Torino defender Ola Aina has claimed he has “no regrets whatsoever” after his decision to represent Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations finals restricted him to fewer matches in Serie A.
Before heading to the 33rd edition of the competition in Cameroon, the 25-year-old was among the regular starters for the Serie A outfit but on returning from the tournament, where Nigeria failed to go past the Round of 16, he saw less game time.
In fact, on returning from Cameroon, he only featured in five matches out of the 16 played.
“My season was up and down. The first half from August before I left for the Afcon was okay, a few good performances and some things in those games I think were quite nice as well," Aina said as quoted by BBC Sport Africa.
“And then after the Afcon things really slowed up for me. I wasn’t being selected in the starting XI and playing games wasn't free-flowing as prior, but I have no regrets whatsoever.”
Before the Afcon, several clubs in Europe tussled with national teams arguing about the timing of the tournament, which was played from January 9 to February 6, and some even went ahead to delay releasing the players while others did not release them altogether.
On whether the Afcon finals should be scheduled to fit in the European calendar, Aina said: “I don't think it's difficult because if it was a tournament for the Europeans to go to, I don’t think it will be a problem for anyone to go to.
"The next World Cup [in Qatar] is happening during the season and everyone is stopping because it's the World Cup - it's an international tournament and there's no problem with that.
“For me, I didn't have any issue. I was looking forward to it (the Nations Cup) from the time we had qualified to go and play in that tournament.
“I think there should be a middle ground. Obviously, as players, we understand that while we are away the team have to adapt and other players may take their opportunities and that's understandable and acceptable because we are not there.
“In my case, that's what happened. Someone took their opportunity and they did very well, and that's just the nature of the game.”
Aina, who can play as a wing-back or right-back, is unsure of his future with only a year left on his contract with Torino.
“Nothing is really clearer, but hopefully in a few weeks I'd know exactly what I am working towards,” he added.
“Obviously a player wants to go to a place or team where they can play regularly. For me, that's a must and I wouldn't look anywhere if I am not trying to play regularly or if I can't force myself to play regularly.
“For the future, I just want to be able to play at the highest level for the biggest clubs possible. That's a dream and aspiration of mine, so hopefully, something happens.
“We’ll see what the future holds, and hopefully whatever team it is or whether I stay at Torino, they will understand that the African Cup of Nations and playing for my country is a big part of my career and life, so I will be hoping to continue to play for Nigeria without any problems.”
In total, Aina managed 21 appearances overall and played 1,442 minutes for Torino last season. He was selected in the starting XI in 17 of these appearances across their 38 fixtures and come on as a substitute on four occasions.