Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira has highlighted the importance of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, backing players, including Ghana’s Jordan Ayew and Senegal attacker Sadio Mane to play at the upcoming championship in Cameroon.
Only 16 days until the start of the January 9 – February 6 gathering, the continental showpiece has become a major topic of discussions over player availability, amid calls from European clubs for a postponement or total cancellation.
Palace are set to lose not only Ayew but Senegal ace Cheikhou Kouyate, Liverpool will have to do without Egypt sensation Mohamed Salah and Guinea midfielder Naby Keita in addition to Mane, while a host of other Premier League clubs will be without other key men.
“I respect and I understand the passion and importance of those players to go and represent their country. I will never stop any players going to the Africa Cup of Nations,” Vieira, who was born in Senegal before relocating to France as a child, said at a press conference on Friday.
“I believe that competition has to be more respected because this competition is as important as the European Championship.
“With Senegal, I don’t think people understand [Sadio] Mane or Cheikhou Kouyate not representing their nation.
“If there was more coverage people will understand how important it is for the African continent.”
Amid the clamour, chiefly led by English clubs, for alteration to the upcoming gathering, the European Clubs Association (ECA) recently threatened not to allow players leave for Afcon, highlighting three major concerns in relation to health and safety concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic and the upsurge of the Omicron variant.
“Against this background, please note that, at its meeting of December 2021, the ECA Executive Board unanimously re-confirmed its position that the three principles referred to above must be strictly respected and, should this not be the case, that players not be released for national team duty,” read a part of ECA’s letter.
“At present, these three principles are at risk of not being respected in connection with the upcoming January releases.
“With regards to applicable protocols, as far as we are aware, Caf has not yet made available a suitable medical and operational protocol for the Afcon tournament, in the absence of which clubs will not be able to release players for the tournament.”
Caf has maintained the tournament will go on as planned, with players expected to honour call-ups to the gathering.