Fi­nally, Caf opts for change for the better

African Independent - - SPORT -

THERE COULD Be ma­jor changes to African foot­ball by this evening with new-look Africa Cup of Na­tions and Caf Cham­pi­ons League com­pe­ti­tions. The Cup of Na­tions is set to be staged in mid-year from the next com­pe­ti­tion, in Cameroon in 2019.

Tra­di­tion­ally it has been held in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, lead­ing to many club-ver­sus-coun­try show­downs with Euro­pean teams re­luc­tant to sur­ren­der play­ers for up to six weeks.

Cameroon were sur­prise win­ners this year af­ter many po­ten­tial squad mem­bers, in­clud­ing Liver­pool de­fender Joel Matip, de­clined to play in Gabon.

Club man­agers were telling their African stars that by go­ing to the Cup of Na­tions, they were putting first­team places in jeop­ardy.

Matip was also un­happy with the way of­fi­cials treated him dur­ing na­tional team call-ups - a com­mon com­plaint among Africans based abroad.

Re­cently ousted Caf pres­i­dent Issa Hay­a­tou re­peat­edly re­jected calls for the bi­en­nial Cup of Na­tions to be moved, say­ing weather con­di­tions made dif­fer­ent dates im­prac­ti­cal.

The Cameroo­nian strong­man claimed it was too hot in the north, too wet in the east and cen­tre, and too cold in the south.

Any­one who wit­nessed Mali and Uganda at­tempt­ing to play in an Oyem swamp dur­ing the 2017 Cup of Na­tions will ar­gue that June could not be any worse.

The truth is that Hay­a­tou, head of Caf for 29 years, be­came in­creas­ingly stub­born and be­lieved a date change would be “giv­ing in” to Euro­pean clubs.

Then lit­tle known Mada­gas­car of­fi­cial Ah­mad Ah­mad chal­lenged and beat Hay­a­tou in the Caf pres­i­den­tial elec­tion last March and vowed to re-ex­am­ine ev­ery as­pect of African foot­ball.

Apart from the tim­ing of the Cup of Na­tions, its fre­quency and com­po­si­tion were also de­bated this week at a two-day Caf sym­po­sium in Morocco.

We hope it re­mains a two-yearly tour­na­ment and it is hard to be­lieve Caf will re­duce the value of its ul­ti­mate “cash cow” by turn­ing it into a less fre­quent one.

We would also pre­fer it to re­main a 16-nation tour­na­ment rather than ex­pand it to 24 teams, which Morocco re­port­edly favours.

Let us be frank, there are hardly 16 top-class na­tional teams in Africa, never mind 24. Also, the more fi­nal­ists you have, the more di­luted the com­pet­i­tive­ness of the qual­i­fiers be­comes.

The Cham­pi­ons League, the pre­mier Caf club com­pe­ti­tion with a record $2.5 mil­lion first prize up for grabs this year, has prob­lems that need to be solved ur­gently. Tim­ing is one. An­other is de­cid­ing at what stage of the com­pe­ti­tion lead­ing clubs like record eight­time win­ners Al Ahly of Egypt should become in­volved.

Egypt and Tu­nisia, the coun­tries that have pro­duced the most Caf club ti­tle win­ners, and Al­ge­ria, Morocco and South Africa are among coun­tries with a Septem­ber-to-May sea­son.

But the Cham­pi­ons League runs from Fe­bru­ary to Novem­ber, mean­ing foot­ballers are play­ing of­ten in­tense group matches when they should be on hol­i­day.

It means, as 2016 African cham­pi­ons Mamelodi Sun­downs have dis­cov­ered, that play­ers tire from end­less foot­ball and per­for­mances suf­fer.

“It is ab­surd,” said one of­fi­cial who is part of the Caf ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee. “The sit­u­a­tion has to change oth­er­wise we will pro­duce Cham­pi­ons League zom­bies.”

Stand by, then, for Septem­ber-to-May Cham­pi­ons League and Con­fed­er­a­tion Cup sea­sons with at least eight of the 16 group qual­i­fiers gain­ing di­rect ac­cess through seed­ing. – MONTHATI MOTAUNG

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