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Kanu suggests drastic alternative to January AFCON schedule

Kanu and Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure did battle at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, though Toure's side came out victorious in their opening group encounter. Ben Radford/Corbis via Getty Images

Nigeria legend Nwankwo Kanu has suggested a drastic solution to the Confederation of African Football's scheduling problem around the Africa Cup of Nations.

CAF acceded to a request by Cameroon's local organising committee last month to stage the 2021 tournament in January. This comes just one edition after it was played in June-July for the first time last year in sweltering Egypt.

CAF's decision was roundly criticized in Europe, with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp describing it as "a catastrophe" for the Reds.

"I couldn't respect [the competition] more than I do," Klopp said when the schedule change was announced.

"But it is an obvious problem to play a tournament midway in a season. For us it's a catastrophe.

"If we say [a player] can't go, he's suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide? If he's injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa, so they can have a look."

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Kanu, who represented Nigeria at four Afcon tournaments, agrees with Klopp, saying he would have preferred the competition to stay in June-July, in order to protect players from prospective club-versus-country disputes.

"If you ask any player, playing the Nations Cup in January leads to problems with the clubs," the former Arsenal striker told ESPN.

"Whenever the league is on, it is always difficult for clubs to release all these good players to come back to play for their country. Then you have these issues between the club and the country.

"Taking it back means the same thing is going to start again. They should have just left it the way it was so that clubs who want our best players will still go for them."

The former Super Eagles captain nevertheless acknowledged the unique weather conditions that necessitated the change.

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"From a weather angle, it makes sense to play the Nations Cup in January so I think it is OK for them to move it."

No matter how understandable the rationale for the change, Kanu argues that the changed schedule is still bad for the players "because if a club is going to invest a lot of money on a player [who] will not be there for a whole month during the season, then they may want to look elsewhere to find a player who will be available".

"That makes it difficult for players who are looking for good moves."

Kanu suggested the timing of the tournament could be varied depending on the host country - providing at least a level of compromise that takes into account both the players' needs and the weather considerations.

"Maybe what they can do is play the Nations Cup at different times in the year," he suggested.

"So when it is hosted by countries in the north or south that don't have rainy season, they can play in the summer.

"And when it is hosted by countries where it rains, they can play it in January."