AFCON: It is Time for Africa to Rebel against European Football Clubs, FIFA

By Boris Esono Nwenfor

CAF President Motsepe took a strong stance on AFCON that commenced on January 9

Every two years, there is the reigniting of a battle between European clubs and African countries concerning the Africa Cup of Nations – with the former looking for every means possible to prevent players leaving for the African continental showpiece.

This year has not been different like the other years with the European Club Association, ECA, which represents European clubs has been urging FIFA to get the competition cancelled as most of the clubs will be without some key players in their squad from January 9 – with some going into February.

The 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON, was to be played in January 2021 but was postponed to January 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was not new as other federations like UEFA also postponed the Euros due to the health pandemic while the Olympic Games was equally postponed.

The beauty about it all is that these are star players who have helped their clubs be where they are in the standings. Where will Liverpool be without Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – both of whom leads the scoring chart in the Premier League? Egypt and Senegal will be relying on these two players if they are to win the trophy and for Senegal, with it for the very first time.

England has the majority or so of African players who will be participating at the AFCON finals. This is followed by players in the French Ligue 1, Serie A, Bundesliga and LaLiga. Naby Keita, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe, Crystal Palace’s Jeffrey Schlupp, Chheikhou Kouyate and Jodan Ayew are just a handful of players to leave for the AFCON.

The question now is why these African stars who are highly regarded in their country will and who sacrifice to make sure their clubs achieve success cannot be allowed to participate at the African continental showpiece – AFCON? Must European Clubs always bring up one issue or another regarding the participation of African players? And can they call for the cancellation of the Euros if called for by African clubs?

CAF takes a strong stance

Africans may still have not forgiven CAF president Dr Patrice Motsepe on his stance on a two-year FIFA World Cup and favouring the introduction of the Super Cup (after clubs in Europe shutdown theirs), the CAF boss has been very vocal, however, on the organization of the AFCON on the date adopted – January 9.

“I will be in Cameroon on January 7 with my wife and kids to witness this incredible competition, CAF President Motsepe said in an interview with Cameroonian journalists on his visit to the country in December 2021.

“You can see that there is a huge commitment and a focus to make sure that there is good progress. We are going to host with the people of Cameroon an exceptional tournament. We are ready to show the world the best of African football and African hospitality.”

Dr Patrice Motsepe added: “This tournament is important for the people of Africa `and I am so proud and so excited with the work done (on hosting the competition).”

The AFCON trophy is what many footballers and fans look up to in the continent

Former and current players express their disgust at ECA tactics

All-time leading goalscorer for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and now President of his country’s FA, Samuel Eto’o has been one of the ex-players who have been very vocal about the beauty of the Africa Cup of Nations and why African players in Europe should be allowed to participate.

“If the Euros took place in the middle of the pandemic, with full stadiums in several cities in Europe and there was no problem, why wouldn’t AFCON be played in Cameroon?” the former FC Barcelona and Inter striker told Canal+ in an interview.

“Or are you trying to say that like we have always been treated, we Africans are not worth anything so we have to put up with it? I do not see why AFCON would not take place. The Cameroon FA that I represent will defend hosting this competition to the end.”

“The Cameroon Football Federation assures players and supporters of the 24 qualified countries and those amateur footballers who wish to visit Cameroon, that all sanitary and safety measures have been taken by the government to guarantee the competition goes ahead successfully,” Samuel Eto’o added.

“There is no coach in the world that can prevent me from playing the AFCON,” the former Arsenal player Emmanuel Adebayor said. “It is disgusting that some persons are trying to prevent the African players from playing at the AFCON.”

One of the only sensible coaches in this whole issue about the AFCON has been Crystal Palace Coach Patrick Vieira, who has said that the AFCON has to be treated the same as the European championship and that he will never prevent his players from participating in it.

Patrick Vieira said: “I respect and understand the passion and importance of those players to go and represent their country. I will never stop any player from going to the Africa Cup of Nations. I believe that the competition has to be respected because this competition is as important as the European Championship.”

“With Senegal, I do not think people understand Mane or Kouyate not representing their nation. If there was more coverage people will understand how important it is for the African continent.”

CAF president Motsepe and the Cameroonian authorities may be happy about the consensus that has been reached (European clubs have until January 3, 2022, for the release of players) for now, but the whole issue will certainly brew up again not long from now – the next edition of the competition to be hosted in Ivory Coast in 2023.

If that competition is to go ahead with all the African stars presently (and not like the smear campaign that was used against the competition in Cameroon), CAF and the Ivorian authorities too will need to take a tough stance and the players themselves will need to be more vocal about their participation in a competition which to them is like the Euros, Copa America to their European and South America colleagues.

*Culled from January Issue of PAV Magazine

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