Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Club vs. Country Over African Players

As squads begin training for the upcoming African Cup of Nations, two stories of the age-old club vs. country row that affects football from time to time.

This year, the situation's been magnified by the timing of the Cup of Nations. With more Africans playing in major football leagues, the mass exodus of players for up to six weeks is worrying big clubs like Chelsea of England and Barcelona of Spain.

Today, we begin with Barca star and Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o. Cameroon's Football Federation says it wants the star scorer in camp now. The Catalan giants claim they've reached an agreement for Eto'o to stay in Spain for another week. Cameroon's saying that is unacceptable and that no agreement exists.

Having Eto'o around would allow Barca to play him in two more matches before he leaves for training in Burkina Faso, where Cameroon's camp is.

Eto'o will be a key part of the Indomitable Lions plans, and the Federation says it is essential that he joins the squad on time.

New coach Otto Pfister will want as much time as possible to work with his players, many of whom he has yet to meet.

Under FIFA regulations, players are required to be available for their national sides two weeks before the start of a major tournament.

It is understood that Barcelona have written to Cameroon saying that the player's recovery schedule would be badly affected if he traveled this weekend.

Eto'o has only just returned to first team action after many months on the sidelines through injury.

Interesting situation. But wait, it gets worse ...

The South Africa Football Association (SAFA) has asked FIFA to punish Everton FC of England following the club's attempts to hold on to midfielder Steven Pienaar.

FIFA forced the English Premier League club to release Pienaar (below) for the Cup of Nations.

Everton had tried to keep Pienaar for Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final against Chelsea.

The club had hoped South Africa might take a flexible approach.

Everton argued they did not need to release Pienaar until after Tuesday's first leg as South Africa's opening game in the tournament is not until January 23rd.

But FIFA backed South Africa's stance citing the 14-day rule for international players related to the start of the tournament on January 20th.

Now that their stance has been vindicated, the South Africans have called for action against Everton.

"Our intention is not to punish the player, because the player is not to be blamed in this particular instance," said a SAFA spokesman.

"We've played the game by the rules, so FIFA will have to sanction the team."

Pienaar trained with Everton on Monday but by mid-afternoon, SAFA had formally asked FIFA to intervene to end the confusion.

Nigeria gave Everton permission to use Yakubu Ayegbeni and Joseph Yobo in Tuesday's game before releasing them the following day to join their country's training camp.

Couldn't this situation have been avoided? Couldn't SAFA have bent just a bit?

We'll see this continue until the African Cup's schedule is changed, unfortunately. The only people who really suffer are the players, who can't really be blamed.

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