Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Rethinking the African Cup of Nations?

The African Cup of Nations is the premier footballing competition in Africa, pitting countries against each other for continental bragging rights.

The tournament has led to bigger exposure for African players and larger opportunities abroad. With African stars playing increasingly bigger roles in Europe's top leagues, next year's tournament in Ghana has the potential to be the best ever.

But El Hadji Diouf, Senegal's former African player of the year, believes the tournament could be wrecked as a spectacle because of its timing.

The Nations Cup is once again scheduled to take place in January and February, at the height of the European season.

In 2006, Diouf was one of five Bolton players who missed a chunk of the Premiership season to represent their countries in Egypt.

And the Senegalese striker, in an extensive interview with the BBC, says he can understand why his manager, Sam Allardyce, was so annoyed at having to do without himself, Abdoulaye Faye, Khalilou Fadiga, Radhi Jaidi and Jay Jay Okocha.

"We are not playing the African Nations Cup at the right time. We need to look at it again," Diouf said.

"Why can't we play when the Premiership is finished? We can play the African Nations Cup in a month at the end of the season.

"This would make it easier for us and easier for the clubs as well.

"It's normal that the clubs don't want us to leave and go and play in the African Nations Cup, because they pay us every week.

"You can't leave the club and your team-mates like that, because the Premiership is very difficult. A team like Bolton may lose three or four players.

"I don't think (Chelsea manager) Jose Mourinho would be happy about losing Didier Drogba or Barcelona happy about losing Samuel Eto'o."

He's right. And this could hurt African superstars in the future. But who is to blame? Diouf lays the responsibility squarely on the people running African football.

"If you look at the Premiership you will see that African players are doing well - like Shabani Nonda, Benni McCarthy, and Didier Drogba.

"Also if you look at Spain we are doing well there and everywhere else in the world. African players don't have a problem playing in Europe. The problem is in Africa.

"Some federations don't respect football, don't care what month we play the Nations Cup just as long as we do.

"We need good people in charge who will safeguard African football."

So why not stage the Cup at a different time? Why not change the schedule to better meet the players needs? Seems like another case of people shooting themselves in the foot. Someone needs to rethink this thickheadedness and amend policy. Or else the only ones to suffer will be the players and fans.

** On another note, look at this salvo from Diouf: "I respect Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Angola for reaching the World Cup and what they achieved there, but everybody knows the big teams in Africa didn't go to the World Cup.

"When you see Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal all staying at home, then it is not a true reflection of the strength of the game in Africa."

That's interesting ... I like the competitive spirt. It's refreshing to hear honesty and passion from an athlete. Now if only he'd stop spitting at people ...


Shyam Sundar said...

Fantastic blog...I hope for the sake of the beautiful game itself the World Cup is a success in 2010.

The only issue that i had with African players in 2006 world cup were that they were showboating quite a bit in front of the goal to attract potential employers from the European leagues.

But otherwise some of the matches (especially in the group of death and featuring Ivory Coast) just took our breath away.

I hope the World Cup in 2010, though it was of a political expediency, showcases the true lions of the continent as well as unearth potential jewels of the future.

djshoghi said...

It would be extremely hot in Ghana during June when the major European Leagues end, making it difficult for the players, who have just played a whole season in Europe, to perform to the best of their abilities. Mexico '86 is an example of this, Vivien Foe is a reminder of how dangerous it is to stage a tournament right after a grueling season.

I don't like the idea of the African Cup of Nations changing its schedule to accomodate Europeans. Despite what Diouf and his paymasters say, the nations cup schedule should stand as is lest there be more Marc Vivien Foes.

Cesar said...

Shoghi, interesting point.
Hopefully the powers that be can find a happy medium.
It's bad for the African game if the players are leaving their respective clubs midseason for these tournies, as some clubs hesitate to buy African players for this reason. Not the Etoo's and Drogba's of the world, but the midlevel guys. If the talent levels stay up, this won't be too big an issue.
I'm not so sure about staging the tournament after the season ... the Euros do it as do most continental organizations and the World Cup. We'll see what happens. Great comment!

Tom said...

It would be good if more European leagues (such as the Premiership) had a winter break, then the African Cup of Nations could be played at the same time with less disruption.

In general I think djshoghi makes a good point, and scheduling it all around Europe doesn't seem quite right, but it's a good question you raise. It may even be restricting opportunities for African players because clubs do know they will miss Africans more during the season than Europeans or South Americans.