The most consistent interruption to the soccer season might finally be changing to a more convenient date, as the Africa Cup of Nations is reportedly set to move from January and February to June and July.
The Cup of Nations, a biannual event for over 50 years, has particularly frustrated European teams as soccer has become more globalized. With the Cup being played right in the heart of the European seasons—unlike other international competitions, which take place in the offseason—teams can lose any African internationals on their roster for crucial games. If players are wanted by their home nations, the team is under obligation by FIFA to release them for the month of the tournament.
The 2017 tournament probably damaged Liverpool more than any other club. Center back Joel Matip was forced to miss two games when he refused a call-up from Cameroon, while Sadio Mané—in the midst of a breakout season—had to leave the team and go play for Senegal through the quarter-finals.
Mané’s situation actually shows how the Cup’s current scheduling hurts players as much as it does teams. By being drawn away from their clubs every other year, African internationals become less valuable and coveted by the biggest European sides, and they have fewer opportunities to make their mark or establish a place in the starting lineup. Add that to the fact that nobody cares about international soccer while the best teams in Europe are playing, and it’s a lose-lose-lose outcome.
According to the BBC, the change in schedule is all but guaranteed, along with an expansion from 16 to 24 teams. The main drawback of playing in the (Northern Hemisphere’s) summer will be that players will have been exhausted by their domestic seasons, and the level of competition might suffer. But of more benefit to the African federations is the increased exposure that can come from occasionally being one of the few sources competitive soccer during the summer, rather than a minor curiosity while much more publicized matches happen. With the revenue that will come from more games, more teams, a larger spotlight, and a schedule that doesn’t interfere with the biggest games, the Cup of Nations’ growth could benefit everyone involved.