Afcon date change sparks club vs country row – Black Stars legend Sam Johnson


The former Fenerbahce man speaks on the continental showpiece being moved from June/July to January/February

Former Ghana international Sam Johnson believes the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations will be negatively affected by Caf’s decision to move the tournament date from June/July back to January/February.

After changing the date from January/February to June/July ahead of the 2019 championship to avoid the perennial clashes between nations and clubs over player availability, the continental football’s governing body says it has been forced to revert to the old date for the next tournament to avoid the rainy season in Cameroon.

In the summer date of June/July, clubs are likely to be in the off-season and are more willing to release players for national duty. In January/February, clubs are mostly reluctant as their leagues are expected to be in top gear at the time.

“We all want the players to come and play for the national team but at the end of the day, it will depend on their situations in their clubs,” former Fenerbahce man Johnson, who played at four Afcon tournaments between 1994 to 2000, told Goal.

“If a player is not a key man in his club, then he can easily come for Afcon where he could even take the chance to sell himself to other clubs. But if you’re a key man and your club are struggling, then it might be difficult to leave for Afcon.

“If Liverpool are doing well like they are doing now, it might be easy for [Sadio] Mane and [Mohamed] Salah to leave for Afcon.

“But for somebody like [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, looking at how Arsenal are struggling, it might be difficult for him. And if he goes and gets injured, it’s going to be another blow altogether.

“The player’s clubs’ situations will play a big part of the decisions.

“The tournament is going to be affected. It has been happening for a long time.”

The 2021 tournament will run between January 9 and February 6. Algeria will be hoping to defend their title won in Egypt last year.

“It (deciding between club and country) was always an issue but because they (European clubs) know that their players would be leaving in January, sometimes they try to get replacements for first-team players who would be leaving during that one month,” Johnson added.

“The most painful thing for the European clubs is when you come back from Afcon with an injury. That has always been a challenge even in our days.

“Sometimes they don’t want their players to go for the tournament and some players fake injuries and return to action after a week when the tournament has started.

“Sometimes, the club will sit down with you and beg you. Sometimes, you go for the national duty and lose your position in the club.

“In our days, I got injured while playing for Ghana, nobody cared about me. So I could have subsequently easily chosen my club over the country.

“I will choose my club over my country because they took care of me, gave me money to build my house and other things. Do you want me to choose my country ahead of them?

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“We always have to be proud representing our nations so sometimes we risk ourselves to come and play for the nation but things are not always supposed to be like that [when you play at your own risk]. I played at four Afcons, the first while still playing club football in Ghana and the other three while I was in Europe.

“I never played at Afcon without full focus. If I felt I couldn’t give me all because of the situation, I wouldn’t have answered the call-up at all. Once I show up, I give 101 per cent and don’t think about what’s going on at my club.”

In 2006, Ghanaians accused Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien of faking an injury to release himself from Ghana’s team for Afcon in Egypt.


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