Tuesday, April 3, 2007
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 ...