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FEATURED - Africa Cup 2019 - Date switch makes African players more attractive

African players will be "more attractive" to European clubs now the Africa Cup of Nations will take place in the summer, say leading agents.

The tournament, held every two years, is being moved to June and July from January and February.

Previously, Premier League clubs were among those who faced losing players mid-season for several weeks.

"It'll make my job easier as an agent.

Clubs use it as an excuse not to sign African players," said Papa Agyemang.

Changes to the competition, which will increase from 16 to 24 teams, were approved by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) at a conference in Morocco.

Players have previously been caught between duty for their national team and clubs that employ them.

"They will become more attractive because teams won't be thinking about losing them every two years," said Agyemang.

Saif Rubie, another agent who specialises in brokering deals for African players, said the tournament's timing had a bearing on transfer deals.

"Some clubs 100% told me they would not bring in a player if they were tied to the Cup of Nations. 

Now it will mean they don't have that concern," said Rubie, who is also the agent of former Chelsea and Ghana coach Avram Grant.

"The flip side is they will be playing in the summer, so could be late for the start of the season though it's better to have a player missing part of August than most of January and February.

"I believe it will mean a player has more of a chance of being signed as opposed to under the old schedule."

 


Cup of Nations case study - Sadio Mane

Liverpool were so keen for Sadio Mane to return from this year's Africa Cup of Nations they arranged for a private jet to fly the Senegal striker back.

Mane was away for four weeks before he missed the crucial spot-kick as Senegal lost to eventual champions Cameroon on penalties in the quarter-finals.

Liverpool won only one game from eight while he was away on international duty following a 2-2 draw at Sunderland on 2 January.

They were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Mane's former club Southampton, then eliminated from the FA Cup by Championship side Wolves.

The scheduling switch has been welcomed by Reds boss Jurgen Klopp, particularly after the club signed Egypt winger Mohamed Salah from Rome in a £34m deal this summer.

"It's fantastic. When we signed Mo Salah, I was already thinking 'Oh my God in one-and-a-half years we lose both in the winter', but that's not happening now so that gives us two more players in winter time. 

That's very good," said Klopp on Friday during the club's pre-season tour in Hong Kong.


Liverpool had a 63% win rate in the Premier League last season when Sadio Mane played, but only 45% when he was not in the team (Source: Opta)

 

'Value to the team will be greater'

Last season, 23 Premier League players were called up by their countries for the competition.

"African players are becoming more and more influential and that stage of the season is crucial," said Agyemang, who represents several African footballers in Europe.

"The better players are generally gone for longer and if they can't replace those players, it has been difficult for clubs.

"I'm not sure moving the tournament means their transfer values will go up or down but they won't be missed for vital periods. 

Their value to the team will be greater.

"Players are going away in the middle of the season and some of them are tired. 

The Africa Cup of Nations is a tough, tough tournament. 

I think players will welcome this.

"Copa America is held during the summer months. 

You have to move with the times."


'Pressure behind closed doors'

Former Cameroon goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell believes the switch is not being made to satisfy European clubs, but makes sense.

"It is good for our players, our people and the game," he told BBC World Service.

"You cannot keep saying players should come to play for their home team while they are being paid by somebody else."

AFC Wimbledon's Ghana striker Kwesi Appiah said the current scheduling placed some players in a difficult position.

"I never would have had that problem myself, but you probably do get some players who pull out because they don't want to leave or upset their club. 

They don't want to lose their place in the team," he said.

"No manager would come out openly and say I don't want my player to play in this tournament but I'm sure there is some pressure behind closed doors."


 

23 Jul 2017
(BBC Sport by Frank Keogh)

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