The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is “increasingly likely” to be moved back to 2022 due to the ongoing repercussions of coronavirus.
After its first appearance in the summer months in 2019, with Egypt acting as hosts, the next edition was to return to the winter due to the ‘unfavourable’ weather in host country Cameroon.
It is the country’s rainy season and the move to January and February 2021 was to once again clash with the European football season.
It would have left Liverpool without the services of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita, should Egypt, Senegal and Guinea qualify.
Jurgen Klopp has made his stance on the matter clear in preceding years, with both the timing and the increasing demand on international players.
Having said: “When we signed Mo Salah, I was already thinking, ‘Oh my God, in one-and-a-half years we lose both [Salah and Mane] in the winter’,” before it switched back and he labelled it a “catastrophe.”
While it is still likely to take place in the winter months, the pandemic is set to force the competition to move back a year to 2022 – meaning it will not disrupt the 2020/21 Premier League season.
“It looks increasingly likely that it’s going to be moved to a different date,” Simon Hughes said on the Atheltic‘s ‘The Red Agenda’ when discussing the Reds moving on from Timo Werner.
With four rounds of qualification still to play, allocating a time to safely play all fixtures may no longer be possible, with international football still under a cloud of uncertainty.
The 2022 World Cup will have an influence on the final dates as to not disrupt the preparation for teams in Africa, with the tournament set to take place from November 21 to December 18.
However, as aforementioned, it will all be dependent on the long-term repercussions of the pandemic as each country faces different government decisions.
AFCON being delayed would ensure Klopp is able to call upon Salah, Mane and Keita throughout the crucial months of January and February for what should be Liverpool’s title defence.
And as Hughes alluded to, it could have played into the decision-making process in this summer’s transfer window as the Reds may no longer need to immediately find solutions to cater for Salah and Mane’s, potentially, six-week absence.
It would provide a major boost for the Reds who, like all clubs, have had preparations for next season take an unexpected turn due to the pandemic.