Doubts over AFCON as European clubs nervous over releasing players

December 16 – Conflicting reports are emerging over whether next month’s already delayed African Nations Cup will go ahead on schedule after European clubs stepped up their complaints about losing key players to illness or injury.

The European Club Association reportedly sent a letter to Mattias Grafström, the FIFA deputy secretary-general, last week detailing “three fundamental concerns for clubs when it comes to the release of players to national teams”.

They were ensuring that “every player’s wellbeing is protected”, “that clubs are not forced to be without players for club competition matches”, and that all should be allowed to return to their clubs after the tournament “in a timely fashion, as per the applicable rules”.

Because of the spread of the Omicron variant, reports in France said AFCON organisers were set to call off the tournament.

AFCON has already been pushed back due to the pandemic, with the tournament initially scheduled for the summer of 2020.

France’s RMC Sport cited concerns from “several national coaches”, especially about whether English clubs would release their players.

“The African players called up by their selection should…undergo a quarantine on their return to the United Kingdom, which would therefore deprive the clubs of their players for a longer period,” the publication noted.

Around 40 Premier League players are expected to join up with their national sides after the Boxing Day fixtures in the UK.

The 24-team event takes place from January 9 – February 6 and Liverpool, for instance, are set to lost Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Guinea’s Naby Keita for several weeks. Salah has scored 21 goals in all competitions.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) refused to comment on the ECA letter but its head of media relations, Lux September, told the Guardian newspaper: “Afcon will be staged in Cameroon on 9 January 2022.”

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