William Troost-Ekong says the Africa Cup of Nations should “100% be more respected”.
The Watford centre-back said seeing Premier League players being asked if they would honour their national call-ups had been “difficult”.
Troost-Ekong is set to lead Nigeria out against seven-time champions and 2017 finalists Egypt on Tuesday in his first major tournament as captain.
“If it was the Euros or any other tournament, I don’t think there would be any kind of conversation like this,” he told BBC Sport. “That would be ludicrous.”
Players were allowed to play for their clubs until 3 January, after a Fifa rule stating clubs must release them by 27 December was changed “in the spirit of goodwill and solidarity”.
“I can understand it to an extent because we are leaving during the season, which is probably different to other major tournaments that are happening. But people already knew that it was going to be in January, for a long time,” Troost-Ekong said.
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“Unfortunately, I think quite a lot has been taken away from the tournament and the excitement that should have been there because of those questions.”
Troost-Ekong, who has been at Watford since September 2020, said he hoped the Africa Cup of Nations would get the coverage it deserves this year and shed light on the quality of the tournament.
“There’s sometimes a misunderstanding of what kind of tournament it is,” he said.
“It’s on the same level as a World Cup or the Euros or Copa America. A lot of the exciting players in the Premier League are African. To see them all together defending their countries will be an exciting tournament, whatever people say.”
Troost-Ekong will come up against Liverpool striker and Egypt captain Mohamed Salah in Nigeria’s opener.
Salah has scored 23 goals this season, averaging almost a goal a game.
“I hope he stays as far away from us and our goal as possible,” said Troost-Ekong. “This season he’s obviously been on fire and we all know how good he is, but at the same time I’m very confident in our team.”
This article was updated 9 months ago