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Editor's Blog

AFCON – Two Little, Two Soon

Well, that’s another African Cup of Nations done and dusted, the 30th to be exact, though the Ivory Coast will only be able to bask in their glory for two years because, in 2017, Africa will do battle again.

I know that I’m not the only one that thinks that the AFCON takes place too regularly. I understand that a two-year cycle for Africa’s premier competition does have its advantages, however personally I think that the cons far outweigh the pros.

My argument on behalf of a four-year cycle is based around money, player well being and the quality on show, and how, in my opinion, the regularity of the tournament dilutes the success of the winners.

It's costing the nations...

Every two years Africa’s best 16 teams lock horns and battle it out for the chance to become the kings of African football, they do it because they’re proud of their country and because they want to be recognised as their continent’s elite.

One thing they don’t do it for, however, is the money. CAF hand out $10 million in prize money throughout the tournament, with the winner taking home a measly $1.5m.

Yes, $1.5m may seem a lot to people like you and me, but given that qualification for the tournament itself takes months of travelling as well as including huge accommodation and health care costs, plenty of the nations involved may struggle to break even at the end of it all.

The teams that finish bottom of the group in the group stages go home with $400,000 in their back pockets, that will barely cover expenses. My good friend, Gary Al-Smith, reported today that the Ghanaian FA spent around $5.3m on the AFCON. I rest my case.

I know that people will say that it should be about pride and not about money, but I’m not talking about player bonuses here. I’m talking about the associations, the associations that have to dip into their own coffers every two years for the AFCON as well as every four for the World Cup. That prize money could come in handy.

To put that $1.5m into perspective, here is the prize money for some of the winners of the other continental tournaments around the world:

European Championship – Spain, 2012 - $27m
Copa America – Uruguay, 2011 - $7m
Asian Cup – Top three teams share $10m - $3.3m each

Simply put, I’m not sure that the money that comes in from partaking in the AFCON every two years is enough. I’m pretty sure CAF have the capacity to increase the prize money (they just fined Morocco $9m), but I’m certain that if they move to tournament to every four years, they can definitely double the prize money and halve the costs for those taking part.

The AFCON can help provide a footballing infrastructure to countries without one in terms of stadia, but will that help them long-term in developing youth and giving players the opportunity to be as good as they can be?

Club vs Country wont go away...

Onto my second point, the well being of the players involved. How many club v country rows have we had over the past few years? Diafra Sakho’s situation this year is just another to add to the ever-growing list.

I know the old ‘country should come before club’ argument, but put yourself in the player’s boots for five minutes. Does your national team pay your wages? Or is it your club that puts food on your table and gives you the ability to give your family the life you want them to have?

The timing of the AFCON (mid-season in Europe) is already a problem, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue if players only left once every four years. As much as some will say that Africa doesn’t need their players playing in Europe, the fact of the matter is that the players want to play at the highest level, and to do that they have to be playing in Europe’s elite leagues.

I worry a day will come, if it hasn’t already arrived, where European clubs opt for a less talented player over a highly-skilled African one because they know that they don’t run the risk of losing him for two months once every two years.

If you were a head coach and had a choice of signing a player who was fit all year, every year or a player who picked up a six-week injury every other year, which would you choose?

The players, for the most part, want to play for their countries. They want to pull on the jersey of their national team and do their friends and family proud. However they’re being forced to choose country over club on a regular basis and it’s making it difficult for some players who deserve to be in Europe to be given a chance there.

I understand that the AFCON provides a huge shop window for players wishing to make an impact and attract the attention of big clubs in big leagues, but at the same time it’s regularity is proving to be a barrier.

Teams like Manchester City have enough quality that they can afford to lose a Yaya Toure for a few weeks (well, sort of), and likewise with Marseille and Andre Ayew. However if you take an Andile Jali away from KV Oostende then it could critically effect their and/or his season.

Help them help all of us

Finally, in terms of the general quality on show, would it not be better for CAF to focus on putting more money and more time into the African Champions League and Confederation Cup?

CAF has the same prize money system for the CCL as it does for the AFCON, with $1.5m going to the winner (this is odd on it’s own), while the CCC winner gets less than half of that.

Creating a four-year cycle for the AFCON would allow CAF to push more money into their continental club competitions, giving the clubs more income and allowing them to develop better teams for themselves and, in the long run, their national teams.

Personally I don’t think that the CCL and CCC get nearly enough attention from CAF, and for that reason is only reaching a small percentage of it’s potential. Give it more credence at it will develop, improve and consequently benefit the overall quality of African football as a whole.

Finally, and from a more sentimental point of view, I think that it’s sad that the winner of the AFCON only gets to keep hold of the trophy for two years. The AFCON is one of only two continental tournaments on a two-year cycle (CONCACAF’s Gold Cup is the other), and I’d like to see the winners enjoy their success for a little bit longer.

I enjoy African football a lot, and I love seeing its stars align against each other at the AFCON, but I just think that the benefits of this continent’s showpiece are too little, and that new winners are crowned too soon. 

Agree? Disagree? Tell me on Twitter: @YesWeCrann

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