George Dearnaly

Afcon creates loyalty issues

2008-01-14 09:50

George Dearnaley

The Africa Cup of Nations Cup, Africa's premier football tournament, is played every two years and gets underway in mid-January. The tournament hasn't created too many problems in the past between club and country because the majority of African players were based in Africa and most of the local leagues would take a break during the spectacle.

But the rise of African football stars in the last 10 years, and their dominance in some of the top teams in Europe has meant that there is now a massive clash of loyalties between club and country.

The Nations Cup tournament falls slap in the middle of the hectic winter period of European football and the European clubs who pay the players salaries are determined to hold onto their players.

Fifa have threatened to impose bans and sanctions on any club who refuses to allow their players time off to play in the tournament, but they can't stop the clubs threatening the players. Some players may be coming to the end of their contracts, and the clubs could use this against the player if he chooses his country over club duty.

Tougher decision

Our own Benni McCarthy has 'retired' numerous times so as to avoid his commitments to his country - rightly or wrongly so - but my opinion is that African players playing in Europe have a tougher decision to make, and it can't be easy to leave the club after working so hard to make it there.

The truth though is that the Nations Cup is played every two years so as to bring in more sponsorship money into a relatively poor confederation (CAF). So the star players from Africa are used by their countries to keep the national associations in the black.

There has also been little discussion about hosting the Nations Cup in winter, when there is a break. This is largely due to avoiding conflict with the European Championships and the Soccer World Cup, but if the Afcon was played in winter every four years in line with the European Championships there would be no conflict of interest.

Deal made

African football fans would rather watch their own country than the European teams, and there could even be a deal made that the African games are played in mid-day with the Euro games in the evening. There has to be a solution to this continuous club v country issue.

Steven Pienaar has been forced to return to SA to play in the friendly matches against Mozambique and Botswana, rather than play in a League Cup semi-final for Everton against Chelsea.

I understand that Parreira wants his final squad together for as long as possible prior to the tournament, and I agree that he is within his rights to ask for his players, but I can't help thinking that there could be some common sense used in special situations.


Steven would have desperately wanted to play against Chelsea, as he is also on loan at Everton and needs to impress so as to earn a contract. By missing out on this high profile match, he will be depressed and I imagine it will be hard to motivate him for the friendly matches. So both his club, country and he will lose out.

Nigeria allowed their two players to stay for the match against Chelsea. They will benefit by having two players motivated, committed and appreciative of what their association has done for them.

My predictions

I've only been right once when it comes to predicting the winners of a major tournament and that was Italy in the 2006 Soccer World Cup - so take this for what it is worth.

Ivory Coast are my favourites. They have strength in all positions and will be hard to beat. Hosts Ghana and traditional powerhouse Nigeria will both go close. Cameroon and Senegal will be tough to beat. Zambia are the best of the southern Africans, and the north Africans will make it difficult for all opponents, but lack flair to go and win it. South Africa will do well to get through the group stage.

  • George is the associate publisher of Kick Off magazine and represented South Africa during the 1994 World Cup qualifiers.

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