CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The next African Cup of Nations will again clash with the European season and likely give rise to more club vs. country friction and disgruntlement over the release of players after organizers decided to postpone it until January 2024.
The decision was announced on Sunday by the Confederation of African Football and was prompted by the weather in host nation Ivory Coast, CAF said.
The tournament was to take place in June-July 2023 — a slot chosen to coincide with the European leagues’ summer break and formalized in FIFA’s official calendar of international games— but Ivory Coast experiences heavy rain at that time of year and that threatened to badly affect Africa’s showpiece tournament.
CAF said it received a report from a technical group that staging the African Cup in mid-year in Ivory Coast would have “adverse” effects.
The sudden change without wider consultation provoked a “furious” reaction among its members, the European Club Association said on Monday, who again face releasing players in mid-season to national team duty despite a promise by CAF to play in June and July.
It’s been a familiar problem for CAF, which had made a long-term commitment to move the African Cup from its traditional January-February slot to the middle of the year.
But a decision in 2014 to stage three straight African Cups in Central and West Africa undermined that because of the problematic mid-year weather in that part of the continent. This year’s tournament in Cameroon was also to be in June and July but had to revert to the January-February slot because of Cameroon’s monsoon season.
The next African Cup after Ivory Coast is in Guinea, another West African country, and may well throw up the same problem which would clash with a new Champions League schedule in Europe that starts in the 2024-25 season.
European clubs have consistently complained about being forced by FIFA rules to release some of their biggest stars for the African Cup, sometimes for more than a month, to start the second half of their league seasons.
The African Cup also comes around every two years and not every four like other major international soccer tournaments.
Ahead of Cameroon’s African Cup this year, some clubs threatened to block their players going, although Africa’s biggest names such as Senegal’s Sadio Mané, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez did play.
FIFA eventually found a compromise by allowing clubs to delay the release of their players to the African Cup, but that also causes problems on the other side when African teams have less time — sometimes just days — to prepare their players.
The African Cup will be under even more pressure from European clubs from 2025 if it stays in that January-February window because UEFA’s revamped and expanded club competitions will see Champions League and Europa League games scheduled for January.
CAF also announced on Sunday that its executive committee gave the go-ahead for a new African club Super League to be played from 2023, crucially with the backing of FIFA.
The new Super League will have total prize money of $100 million, CAF President Patrice Motsepe said.
“We have been inundated with investors and sponsors, who are anxious to partner with us on the CAF Super League,” Motsepe added.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has publicly supported the idea of an African Super League despite FIFA’s fierce resistance to the ultimately doomed European Super League.
Infantino said this year that the African Super League, which has been talked about since 2019, will be “a completely different proposition.”
“It is not at all a breakaway league. It is an African Super League integrated in the institutional structures of African and global football,” Infantino said. “The second big difference is that this is an open competition, allowing for teams to be promoted and also to be relegated if they don’t perform.”
CAF gave no details regarding the final structure of its Super League and how it would sit alongside Africa’s existing Champions League club tournament. The details, including the official name of the tournament, would be announced next month, CAF said.
African soccer badly needs a revamp, with the African Cup of Nations the continent’s only real money-making tournament.
But FIFA’s closeness to the African Super League has added to recent criticism that the world body has had way too much sway over CAF since Motsepe, Infantino’s own choice to lead African soccer, was elected president unopposed in 2021. Infantino brokered a deal shortly before the election that saw the other candidates withdraw.
Kanjere reported from Blantyre, Malawi.
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