Jurgen Klopp welcomes AFCON delay as “Africa’s three best players” stay in Liverpool

With the Africa Cup of Nations postponed until 2022, Jurgen Klopp has embraced the decision, as a January kickoff would have deprived Liverpool of three key players.

The tournament was initially scheduled for the start of next year, running for a month from the second week of January to the first week of February.

This would have been hugely detrimental to Liverpool as it would have seen Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita all depart for duty for an extended period in their title defence.

Now, the AFCON has been pushed back a year, and while it will still pose a problem for the Reds midway through the 2021/22 campaign, the issue has at least been delayed.

Reflecting on the postponement, Klopp said that while he was uncomfortable with the reasons for the delay—with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the Confederation of African Football’s hand—he acknowledged that it is “good” for his side.

“It’s difficult and it will be difficult. We have so little information on how we will go on, we know when the season will end but no clue when the new season will start,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“Some decisions if you have to plan them long beforehand then you have to make them now. I really like it that AFCON is postponed but I don’t like the reasons for it.

“Obviously, it means that the African continent feels it is not possible to have the tournament there, which I don’t like.

“But from the planning point of view it makes sense, and for us, it helps that we don’t have to consider this tournament in this moment.

“All these tournaments, especially when they are in the middle of the season, are not cool for any planning and we have three of the best, if not the best, African players in our squad and they would be there for a long time.

“They don’t just play in the group stage and go home, so they will be there a long time and maybe go to the final and so for us it’s good, but it’s not a decision to celebrate.”

Salah and Mane celebrate. (Mike Egerton/PA Wire/PA Images)

Losing Salah and Mane in particular would have been a crippling blow for Liverpool as they aim to make it two consecutive Premier League wins, with the pair contributing 32 of the 70 goals scored in this title-winning campaign.

With the Reds having opted out of a deal to sign Timo Werner, the importance of keeping the wingers fit and firing throughout the entire season has been magnified.

Previous issues with Keita’s time with the Guinea national team will make this a bigger boost for Klopp, too, with the midfielder often looking to pick up speed with his club only to be hampered by injury.

This could have a real impact on the club’s plans for the upcoming transfer window, with there being a less immediate need to strengthen in midfield and attack.