African Nations takes its toll on Safri

CHRIS WISE Nigel Worthington believes Youssef Safri's stint of African Cup of Nations duty has left him ill-prepared for the tough physical demands of the Championship.


Norwich City manager Nigel Worthington believes Youssef Safri's stint of African Cup of Nations duty has left him ill-prepared for the tough physical demands of the Championship.

The Moroccan midfielder returned to club duty last week following Morocco's early exit from the competition and went straight back into the first team in Sunday's East Anglian derby.

Safri marked his return by setting up a goal for Jonatan Johansson with a superb through ball, but overall he looked some way off the pace as Ipswich deservedly came away with all three points - and Worthington feels some of the blame for his low-key display lies with his international bosses.

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The City boss was pleased that his playmaker got six matches under his belt during his time away, with Morocco playing three friendlies before heading for the completion proper in Egypt. But he reckons the training in between left a lot to be desired, and made the point forcibly ahead of tomorrow's crunch showdown against Hull at the KC Stadium.

“It's good to have Saf back because he is a very important player for us - but we need to get him back up to pace again,” he said.

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“I have had a good chat with him and the biggest thing that disappoints me is that he has gone away and the training has been average, low-key. That's has not helped his situation because he has lost some fitness and it was plain to see last Sunday.”

Safri now finds himself playing catch-up ahead of a hectic spell of three matches in eight days - and Worthington feels supporters might have to wait until after the home clash with Derby on Saturday week before seeing the influential midfielder at his very best.

“We need to get him back up to speed, back up to our tempo,” he said.

“He knows that he has got to get up against people. He can't just sit off and expect to get the ball. He is back in England and it's often a case of trying to outmuscle your opponent.

“You can't get that fitness back in a week but we have been working very hard with him in training ever since he returned. To get back up to the levels we want, I think you are talking about two to three weeks.”

The player himself admitted he found the tough demands of an East Anglia derby something of a culture shock after three weeks on international duty - and is still clearly feeling the pain of his country's early exit from the competition. But he expects to be firing on all cylinders before too long.

“The level of the games in the African Nations Cup is not like here in England,” he said. “I don't think any player who is involved in that tournament will come back and be 100 pc fit.

“All I can do is work very hard to get up to my former level. I have been doing a lot of gym work, a lot of running, with and without the ball. I am feeling better already and hopefully I should be fine in a week or so.

“It wasn't a good tournament for Morocco. We were in a very tough group and the two countries who qualified, Egypt and the Ivory Coast, both reached the final, but having said that we were not good enough and it was very disappointing.

“I'll be back again if my country wants me because playing international football is the greatest honour you can have, but for now I am only concentrating on Norwich City. We have just had a bad result but now it has gone and we have to look forward to the next game. We have been working very hard since the Ipswich game and hopefully we can come away with all three points on Saturday.”

Safri's return from Africa, coupled with Carl Robinson's recovery from a spell on the sidelines with a rib injury, has pushed Jason Jarrett down the pecking order at Carrow Road. There have been rumours this week linking him with a return Plymouth, where he spent a successful loan spell earlier in the season, but Worthington has no intention of farming out his summer signing again just yet.

“At the moment he is part of the group and he is working hard,” he said. “Until we get a settled midfield, with people playing well in there, then all options are open.”

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