The 2021 African Cup of Nations (January to February of 2022) marked a new chapter in the story of the beautiful game in the world’s second largest continent. The most recent edition of the biennial footballing feast served up some wonderful moments and showcased some of the world’s best players.
The tournament was available to viewers in 150 countries all over the globe and has come a long way from its first edition way back in 1957. There is clearly an appetite for among football fans for the AFCON and it’s no surprise when the final included players of the calibre of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah.
With domestic football having just returned to some semblance of normality after Covid, Premier League clubs were not hesitant to voice their displeasure at losing key players right in the middle of the season. 37 Premier League players travelled to Cameroon for the tournament. The aforementioned Mane and Salah, for example, are both pivotal players in the Liverpool system.
The European Club Association voiced their concerns about the tournament going ahead in a letter to FIFA in December. The clubs wanted to ensure that “every player’s wellbeing is protected”. It is worth pointing out to those who may not be familiar with European football, the difference between finishing in fourth and fifth can be worth millions of pounds in television money to a football club.
African teams, however, reacted angrily and demanded access to their players. The Confederation of African Football’s head of media relations, Lux September, told the Guardian newspaper: “AFCON will be staged in Cameroon on 9 January 2022. This is alpha and omega.” African nations were firmer than ever before in their pushback.
The tournament didn’t do Liverpool any harm by the way. Klopp’s side were still holding strong in second place by the time the AFCON wrapped home. What’s more, the dazzling displays by their African superstars during the tournament did no harm to the club’s global image.
Mane was the man who won the tournament for Senegal in the end, scoring the winning penalty in a shootout defeat of Salah’s Egypt. Senegal’s president declared the following day a public holiday and Dakar was awash with jubilant crowds. As cliché as it sounds; although its Senegal’s name on the Cup, the tournament was a huge win for African football as a whole.