Finally, Caf opts for change for the better
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