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Winter Africa Cup of Nations a 'catastrophe' says Liverpool boss Klopp

Richie McCormack
Richie McCormack

04:42 17 Jan 2020

"Do you really want to open this book now?" - a year away from potentially losing three key players mid-season to the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has called the scheduling of the tournament a "catastrophe". 

Earlier this week, it was decided that the 2021 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations - originally scheduled for that summer in Cameroon - will be played between January 9 and February 6.

For Klopp, it means potentially losing Sadio Mané (Senegal), Mo Salah (Egypt) and Naby Keita (Guinea) for a month or more in the middle of the Premier League season.

While the Liverpool boss admitted he respects the tournament and has been a keen viewer in the past, he has one clear issue, "It's an obvious problem that you play a tournament in the middle of the season, it makes more sense for Africa to play it in winter when the weather is better for them."

The official line on the AFCON move was indeed avoiding a rainy season in Cameroon next summer, but Klopp believes there were ulterior motives at play, "A couple of things which are not ok - one thing is FIFA plans a tournament in the summer of 2021, a week later the Africa Cup of Nations would have started - another tournament for a lot of world-class players.

"I mentioned that in the past, I'm not sure if that was part of the decision [to move AFCON 2021].

Liverpool go into this weekend's meeting with Manchester United 14-points clear at the top of the Premier League table, but at the same time next year could find themselves shorn of three influential players - one of which was recently crowned African Player of the Year.

As far as Klopp is concerned, the tournament move means managers across Europe will be less likely to buy an African player in the summer, "It doesn't help African players. We will not sell Sadio [Mané] or Naby [Keita] now because they have a tournament now in January or February - of course not.

"But if you have to make a decision about bringing in a player, it's a massive one because for four-weeks around about you don't have him. So as a club we have to think about these things."

The kernel of Klopp's gripe is player welfare, and the German feels the constant adding of fixtures to the season has a terrible impact on their fitness, "These decisions are made without asking players, without asking managers, without asking anybody - it's just a decision."

The lack of co-ordination in fixture planning is a constant burr in Klopp's heel, and he's gone so far as to suggest he'd take a pay cut if it meant lightening the players' load, "FIFA who should sort all of that as the head of all of these different associations doesn't look like being involved. They're still happy having their [24]-team World Cup, offering a lot of money for all the clubs are involved."

"It means the clubs are like, "maybe we can play it - ask the managers, they would say 'no' but yes we get paid off this money", it's a strange situation.

"I know the discussions will start that we ask for lesser games then everyone will tell us take lesser money, so yeah I'm ready to do so."

Tottenham striker Harry Kane is in danger of missing Euro 2020 due to a hamstring injury, and Klopp feels that may influence the English perception of fixture congestion, "We forget that these tournaments are played by players - they don't have a break!"

"Always something has to happen that we start really thinking about it.

"So now we send all of these guys again in the winter, in the middle of a season, to a tournament in different circumstances - it's a bit difficult to take.

"About the welfare of the players, nobody thinks"

Klopp says FIFA, UEFA and all national associations have a duty to prevent such fixture clashes in the future, adding, "For us, it's a catastrophe losing three players.

"On top of that we have absolutely no power.

"So if we would say, 'we don't let him go, the player's suspended' - how is it possible that a company that pays the player cannot decide that the player has to stay or not?

"I speak here about it, and nobody will listen."

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