GEREMI EXCLUSIVE: AFCON deserves more respect from likes of Klopp

GEREMI EXCLUSIVE: AFCON deserves more respect from managers like Klopp and concerns about the players’ safety just aren’t fair… UEFA managed to hold the Euros across 11 countries at the height of the pandemic – and Covid in Africa is NOT like Europe

  • Jurgen Klopp’s comments on AFCON left me feeling very upset and disappointed
  • The Liverpool manager called the Africa Cup of Nations a ‘little tournament’
  • For me, there is no greater prize than representing your country on the big stage 
  • Fears over welfare just aren’t fair – UEFA hosted the Euros during the pandemic 
  • Cameroon’s Geremi was speaking to MailOnline on behalf of Genting Casino 

With AFCON now just days away and some of the world’s biggest names touching down in Cameroon for the tournament, excitement is building.

The likes of Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane are all set to light up the tournament, with Senegal the current favourites to lift the trophy in February.

Sportsmail has recruited Cameroon, Chelsea and Newcastle legend Geremi as our AFCON expert, and here he gives his thoughts on Jurgen Klopp’s controversial comments on the tournament, concerns over player welfare and the spread of Covid.

When Jurgen Klopp described the Africa Cup of Nations as a ‘little tournament’ I was far from impressed. 

The Liverpool manager has said goodbye to Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for this month’s competition in Cameroon, with the pair joining Egypt and Senegal, and I know as a manager you are defensive because you want your players to be in good shape and good form. 

But players and managers, for the most part, share the same ambitions. For any player, there is no prize greater than representing your country and I am sure that if Klopp was called upon by his beloved Germany, he would not be able to refuse. 

Jurgen Klopp’s comment that AFCON is ‘a little tournament’ left me feeling very unhappy

A lot of fans from outside of Africa may not know but in my view, AFCON is the third most important football tournament on the planet and it means so much to anyone competing on this stage. 

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I am unhappy about Klopp’s remarks, to say the least, and think it’s a big shame that the Liverpool manager has not respected the competition. 

So too, is the stance taken by my former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri at Watford. 

Nigeria’s Emmanuel Dennis has not joined up with his country this month, and there has been a lot of confusion with Ismaila Sarr and Senegal, with the Hornets initially refusing him permission to travel out to their tournament camp to be assessed by the national team’s medical staff.

He will lose two big stars in Mo Salah (R) and Sadio Mane (L), and I understand managers wanting to protect their players from injury and a dip in form

But playing for your country is the biggest honour and every star wants to play in tournaments

I never had this problem with Claudio and, during my career, no-one would ever have stopped me from playing for my country, Cameroon.

There are FIFA regulations that cover the exact predicament that Watford and Senegal face. 

Before, clubs were able to say “this player is not fit and cannot join” and that was that. But now, FIFA regulations state that national teams can undertake their own medical assessments of injured stars and determine whether they are fit to play.

If they are not, they send them back because, honestly, why would any country play someone that is not fit? This is a big tournament, teams need players at 100 per cent so I don’t see why this point has been so hotly debated.   

I was also disappointed at the stance taken by my former boss Claudio Ranieri at Watford

I am glad the tournament is going ahead after there was some uncertainty last month with Covid’s new variant – Omicron – on the rise all over the world. 

In truth, I could not understand why this was such a big issue. UEFA organised the Euros last summer when Covid was at its peak. Not only that, they managed to host the tournament in 11 different countries, with the risk of the virus spreading much higher as a result.

But when you look at countries in Africa, Covid is not as threatening as it is in Europe. I travel all the time and when I go to Europe, I have to take a lot of care to avoid the virus but in Cameroon, honestly, it seems like we don’t have Covid.

Concerns about Covid are baffling when UEFA hosted the Euros in 11 different countries at the height of the pandemic last summer

If you have the chance to come you will see, we are not in the same situation. 

There have also been reports of violence in the North West and South West regions of the country, but I can assure you, the government in Cameroon have taken all the measures to ensure that fans from all over the world can enjoy the tournament safely.

At the end of the day, we are looking forward to the competition and will organise the best AFCON ever. I know that fans will leave Cameroon saying “I will come back”.  

Sportsmail’s AFCON expert Geremi gives us the lowdown on what to expect at the tournament

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