Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, has said the 'catastrophic' rescheduling of the African Cup of Nations will deter major clubs from targeting players from the continent in future as they know they will lose them in mid-season.
The 2021 tournament has been moved to January having been originally been arranged for the following summer. It means Liverpool could lose Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Naby Keïta for at least a month during a busy part of next season.
Klopp has often spoken out on the demands on players – he says Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane’s hamstring injury is due to the punishing schedule – so he is not impressed by the latest intervention by football’s administrators.
"I couldn't respect the African Cup of Nations more than I do because I like the competition," he said. “I watched it a lot in the past in my life – a very interesting tournament, sensational players. It's not the last time you see the players as they turn up in Europe, they turn up everywhere.
"But it is an obvious problem that you play a tournament in the middle of the season. Although it makes more sense for Africa to play it in our winter when the weather is better for them – I get that – a couple of things are not okay. One thing is Fifa plans a [club World Cup] tournament in the summer of 2021. A week later the actual African Cup of Nations would have started – another tournament for a lot of world-class players. I am not sure if that was part of the decision when they thought, 'Okay, it makes no sense to play it after that tournament, it makes sense to play it in the winter'. It’s still too many tournaments.
"The other thing is it doesn't help African players. We will not sell Sadio, Mo or Naby now because they have a tournament in January and February – of course not – but if you have to make a decision about bringing in a player it is a massive one because before the season you know for four weeks you don't have them. The African Cup of Nations going back to January is, for us, a catastrophe. On top of that we have absolutely no power so if we did say, 'we don't let him go', the player is suspended. How is that possible that the company who pays the player cannot decide that the player has to stay or not?”
Klopp criticised the FA, Premier League and English Football League for their inability to agree a suitable domestic calendar over Christmas, and has often criticised Uefa and Fifa for continuously adding fixtures. He says the recent rise in muscle injuries to high-profile players proves his point.
"I feel massively for Harry Kane, I now hear he may not be in the Euros," said Klopp. "For the first time some English people in the FA may think, 'oh, too many games maybe?'. Something has to happen for them to really start thinking about it. The welfare of the players no-one thinks about. These are really important things.
"Fifa, Uefa, FAs of all countries have to come together and finally sort that. At this moment Fifa decide things without talking to Uefa, Uefa decide things without talking to Fifa making the Champions League bigger and then no-one talks to each other. It is a little bit like in England when the FA says after the fourth or fifth round we are not having a replay and the Carabao Cup says, 'as long as they have the replays we don't cancel the second semi-final'. Ask one of the teams involved in the semi-final what they think about the second semi-finals being another game in that period.
"Everyone has their own reasons to keep the competition as it is and involve new competitions or more games. That's the problem. In the end it leads to a little problem. But I speak here about it and no-one will listen. It is like the biggest waste of time ever. The moaner from Liverpool or whatever is again on track. As long as nothing changes I will say it all the time. It is because it is about the players, not one second about me. There are so many things to sort but all these guys never find time to sit around one table and make a general schedule. All these different games to play and no break for the players."