KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Europe’s top clubs will be thrilled – as is Gianni Infantino – by the seasonal scheduling changes being introduced from 2019 by the African football confederation.
Recommendations from a brain-storming two-day session in Rabat, Morocco, among delegates from the African national associations were endorsed by the executive committee.
The changes will see club competition date switches but, above all, the staging of the African Nations Cup in June and July rather than the current January/February slot which, every two years, prompts club v country wars between African FAs and European clubs.
It will also be expanded from 16 to 24 teams‚ mimicking the extension of the European Championship and the World Cup, so as to increase broadcasting and marketing revenue.
This will probably mean cohosting becoming the norm because very few African countries can manage to stage the entire tournament alone as it is.
Ahmad, the Madagascar businessman and former government minister who ousted long-serving Issa Hayatou as CAF president earlier this year, is taking the credit for bringing about the programming revolution.
FIFA president Infantino, widely considered to have been a significant and controversial influence in Ahmad’s accession, has made no secret of his support for change.
During Tuesday’s session of the conference the world football federation leader told delegates: “This could be a crucial day for African football.
“It could mark a real change. All the stakeholders interested in this beautiful game in the future have to work to develop African football and bring it to where it belongs‚ at the top of world football.
“Africa has long been seen as the future of world football and 30 years after Cameroon made a first impact at the 1982 World Cup‚ it has a chance now to realise that confidence. This symposium sends out a message that you want to go forward and to progress.”
One of the reasons Hayatou had resisted changing the Nations Cup, which will also be expanded from 16 to 24 teams but retain its two-year staging, was an expressed desire that African football should not be seen as bending to the will of big-money European club football.
However more and more African nations have realised that they were the ones suffering most from the regular struggle to obtain the release of players. The issue reached a head before this year’s finals when 10 senior Cameroon players refused, for one reason or another, to make themselves available.
Ironically Cameroon went on to the win the Cup and qualify to contest the recent high-profile FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
Club cup changes
Other schedule changes will see the African Champions League and African Confederation Cup running from August to May, in line with the major European competitions. Both involve initial preliminary rounds followed by the group phase and then the knockout quarter-finals‚ semi-finals and finals.
This will suit the more powerful African nations since this year’s expansion of the number of clubs in the group phase of Champions League and Confederation Cup – from eight to 16 – has forced the top teams to play group matches between May and July when they would prefer to be preparing for their new domestic seasons.
Ahead of the debate Ahmad said: “We can’t get away from it. We have had a lot of suggestions. Africa has its particularities‚ like the great distances our clubs have to travel. Clubs having to travel via Europe to play games is folly. We need solutions.”