Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has urged football’s governing bodies to ease the burden on the sport’s top players, calling the decision to switch the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations to January and February a “catastrophe”.
The European champions face losing African player of the year Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita for a significant spell next season after the AFCON, which will be hosted in Cameroon, was switched back to its former slot in the calendar.
The tournament was moved to June and July for last year’s 24-team edition in Egypt, in large part to avoid clashing with the European club season.
However, the competition, won by Algeria, was played in the searing heat of the north African summer. The same period coincides with the rainy season in Cameroon.
Klopp said he understood the arguments for changing the schedule due to the tough conditions but criticised FIFA’s new 24-team Club World Cup, which Liverpool will be invited to after winning last season’s Champions League, in June and July of 2021 as further clogging up the calendar.
“The first thing is that FIFA plans a tournament in the summer of 2021. A week later the AFCON would have started I think. Another tournament for a lot of world-class players,” said Klopp, who has been a persistent critic of fixture congestion.
“These decisions are made without asking players, managers, without asking anybody.
“FIFA, who should sort all of that as the head of these different associations, doesn’t look like being involved. They are still happy having their 2021 Club World Cup and offering a lot of money for all the clubs involved.
“All of that leads to the AFCON going back to January and February, which is for us a catastrophe in that moment losing three players.”
Klopp, speaking at the club’s training ground on Friday, added that while the rearranged timing of the AFCON would not affect the futures of the African players already at the club, it could put him off signing more in the future.
“It doesn’t help African players,” he said.
“We will not sell Sadio, Mo or Naby now because they have an extra tournament in January and February, but if you have to make a decision to bring in a player, it is a massive one because you know before the season for four weeks round about you no longer have him.”
The German even indicated he would be willing to take a pay cut if it meant more protection for his players from burnout.
“I know the discussions will start in the moment we ask for fewer games, everybody will tell us ‘take lesser money’, so I’m ready to do so,” added Klopp.
“FIFA, UEFA and FAs (football associations) of all countries have to come together and finally sort that (out).”