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The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is always a vibrant event that is worth a follow. Fans from the different African nations really put on a show when it comes to supporting their team during the continent’s most important international tournament. AFCON’s physical style with a certain disregard to tactics, especially those defensively, creates an enjoyable end to end spectacle.
The problem has always been the AFCON’s influence on the European leagues. Up until the tournaments latest edition, it was always held in the winter months which meant that eligible African players would have to miss anywhere between three to six fixtures for their European club teams in the crucial run in period. The Premier League has always felt this effect in full force and many believe Sir Alex Ferguson’s relative lack of African signings for Manchester United was due to this reason specifically. In the recent past, Manchester City would lose Yaya Toure, Chelsea would lose Drogba,
Arsenal would lose Gervinho and last season Liverpool lost Mane at a crucial time, and didn’t win a game in his absence.
This has just changed. In a CAF African Football Symposium held in Morocco that took place on July 20th, it was announced:
Increasing the Africa Cup of Nations to 24 teams as of the 2019 edition, and the tournament will now be held in the months of June and July. The competition will however remain a biennial event (every two years), odd years and exclusively held on African soil with African national teams.
So, that’s more teams in the tournament which means more players participating from European leagues, but its now held in the summer months. The debate rages on as to whether this is a positive move or not. It really does depend on whose perspective you take. We’ll touch upon this a little bit at the end. Leaving that aside for now, let’s analyze which top six teams in the Premier league will benefit the most from this.
Liverpool instantly come to mind and are top of the list. Before this announcement, Liverpool fans were already being mocked for the fact that they may lose two of their crucial starting 11 players and two relatively new signings; Mane and Salah who play for Senegal and Egypt respectively. This new change in AFCON format will come as a huge relief to Klopp and Liverpool supporters. Losing their two wide creative players for up to two months in the the crucial run-in period would be unthinkable.
Manchester United will also benefit as they stand to not lose the services of Eric Bailly, arguably their best defender. Eric, luckily for United but not so much for Ivory Coast, exited the tournament in the group stages last edition and didn’t miss as many games as first feared by United fans. This can’t be guaranteed every two seasons as Ivory Coast are usually a strong favorite to reach the final.
Other teams in the top six will be affected on different levels. Arsenal will lose El-Neny and Iwobi, with the latter trying to claim a starting spot. Chelsea will lose no one of note. Spurs will most likely not lose Wanyama who represents Kenya as they haven’t qualified since 2004, but with the expansion this might change. Manchetser City will not miss Yaya Toure as he has retired from international duty and Iheanacho is all but out the door at the Etihad. Other notable absentees from the league would be Wilfried Zaha and Ryad Mahrez.
The AFCON timing change is a huge boost for African players trying to break into teams in European leagues. The old timing of the tournament has always played into whether a team would sign African players. If you were a world class player like Eto’o , Yaya, or Drogba teams would still go after you, but in the next bracket of player, teams would think twice.
Of the teams in the Premier League, its definitely Liverpool fans that are sleeping easier after this announcement.