News   |    January 10th, 2022

CUP CHAOS

There has been a lot of noise in recent weeks about the timing of the Africa Cup of Nations. There will always be some people whose motives are questionable, but I do not agree with Ian Wright that racism is a key factor behind that criticism.

As we enter the second half of the season in the top European Leagues it does seem odd that the outcome of a number of the leagues could well be decided by the loss of key players to the tournament. It is no surprise that fans of clubs chasing success or trying to avoid relegation will speak out as their priority is the club they support.

Clubs across Europe invest heavily in players in the pursuit of trophies and success, and you can understand their frustration in losing their best players at a key time in the season although it is fair to say that some are more badly affected than others. In Liverpool’s case Mo Salah and Sadio Mane are top class players and are simply not replaceable by others in their playing squad.

Having the Africa Cup of Nations in January and February makes no sense on the face of it, and it is incumbent on FIFA to look at the scheduling of the tournament. The tournament was first scheduled to start in June 2021 but was subsequently brought forward to January 2021 to avoid Cameroon’s rainy season and the tournament has been delayed to 2022 because of the Covid pandemic.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has faced criticism over the timing of its tournament showpiece, and last month had to address rumours the tournament would be further delayed or moved following the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

It is the timing of the competition that has received the most coverage in the media but what of the competition itself. For the second successive tournament, the Cup will have 24 participants. That means six groups of four, with the top two qualifying for the last 16 alongside the four best-ranked third-placed sides. Games will be held at 13:00, 16:00 and 19:00 (all times GMT) during the group stages, with the two latter kick-off times being used in the knockout stages from Sunday, 23 January. The final will take place on Sunday, 6 February.

Algeria including Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez are on a 34-match unbeaten run and are fancied to do well as are Sadio Mane’s Senegal and Mo Salah’s Egypt. Cameron who are hosting the tournament will also fancy themselves to do well.

FIFA have said in recent days that the tournament should be moved to between September and November but with the World Cup in Qatar in November 2022 this is going to be a year of disruption for the Premier League in particular. And to think at the same time FIFA are considering making the World Cup a biennial event. This is a proposal driven purely by money in my view.

International tournaments should be scheduled at the end of the domestic seasons and somewhere along the line here we have to think of the impact an increased level of international tournaments will have on the players both mentally and physically. We have just come out of a Xmas/New Year period where players have had minimal recovery time between fixtures and players are not machines so let us consider them and their well being above all else.

Peter Varney - Chairman, Integral Sports Management.

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