Marcel Desailly has hailed the African Nations Cup as a festival of football that will capture the imagination of a worldwide audience.
"Clubs need to increase their respect towards the t ournament. It is very important to their players - for many it will be the biggest tournament of their career, " said the former Chelsea star.
The tournament always brings a unique atmosphere and style and Desailly said: "It is completely different from the Euro Championships in every aspect, from the from Premier League clubs and these are big household names, including Didier Drogba (Chelsea and Ivory Coast), Kolo Toure (Arsenal and Ivory Coast), Michael Essien (Chelsea and Ghana) and Obafemi Martins (Newcastle and Nigeria).
Portsmouth have been hit harder than most with four players away and only a small squad to cope.
Newcastle and Chelsea also had four stars called up.
Former Brentford, Sheffield Wednesday and Nigeria international striker Efan Ekoku said: "What encourages me when I look at the Premier League players called up to their respective countries is that the majority of them are surroundings, style and approach.
"African players have more pride playing for their country."
The timing of the tournament has been much criticised by club managers and fans, who lose key players during an important part of the season.
This year, 35 players have been called up important team players, not just squad members. African players are now very important imports into the Premier League."
But this means clubs are becoming more reluctant to release their players. Take the case of Everton and their South Africa defender Steven Pienaar.
The club thought they could keep him until 14 days before his country's opening game, meaning he would be able to play in their Carling Cup semi-final against Chelsea.
But FIFA stepped in and ordered Everton to release the player immediately, stating the 14-day rule applied to the opening game of the tournament.
Barcelona on the other hand have managed to convince the Cameroon Federation that it is in their country's best interests to allow Samuel Eto'o to stay until Monday, meaning he will play in their weekend La Liga game.
Players are caught between two duties - representing their country and being loyal to the clubs that pay their wages.
Desailly, a UNICEF Ghana Goodwill Ambassador, said: "FIFA need clear sanctions on domestic clubs so the players are not caught up in a country versus club row."