Moroccan players face a daunting dilemma. Holding the Africa Cup of Nations in January, which overlaps with a busy schedule for many European clubs, all during an exacerbated health crisis, has cast a chill on all parties concerned. Between the refusal of the clubs to release their players and the threats of the coach Vahid Halilhodzic to definitively exclude any player refusing to come, the Moroccan internationals are up to the wall.
The choice of whether or not to participate in the African Cup of Nations (CAN), which will take place from January 9 to February 6, 2022 in Cameroon, will be tough for Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd or Imran Louza, to mention than them.
The African competition, in the era of the health crisis and its new variants, has kicked the world of football. Between threat of cancellation, rebellion of the clubs and anger of the coaches, a few weeks before its holding, the African competition detonates.
Officially, the postponement justified by a strong period of tropical rains in Cameroon. However, the health situation in the country did not suit the organizers, and even less the clubs who denounce bad timing.
This postponement hits the mark in many championships which will have to deprive themselves of their African internationals, including some Moroccans who play key roles in their respective teams.
CAN, a big NO for European clubs
The best European clubs are threatening not to release players for the next African Cup of Nations in Cameroon due to fears surrounding its health protocol linked to Covid-19, which represents a danger for many Moroccan players playing in the old continent, starting with Achraf Hakimi. Some clubs have even threatened their African players to terminate their contracts if they agree to participate in the competition.
The European Club Association, which represents the continent’s main teams, has already taken the lead in raising concerns to FIFA.
“With regard to the applicable protocols, to our knowledge, CAF (the African Football Confederation) has not yet made available a suitable medical and operational protocol for the CAN tournament, failing which the clubs will not be able to not free players for the tournament“Said the ECA to the world football governing body.
The ECA has also raised concerns about the risk of players being unavailable for even longer periods of time due to the possibility of introducing travel restrictions or a mandatory quarantine, particularly in relation to the emerging threat. posed by the Omicron variant.
More so, the World Leagues Forum (WLF) has written to the world’s football governing body, FIFA and the African Football Confederation (CAF), telling them that they will not release any players for the Cup. Africa of Nations 2022 before Monday January 3.
This is the case of Sevilla FC, which announced that it would retain its three Moroccan players summoned by Vahid Halilhodzic, namely Yassine Bounou, Munir El Haddadi or Youssef En-Nesyri, at least after the match against Cadiz scheduled for January 3.
Under FIFA rules for releasing players for international service during the pandemic, clubs can detain players if there is “Compulsory quarantine of at least five days on arrival” at the location ” where a national team match is supposed to take place ” or when the player returns to his club.
Last February, during the qualifying matches for CAN 2021, when the pandemic was in full swing in Morocco, a FIFA circular authorized clubs not to release their selected internationals outside the EU (European Union) / EEA zone. (European Economic Area, the same 27 countries + Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) if a minimum of five days isolation had to be respected on their return
Will history repeat itself?
A scenario that recalls another, which occurred in September. Indeed, the Premier League clubs had refused to release the players during the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup because at the time, they should have been quarantined in a hotel approved by the government on their return to the Kingdom. -United.
In this sense, the Premier League clubs had banned 60 players from going to the World Cup qualifiers in the countries of the red zone, which included Morocco.
In major dispute between club and country at high health risk, Premier League clubs say they have acted “Reluctantly but unanimously “.
Fifa repealed a temporary law passed during the pandemic that allowed clubs to refuse to release stars for international matches if they were to be quarantined on their return for more than five days. However, these threats were not carried out and the Moroccan players had responded during a flawless campaign for the Atlas Lions in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
Vahid does not intend to let it go
Vahid Halilhdozic is counting on his players to make the right choice. Faced with the threat from the clubs, the national team coach sent a scathing response, sending a clear and precise message to his team, made up mainly of players playing in Europe.
“Presumably, it will be a big problem to have all the players participating in Europe”, he said initially, before warning his team of retaliation, if it gave in to pressure from the clubs.
“For my part, if the player does not come, that means that his attachment to the national team is not present enough (…), I can refuse to take in the group someone who refuses to come, even if the threat exists from the clubs. He can say goodbye to the national team “, he warned.
After having built up a solid core which has led to a flawless performance and a prestigious place in the last FIFA ranking (2nd in the African continent), the Bosnian technician will stop at nothing to repatriate his best players who have allowed Morocco to ” being at the head of your group during the qualifications for the CDM 2022 by winning all the matches, thus making the fans happy.
What will the players decide?
The shoulders are heavy for many Moroccan players who have a lot to lose. Achraf Hakimi, indisputable holder in Paris Saint-Germain and real star of the Moroccan selection is the perfect example.
The 23-year-old right-back has always expressed his pride in wearing the colors of his nation and had always responded despite the constraints.
However, his club situation is becoming more and more complicated, as evidenced by his latest performances which are far from his initial level. Hakimi therefore has a lot to prove to his team if he wants to keep his place in Mauricio Pochettino’s eleven.
Another case and not the least, Romain Saiss, captain of the national team and one of the oldest of the group. As a true leader, his presence is not to be discussed.
However, the defender is playing in the Premier League, the league most inclined to block its players. Indeed, Saiss is one of the most important players for Wolverhampton and his coach, Bruno Lage, who nicknamed him the “Maldini of Morocco”.
More recently, it was Abde Ezzalzouli who sparked the debate after his choice to wear the colors of Morocco to the detriment of Spain who put pressure on the new nugget of FC Barcelona. Despite his desire to concentrate with his club, the young talent intends to join the den of the Atlas Lions with the agreement of his coach, Xavi, who does not see any inconvenience as he recently explained. .
For the moment, no decision has been taken and the rumors of the cancellation of the CAN have been swept away by the African Football Confederation (CAF).
Indeed, the secretary general of CAF, Véron Mosengo-Omba, declared that there was no reason for postponing the 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations (CAN), scheduled from January 9 to February 6, 2022 in Cameroon.
All measures were taken to avoid large-scale contamination with Covid-19 during the said competition, a reason put forward by some to evoke its probable postponement, he said during a press conference held in Yaoundé.
Referring to the health protocol put in place on the occasion, Véron Mosengo-Omba indicated that the Confederation had secured the services of an independent laboratory of international reputation, in charge of carrying out Covid-19 tests on athletes and officials throughout the CAN.