FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) have confirmed clubs can delay the release of players to the Africa Cup of Nations until January 3.
The news a major boost for 16 Premier League teams, who will now have their African internationals available for the first domestic game of 2022.
The delay wasn’t expected, as the AFCON starts in Cameroon on January 9. The final is set to take place on February 6.
Arsenal host Manchester City on New Years’ Day, while Liverpool travel to Chelsea 24 hours later. Covid, of course, could still postpone these fixtures.
Thomas Partey, Eric Bailly, Riyad Mahrez, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Edourard Mendy are among the 40 internationals expected to play in the tournament.
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“CAF has decided that for those players who have official club matches between the 27 December 2021 and 3 January 2022, the participating member associations in question are to be directed that these players may remain with their clubs to participate in these matches and be released after the last match during this period,” confirmed FIFA deputy secretary general Mattias Grafstrom.
The administrator added: “It has been highlighted to FIFA that this decision is taken in the spirit of goodwill and solidarity with the affected clubs in recognition of the fact that they, like all members of the football community, have been adversely affected by the onset of the Covid pandemic.
“It is also assumed that a spirit of mutual cooperation remain between CAF and all relevant stakeholders in this regard, including related to the release of players and the provision of sporting exemptions to travel and quarantine restrictions if required in the future.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be delighted with the delay after asking for it at the beginning of this month.
“I am an optimistic person, so I hope so, but it’s not written in stone and not completely in our hands,” he said.
Premier League squads are expected to be stretched over the next six weeks due to the AFCON and increasing Covid rates in the UK.
Speaking about Arsenal’s African internationals, boss Mikel Arteta said: “We want them [until] next month. That’s the conversation we’re having with them right now.
“If you give me the choice, I want them to stay. We’re going to need them with the context that we’re in. We need them all but I understand that they have their obligations and we have to let them go.
“If the regulators consider that the competition has to go ahead, we are obligated to let the players go… We’ll have to adapt.
“I don’t know how the situation is going to develop, we’ll be better or hopefully better [on the Covid front] because we’ll have more boosters and more people will already have had it.”
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira is set to be without four players due to the AFCON, although he believes the competition deserves more respect.
“I respect and understand the passion and the importance to players to go and represent their country so I will never stop any player going to play the Africa Cup of Nations,” he said.
“I believe that that competition needs to be more respected – because this competition is as important as the European Championships.
“It might be important for you guys [journalists] to cover the Africa Cup of Nations a little bit more and to go to Africa and interview people to really understand what it means for every single one of them.
“When you are talking about Senegal I don’t think people would really understand if Mane or Cheikou Kouyate didn’t represent their nation.
“If there was more coverage of that competition I think people will understand more how important it is for the African continent.”