RABAT Southampton's record signing Sofiane Boufal has been sent home from Morocco's African Nations Cup training camp after a knee injury ruled the midfielder out of the tournament.
"Sofiane Boufal has left the camp after examination of his injury showed he would not be capable of playing at the Nations Cup," the Morocco Football Federation said in a statement.
It gave no details about the injury but Claude Puel, manager of Premier League Southampton, told reporters in England that the 23-year-old was suffering from inflammation of the knee.
He hoped Boufal would be back in action in three weeks.
Morocco, who are training in the United Arab Emirates, play Finland in a friendly on Tuesday before heading to the African tournament, which starts in Gabon on Saturday.
The Moroccans kick off their campaign against the Democratic Republic of Congo in Oyem on Jan. 16 but their chances of success have been hit by a lengthening injury list that includes midfielder Younes Belhanda, sidelined with a broken toe.
Oussame Tannane is also out due to a thigh injury and Watford winger Nordin Amrabat with an ankle problem.
Boufal's return to England could be a boost for Southampton, who faced losing the player for five weeks if Morocco reached the Nations Cup final, but the injury will also be a concern for a side currently 10th in the English top flight.
Southampton have had a crowded fixture schedule, including Europa League group matches before their exit last month, and have looked jaded lately with a run of three straight league defeats in which they have conceded nine goals and scored twice.
They host Liverpool in a League Cup semi-final, first leg on Wednesday, then travel to Burnley in the league on Saturday before hosting second-tier Norwich City in an FA Cup third round replay the following Wednesday.
Having to lose key players to the African Nations Cup has long been a bone of contention for Premier League managers, with the tournament coming at a stage of the season when clubs are chasing trophies or are locked in a battle to stay up.
Southampton have been luckier than some of their rivals, with Boufal their only player called up for the tournament.
Stoke City and relegation-threatened Sunderland have both had to relinquish three players.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Ken Ferris)