Thursday, June 14, 2007

African Cup of Nations Scheduling vs. Europe

We've talked about the clash between the African Cup of Nations and the European domestic calender before here (Kanoute's dilemma) and here (El Hadji Diouf's statements).

Now comes an interesting article and online debate on the Guardian Unlimited's website about this very issue.

Please read the article
and tell us what you think.

This is a hot-button issue in the world of football right now: the clash between club and country. Nowhere is it more extreme than in the world of African football, where we see players leave from between two to six weeks for the bi-annual tournament.

I've gone on record stating my belief that the Confederation of African Football should seriously consider changing their scheduling to accommodate the European clubs more. But after reading this article, I'm torn. Yes, I think they should change their scheduling. But at the price of diluting such an exciting tournament, just to placate former colonial powers?

It's a touchy issue and the article is poignant and filling. So are the comments by some of the readers, who are as informed as the author, Paul Doyle.

Here are some telling excerpts:

... in the interests of mutually-beneficial cooperation, couldn't Africa cut Europe some slack by not staging their shindig smack bang in the middle of most European league seasons? Issa Hayatou, chief of the Conféderation Africaine de Football, has a tried-and-trusted counter to that quibble. "We hold it in January and February because of our rainy seasons," he explains. "The simple fact is that in June three-quarters of Africa is under water. So just as Europeans can't play in winter because their pitches are frozen, we can't play in summer because most of ours are flooded."

Three-quarters is an exaggeration - southern Africa, the Mahgreb, the Sahel and much of east Africa are eminently playable during these periods. But it's true that rain wreaks havoc in parts of tropical Africa at the same time. So why stage ACN qualifiers this weekend? And why does the African Champions League run throughout June, July and August every year, all the way up to the final in November? Because though it complicates matters, the rain can often be surmounted (usually by accepting a small degree of flexibility with the fixtures, so that they can be postponed for a day or two if necessary - something which, admittedly, would not be so easily done in a more compact competition such as the ACN). So if climate is not the main motive for always holding the ACN in January and February (when it also rains in much of the continent anyway), can you guess what the major reason is? That's right: money.

If the tournament were held in June or July it would clash with one or more of the following: the World Cup, the European Championships, the Copa America, the Summer Olympics. Such scheduling would puncture television interest in Africa's showpiece, deflating the continent's already flaccid football finances. So Africa is defying European clubs in order to nurture its own infrastructure. And so it should.

And some comments:

Carl Weathers said, 'Why should Africa cut Europe any bloody slack? Europe hardly needs any help, does it? I think the piece could have ended at "tough sh*t". Africa should hold its tournaments and qualifying matches whenever it pleases. if that means more top African players stay in Africa then all the better, surely? If the African and Asian nations ever hope to compete with Europe and Americas then they need strong national and continental competition. Why should they be a feeder system for Europe?

BobTaylor says, European clubs are not short of money. They know the rules. They know when the Cup of Nations is scheduled to be played.

English clubs, with no squad size restrictions, can sign extra players to cope with this problem (which does conveniently happen in the middle of the transfer window). Its like Mourinho complaining about having no defenders. Absolute garbage - it was his decision to sign the players he did, and not to have a larger squad. He made his bed, now he must lie in it.

Spanish clubs are slightly more restricted, because they have to supply a list of players in their squad for each half of the season, supplemented by youth players as required. Diarra at RM for example is using up a squad place that they cannot give to two players. Still, though, they decided to sign him, knowing his international commitments. It really is just tough sh1t.

European clubs are only negatively affected by the ACN if they choose to be.

But a dissenter: Whether Africa should help out Europe isn't really the point. Obviously the organisers could and are perfectly within their rights to maintain the Africa Cup of Nations as it is. However, given increasing numbers of players are playing at top clubs in the top competition (ie the Champions League), it doesn't take much to forsee potential mass retirement from the national team for Africa's top players.

If a player has the opportunity to join someone like Real Madrid and his agent was informed that they'd love to sign him, but can't afford him taking 6 weeks a season off every other year, there is a massive incentive to simply walk away from the national team and concentrate on European league football. Rescheduling the cup would be the way to protect against this. Obviously the organisers can do what they will, but they're walking into a potential disaster if they end up losing all their top players from the international game.

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

Chxta said...

The last guy was right, the Nations Cup does need to be rescheduled. Someone has to eat their cake and have it, and in this case, it is those who pay the players.

There's an old African saying (:D), He who pays the piper...