Jurgen Klopp calls Africa Cup of Nations date switch a ‘catastrophe’ for Liverpool

Melissa Reddy

Jurgen Klopp has labelled the switching of the Africa Cup of Nations back to January as a “catastrophe” for Liverpool, who will have to cede the services of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita mid-season.

The 2021 tournament was scheduled to take place in June and July, mirroring the 2019 edition, but has reverted to the original timing.

The decision has been credited to “unfavourable” weather conditions in host country Cameroon during those months.

Klopp highlighted a few problems with the rescheduling, notably the impact it will have on a club’s campaign, how it will affect the recruitment of African players as well as increase the physical demands on them.

He also tackled the general issues with crammed fixtures at club and international level, which is placing an unrealistic expectation on footballers to continue delivering at an elite level without being afforded adequate recovery time.

“I couldn’t respect the African Cup of Nations more than I do because I like the competition,” Klopp said.

“I watched it a lot in the past in my life, very interesting tournament, most difficult circumstances a lot of times and the players what they make of it, sensational players.

“But it is an obvious problem that you play a tournament in the middle of the season, although it makes more sense for Africa to play it in our winter when the weather is better for them – I get that. The only problem is it’s a general problem.

“A couple of things which are not OK. One thing is Fifa plans a tournament in the summer of 2021 [the expanded Club World Cup], a week later the actual African Cup of Nations would have started I think, or maybe two weeks later.

“So another tournament for a lot of world-class players. I mentioned that in the past. I am not sure if that was part of the decision when they thought ‘OK, it makes no sense to play it after that tournament, it makes sense to play it in the winter, or was the weather the real reason.

“It means another tournament, it’s too many tournaments still. That’s one thing.

“The other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We will not sell Sadio, Mo or Naby now because they have a tournament in January and February – of course not – but if you have to make a decision about bringing in a player it is a massive one because before the season you know for four weeks you don’t have them.

“That’s a normal process and as a club you have to think about these things. It doesn’t help the players, for sure. But these decisions are made without asking the players, without asking the managers, without asking anyone. It is just a decision.

“Now they send all these guys in winter again, in the middle of a season to a tournament in different circumstances, and coming back from the African Cup of Nations is not easy to take. But the welfare of the players no-one thinks about. These are really important things.

“The African Cup of Nations going back to January is, for us, a catastrophe. On top of that we have absolutely no power so if we did say ‘We don’t let him go’ the player is suspended. How is that possible that the company who pays the player cannot decide that the player has to stay or not?

“But I speak here about it and no-one will listen. It is like the biggest waste of time ever. The ‘moaner from Liverpool’ or whatever is again on track. As long as nothing changes I will say it all the time.”

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