Premier League clubs to lose star players after AFCON 2021 switched back to January

The tournament, which is being hosted by Cameroon, will now revert to its traditional slot, impacting on domestic leagues across Europe

Premier League clubs, including title-chasing Liverpool, face being without their African players for up to six weeks next season after it was confirmed the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations is to revert to its usual January slot.

The tournament, to be held in Cameroon, was initially scheduled for the summer but that falls during the country’s rainy season.

Following talks between Confederation of African Football (Caf) and the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot), it has been decided that the tournament instead will now take place in January and February 2021 – right in the middle of Europe’s domestic football season.

The switch also means it will avoid clashing with FIFA’s expanded Club World Cup , due to take place in China in June 2021.

“We have reviewed the period of the competition as requested by the Cameroonian party due to unfavourable climatic conditions during the period initially slated,” said Caf’s deputy general secretary, Tony Baffoe.

“After listening to the various arguments and viewpoints, and in particular from the Cameroonian meteorological authorities, the coaches and players; the representatives of the AFCON organising committee, which received the mandate from Caf Executive Committee to take the decision, has granted this request.”

Runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool are likely to be one of the clubs most affected by the switch, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita all likely to play an important role for their respective countries at the tournament.

When considering pre-tournament training camps, one of more of the trio would be absent for around six weeks should Egypt, Senegal or Guinea reach the final, missing up to six league matches as well any domestic cup ties.

Arsenal will also be affected by the move with Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang and Nicolas Pepe likely to be called up by Gabon and Ivory Coast respectively. Champions Manchester City, meanwhile, would have to do without Riyad Mahrez should Algeria reach the tournament.

Wilfried Zaha, Serge Aurier and Wilfried Ndidi are among a number of other Premier League players who could be involved while Achraf Hakimi, Andre Onana and Franck Kessie may be foreced to miss crucial matches for some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

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The 2019 edition – hosted by Egypt and won by Algeria – was held in July, as CAF elected to move the tournament to fit in line with the northern hemisphere summer, meaning clubs in Europe’s major leagues were unaffected.

However, sweltering conditions in Egypt led to the decision to switch to tournament to June and July being questioned.

Cameroon was initially scheduled to host last year’s tournament, but was stripped of it in November 2018 due to inadequate infrastructure.