Are Mali right to overlook Seydou Keita?
You can count the legends of Malian football on the fingers of one hand, which is why the treatment of Seydou Keita this week is all the more surprising.
With the retirements of uncle Salif (the first African Footballer of the Year in 1970) and Frederic Kanoute (who's still playing club football for Seville), Momo Sissoko crocked until the end of the season, that just leaves Mahamadou Diarra and Keita still eligible to play for the Eagles.
Diarra, a defensive midfielder who once netted a crucial goal to help Real Madrid win the Spanish league but who was loaned to Monaco in January, is still in the thick of things and captains the side.
Despite occasionally representing a side many pundits are claiming to be the best ever, Barcelona's Keita, 31, failed to make coach Alain Giresse's squad this week.
Barcelona's Seydou Keita has failed in his bid to return to Mali's national team
Keita hasn't turned out for the Eagles since last year's disappointing Nations Cup for the simple reason that he wanted to take a self-imposed break from international football.
But, and it's a big but, earlier this month he did declare his desire to return to the side as they try to reach the 2012 Nations Cup in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
Nonetheless, Giresse overlooked him from his squad yesterday - on the grounds that Keita's return would disturb the harmony of the group.
While understandable that the Frenchman - who knows a thing or two about midfield play given his unforgettable place in France's revered 1984 side (alongside Platini, Mali-born Tigana and Fernandez) - is keen to show loyalty to those who have been playing, it beggars belief that he's excluding Keita.
Especially given his skills, composure and the influence he can have on the side, as anyone who witnessed the incredible comeback he sparked in the amazing 4-4 draw with 2010 hosts Angola (scoring twice after Mali trailed 4-0 after 78 mins) will attest.
It seems as though Giresse is punishing Keita for his exile, even though far more complicated Africans have been welcomed back into their national sides after far worse (see Messrs El Hadji Diouf, Mido, etc.).
In fact, the norm is for managers to try to tempt big names out of retirement - as repeatedly happened with Kalusha Bwalya in Zambia and to give a European perspective, with Paul Scholes in England - and though Giresse says he'll talk to Keita about his return after the match, why not now?
If he's going to be welcomed back one day, why wait?
To the best of my knowledge, Keita is not a trouble-maker and in all the time he was absent missed only two competitive matches - a surprise loss in Cape Verde before the home win over Liberia.
It's hardly as though he's left them in the lurch but Giresse has clearly decided he can live without a player who won the Golden Ball at the 1999 U20 World Cup (above Ronaldinho, Xavi and Diego Forlan) for the clash with Zimbabwe, and who is good enough to cover for the same Xavi and Iniesta when required by Barca coach Pep Guardiola.
Surely a man with that sort of pedigree (not to mention the fact that his uncle Salif can also boast Juve's Sissoko as a nephew) should walk back into a side ranked 85th in the world - whatever the sensitivities of group dynamics.
Yes, those who filled in in the absence of a man with a Champions League medal (among other trophies) in his pocket may feel aggrieved by any swift return but they can surely also recognise superior footballing ability when they see it.
The incident reminds me of Mamadou Niang's attempts to return to the Senegalese national team after previously quitting in despair over the chronic administration of the game in the land of the 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists.
With the team in trouble under coach Lamin N'Diaye and needing to beat The Gambia to qualify, Niang buried his various hatchets and said he was prepared to come back.
But despite the fact that the then Marseille man was then the hottest Senegalese striker around, with 21 goals in 38 league games, N'Diaye chose to keep faith with the players who had performed in qualifiers when they could have been on inter-season holidays.
Laudable in theory but in practice, a team of ageing has-beens, best exemplified by a poor Henri Camara, failed to see off their minnow neighbours, so crashing out of 2010 World Cup qualifying at the earliest stage and sparking extensive rioting in Dakar.
Next week's clash between Mali and Zimbabwe, with the Eagles lying second in Group A, has nowhere near as much significance but Giresse is still taking an unnecessary gamble.