Okocha calls for considerate scheduling of AFCON to suit Europe-based players

Nigeria legend Augustine Jay-Jay Okocha is advocating for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to be scheduled in a way that doesn’t affect players who are based in Europe.

The 50-year-old criticised the timing of the upcoming AFCON, which will take place from January 13 to February 11, 2024, when the European season is still in session.

The timing of the tournament means several players would have to take leave from the European clubs and could be away for one month, should their countries reach the semi-finals.

‘It’s not fair’

Okocha, who won the AFCON in 1994 with Nigeria, believes the tournament could be scheduled better to ensure African players don’t have to miss any club commitments midway through the season.

“They've made it so difficult for African players by playing in January or starting the season and winter break very, very early,” the former Bolton Wanderers star told the BBC World Service.

“If they can move the World Cup to December because of the heat to suit the nations that are participating, why can't they do something about the Nations Cup, and work together so that it will not affect anybody?

“I know a lot of coaches that refuse to sign African players because of the January (Afcon) window, but they will sign Brazilians who go to play in the Copa America in the summer. It's not fair.”

Club vs country dilemma

The 2023 AFCON will see some of Africa’s biggest stars representing their countries, including Mohamed Salah, Victor Osimhen, Sadio Mane, Mohammed Kudus and Achraf Hakimi.

However, the usual club vs country dilemma has reared its head once again, with some clubs reluctant to release their players while others have opted to delay their departures for as long as possible.

Italian side AC Milan are reportedly in talks with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) and Algerian Football Federation (AFA) to delay the release of Samuel Chukwueze and Ismael Bennacer, respectively, for the AFCON.

West Ham United are also holding on to Kudus, whom the club wants to feature in their Premier League game against Brighton & Hove Albion on January 2 before joining Ghana’s camp.

There also appears to be disagreement in opinions between Ghana coach Chris Hughton and Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi, with the latter unhappy with the former’s decision to name the injured Tariq Lamptey in the provisional Black Stars squad for the AFCON.

Avatar photo
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is an African sports writer, with bylines on DW, Al Jazeera, World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.