't become of the best players in the world."
The player, who played in a variety of roles for Chelsea this campaign, also pointed to Didier Drogba and El-Haj Diouf as some of the players that will make Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal amongst the favourites to do well at the Nations Cup.
He, however, was quick to point out that some of the smaller African nations like Togo and Zimbabwe could not be under rated because they equally have a number of high profile stars like Emmanuel Adebayor and Benjani Mwaruwari.
By Hails Mikel, Kanu, Martins