Whining over African Nations Cup muted this time around
Usually at around this time every two years, the cacophony of whining from club managers reaches deafening tones.
It coincides with many of Europe's top clubs having to release their players for the African Nations Cup finals, whose dates clash with key junctures in many of the leading leagues.
Ahead of this year's tournament in Angola, however, the din is somewhat muted. Probably because it is a tire cold mantra that no longer commands the kind of airplay or headlines it used to.
Teams know the score with African players
Clubs who sign top African talent are now well aware that every two years they have to give their players up for a month for the Nations Cup. It didn't stop Manchester City, for example, from spending liberally on both Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure recently.
It is one of the anomalies of the supposed synchronized FIFA calendar that the Nations Cup falls in January every two years.
The bleating from coaches angry at having to give up good players for such a lengthy period has led to a small concession in the change in dates for the Nations Cup - but by only moving the tournament ahead by two weeks.
It used to start at the end of January every even year, but in Angola the competition will kick off on Jan. 10 and run to Feb. 1. Countries are entitled to call up their players 14 days before for preparations, a FIFA dictate for all continental championships.
It means the likes of Didier Drogba, Michel Essien, Adebayor and Toure will be leaving their respective clubs just after Christmas. It impacts mainly on those playing in England where football runs right through the holiday season.
In January, all the other leagues are back in full swing, save for Germany's Bundesliga and the championship in Switzerland, which have winter breaks. The Nations Cup then impacts on France's Ligue 1, which traditionally offers up the most players to the Nations Cup, Belgium, Portugal and Spain.
Italian clubs never had a big compliment of players at past tournaments but next month champions Inter Milan will give up Samuel Eto'o and Sulley Muntari and, in the unlikely event Ghana can persuade him to play, Mario Balotelli too. There are also players from Algeria, Mali and Nigeria based in Serie A these days.
CAF, FIFA remain silent
While it has been refreshing not to have the old debate about the timing of the Nations Cup sprouting from every irritated manager's month, it is still a subject that FIFA and the Confederation of African Football seem reluctant to tackle.
The Nations Cup has to be staged every two years to keep African football in the red. It provides some 80 per cent of CAF's revenues. To host it every four years, as is the case with the European Championships, would be financially ruinous.
Ideally, for bigger TV audiences and resultant revenues, it should be played in summer time every odd year, i.e. June 2011, 2013 onwards. It would be a prime attraction at a time when there is little other football being played.
But African football's leaders remain obstinate in not wanting to change from its current January date every even year.
Weather is no excuse
They use as their main excuse the weather, with CAF president Issa Hayatou stating somewhat comically several years ago that to play a major tournament in Africa in June and July would be to risk ruin because of the rainy conditions in sub-Saharan countries and the adverse heat north of the vast desert.
He said this at the same time as Africa had been designated the continent to host the 2010 World Cup finals and five countries, from north to south, were biding to host the world's biggest sporting event, always played in June and July.
Hayatou, albeit adept at shooting himself in the foot, is no meteorologist and the argument is petty. Instead, CAF do not want to be seen into being forced to change their championship at the behest of the European clubs and in their bid to maintain this air of independence we have the situation where highly-paid players are forced from clubs in mid-season to play for their countries.
But it is a debate that only flairs up every two years and will not be properly tackled until the clubs suffer much more adversely and muster up the political power to get FIFA and CAF to fit the Nations Cup into a proper slot on the co-ordinated international calendar. I suppose that might only happen if a big star like Drogba comes back from Angola with a bad injury and his club's ability to win trophies on the back of his absence.
I'm not sure the likes of Drogba, Eto'o and Essien are all that cut up about leaving their clubs for a few weeks anyway. They are trading the damp and cold of Europe's winter for steamy summer humidity in Angola and a month of bonhomie with their compatriots.
About the Author
Mark Gleeson lives in Cape Town and is a world-renowned authority on African soccer, having spent the last 25 years writing about the sport. He was honoured for his services to the game on the continent with a Merit Award from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in 2008. He has won numerous journalism awards in his native South Africa, where he currently also works for satellite TV station SuperSport as a match commentator. He also writes extensively on both South African and African soccer.