Club World Cup: Togo Coach Claude le Roy Says Tournament Revamp “Killing” AFCON

Togo coach Claude le Roy has criticised FIFA’s decision to play the 2021 Club World Cup in June and July telling the BBC that the move could “kill” the Africa Cup of Nations.

World football governing body FIFA recently announced an overhauling of the club world cup which will be hosted in China.

The expanded 24-nation tournament’s new timing could pose problems for Africa’s showpiece footballing event with the next AFCON finals due to be staged in June and July in Cameroon.

“It’s terrible for the projection of this beautiful competition – the Nations Cup,” said Le Roy.

Speaking to BBC Sport Africa, the Frenchman – who has coached at a record nine Afcon finals, winning the tournament with Cameroon in 1988 – added: “Fifa’s decision that June is a good time to host the Club World Cup means they are killing the Nations Cup.”

Having moved the Nations Cup to odd-numbered years and from its traditional January-February slot to June-July – primarily to avoid repeated club-versus-country rows, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) now appears set for a repeat of the same problems with the new shift in the format of the Club World Cup.

The revamped Club World Cup could see eight clubs from Europe, as well as three from Africa, line up for the 2021 edition if European sides accede to the changes.

While the final format is still to be decided, reports suggest the European teams could feature the winners of both the Champions League and Europa League from 2018 to 2021.

Meanwhile, the three African teams are set to come from both the finalists of the African Champions League, as well as the winners of a play-off between the losing semi-finalists.

With these varying sides likely to feature many African internationals, Nations Cup club-versus-country battles are set to return.

A Fifa Task Force report into the newly revised Club World Cup mentioned moving the 2021 Nations Cup kick off to July – namely, after the former has ended.

But this move would bring its own problems, because players involved in the Nations Cup contingent would then miss their clubs’ crucial pre-season preparations, which intensify that month before the start of many European domestic leagues in August.

“If you move the Nations Cup to July, it’s worse than before [when played in January-February] for the clubs,” said Le Roy.

“The players will miss the pre-season preparations with their clubs and this part of the season is the most important for the players because of the new season.”

“If we transfer a little bit later in July, not one player will be coming back for the pre-season preparations and they will rest for 1-2 weeks and begin the season later than the whole players.”

Meanwhile, other stakeholders in African football share concerns.

“It’s not a good time to play the Club World Cup,” Khaled Mortagy, a board member with Africa’s record club champions Al Ahly of Egypt, told BBC Sport Africa.

“Even from a marketing perspective, they have to co-ordinate big tournaments with all associations in order to maximise profit.”

Fifa’s role in the timing has also been questioned by Le Roy who criticised the gap “between the speeches of [FIFA president Gianni] Infantino explaining that Fifa is here to help Africa and the reality off the field’

In August, Fifa sent its own Secretary General – Fatma Samoura of Senegal – to take up an unprecedented ‘General Delegate’ for Africa role in a bid to improve Caf’s governance.

“Since Africa is under the supervision of Fifa, do you think that Africa can have a real impact in decisions of world football?” asked Le Roy, who has led Congo, DR Congo, Ghana, and Senegal as well as Togo to Nations Cups.

“I love football more and more as a game but I hate more and more the world of football.”

Last week, Fifa confirmed that the 2021 Club World Cup will take place in China.

The 2019 and 2020 editions will remain as annual seven-club tournaments, featuring the various continental champions as well as the local one from host nation Qatar.