Libreville (AFP) - Cameroon coach Hugo Broos on Friday called for the Africa Cup of Nations to be moved to a different time of year and said pressure from European clubs was to blame for the host of withdrawals from his squad.
The Indomitable Lions have won the tournament four times but come into this year's Cup of Nations -- which begins in Gabon on Saturday -- with arguably their weakest ever squad.
That is after several leading players, notably Liverpool defender Joel Matip and Schalke striker Eric Choupo-Moting, rejected call-ups from the Belgian coach to focus on their club careers.
"Times are changing. Before, certain players were happy to come and play for Cameroon," said Broos at a press conference ahead of his team's Group A opener against Burkina Faso in Libreville on Saturday.
"Now some clubs put pressure on their players. Those who are coming to the ends of their contracts prefer to stay in Europe in order to negotiate better deals.
"I think the Cup of Nations needs to be played at a different time of the year. It doesn't come around at a good time," added an irritated Broos, irked by a late start to his meeting with the media in the Gabonese capital.
Certainly, between the January transfer window possibly turning heads and UEFA Champions League knockout ties lying just around the corner, many leading African players often have other worries than playing for their countries.
"There are players missing who could have raised the level of the team. It is their decision and their responsibility," said the Belgian.
He was particularly disappointed not to be able to call on Choupo-Moting, a strapping 27-year-old forward who was born in Germany and has spent his entire playing career there.
"He announced that he was pulling out two days before the get-together. What are his real reasons? Is it to do with the captaincy?
"If that is a reason to not come and play for your country I find that a bit sad," added Broos, who has handed the armband to the Lorient striker Benjamin Moukandjo.
Faced with such a difficult situation, Broos, 64, has opted to lower the average age of his squad with the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign in the back of his mind.
"The team has been rejuvenated. We have a World Cup coming up in two years and we need to prepare for the future."
One example of Broos's policy has been the emergence of Fabrice Ondoa, 21, as first-choice goalkeeper ahead of the experienced Carlos Kameni, despite Ondoa being unable to get a game for Sevilla's reserve side in the Spanish second tier.
"Even though Ondoa is not playing (for his club), he is still performing well for his country. I have no reason to change things."