Napoli's President suggested he won't sign African players unless they opt out of the African Cup of Nations, a likely soon-to-be non-problem.

Senegal’s Men’s Association Football team manager, Aliou Cissé (SEN, 46) -who has a player in the French Ligue 1 and the English Premiership, has challenged Napoli’s owner and president Aurelio de Laurentis, to not hire African players, after remarks from him that he would not hire African players unless they would opt to skip the continental tournament.

Unlike other continental confederations, which have their regional Association Football Men’s tournament every four years, Africa’s CAF has its flagship tournament, the African Cup of Nations, every two years.

What makes it even more conflictive with European football is that the tournament has been held in January-February, which conflicts with the middle of the season of European football, where often the majority of players are employed.

Napoli has three African players in its roster and is concerned about losing key elements for six weeks when fighting for a UEFA Champions League spot, which is worth millions of Euros. An understandable concern.

There is apparently one straightforward solution: to move the Cup to the northern hemisphere’s summer when other continents also hold their regional tournaments. It is not as easy, however, because, for a great part of the African continent, summer is a time of the year with heavy rain, which could complicate hosting the tournament during those dates.

CAF had originally planned to change the date and hold the 2023 African Nations Cup during summer but the rains in Côte d’Ivoire forced the confederation to push the tournament to the following January-February. The plan, however, is to hold the next editions in the northern hemisphere’s summer, starting with Guinea 2025.

It is CAF’s intention to keep the dates at that time, as Secretary-General Veron Mosengo-Om remarked that the continent has different rain patterns throughout the year.

This is a good solution. There is another tournament that can take place every two years in January-February, the African Nations Championship, which is a tournament that only utilizes players in the domestic league.

Considering the future, the declarations by Napoli’s President are regrettable and not a smart business decision. It looks like there is just one more tournament that will conflict with the European schedule. One they can cope with as they have before. 

Regardless, this is a reason why international institutionalization is needed for sports. In this case, FIFA can force European teams to cede their players for continental competitions, which is good for the game around the world and should be the right of each player.

Cissé said: “Clubs will never be above our flag and our national teams. And every Senegalese who plays in Europe, wherever he will be, if he is competent I will call him to defend the colours of the nation.” (BBC) For many players, the highlight of their careers is playing for their national teams. These tournaments mean more to more people and should be supported. Meanwhile, imagining European football without African players would be very hard to fathom today, as some of the best talents come from that continent.