African football and European arrogance

A few days before the start of the African Cup of Nations, several European clubs, not wanting to release their players, are threatening to file a complaint against the African selections.

This is looking more and more like a showdown… SSC Naples is threatening to file a complaint against the African teams who have called up players for CAN 2021, which will start on January 9. First target of the Italian club, the Algerian selection. However, the Naples lawyer also threatens the teams of Nigeria, Senegal and Cameroon. Naples criticizes the African selections, and particularly the Algeria of Adam Ounas, for not taking into account the health risks linked to the Omicron variant.

However, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has already let go. She announced on Sunday that players would be allowed to play with their clubs until January 3. However, according to FIFA regulations, all international players whose participation in tournaments is not contractually impossible, can join their selection 14 days before the start of international competitions. But CAF made a first concession.

A concession that owes a lot to the threats made by European clubs. In mid-December, the European Club Association (ECA) indicated that European clubs were considering not releasing African players for CAN 2021. In a letter from FIFA, addressed to the ECA, we read that the decision to leaving players available longer for their respective clubs was « taken in a spirit of goodwill and solidarity with the clubs concerned in recognition that they have been affected by the upsurge in Covid cases ».

However, despite this accommodation, European clubs still seem determined to provoke the African selections and impose their own rules. SSC Napoli are among the clubs that will lose the most players at the start of the year due to the CAF outfit, but most European clubs are reluctant to let their players slip away. In Ligue 1, for example, there were 125 African players in the twenty elite clubs. A majority of them are due to travel to Cameroon in January.

An arm wrestling that never ends

On the side of European clubs, the question revolves around the “anti-Covid health protocol” in Cameroon. However, some statements show that this is only an official excuse. Because in reality, it is a question of big money: the lawyer of SSC Naples, Mattia Grassani, indeed indicates that “the clubs have invested a lot of money to recruit players. So if they were to be infected, it would be difficult to manage”. A way of remembering that the CAN « takes away valuable resources from clubs » every year. Would European clubs do the same for South Americans or Asians?

It should be remembered that this standoff between European clubs and African selections is a first. Even if many clubs have often expressed regret at seeing theirs leave to compete in the CAN. This time, the clubs move on to threats. We remember OGC Nice which, when recruiting Andy Delort, had contractually imposed on the player to give up the Algerian selection before the World Cup.

But what is this rise in tone due to? On the one hand, the coronavirus is considerably reducing the number of clubs. On the other hand, there seems to be an increasingly neo-colonialist way of imposing conditions on Africa on the part of Europe. So what does Patrice Motsepe do? The South African accepts, without flinching, FIFA’s entry into CAF. Apart from the CAF president acting as a vassal for FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, other issues are on the table. As it happens, Infantino is trying to get as much support as possible for his biannual World Cup plan, among other things.

And Europe is therefore exerting unprecedented pressure. By maintaining a position of strength. This is the case of France, which has a real means of pressure on African players: France could very well go back on the Cotonou agreement and the stoppage of Malaja, which allow these players not to be counted as extra-community.

Read : [Edito] CAF: And the king’s fly became king

Result: the clubs took precedence over the selections. In France, but also in Italy, with Naples. A country where racist cries multiply in the stadiums. The African selections expecting players playing in Europe will undoubtedly suffer from this squabble between the Old Continent and Africa. Some of the best African selections, such as Egypt, Algeria and Senegal, have not been able to establish a training camp in preparation for a CAN which promises to be terrible. And which shows once again that Africa is a playground for FIFA, which considers the continent as a second-class region.

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