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Africa, Napoli FC at Odds Over Players' Participation in AFCON

At the beginning of this month, Napoli owner and president Aurelio de Laurentiis announced a controversial ban on the Italian Serie A club signing African players. The Chief said his club will no longer sign African players unless they sign a waiver confirming they will not play in the African Cup of Nations.
Senegal star Kalidou_Koulibaly after winning AFCON 2021. Courtesy Picture
The cold war between the Italian-based side Napoli and African countries is worsening with several African football stakeholders condemning the Napoli President. Napoli FC is an Italian club that competes in the Italian Serie A- Italy's top flight league.

At the beginning of this month, Napoli owner and president Aurelio de Laurentiis announced a controversial ban on the Italian Serie A club signing African players. The Chief said his club will no longer sign African players unless they sign a waiver confirming they will not play in the African Cup of Nations. 

“Enough of African players or they should give up playing in the African Cup of Nations... I won't be buying them anymore for this reason..... I will not buy them anymore for that reason.... We pay their salaries to send them all over the world to play for others right in the middle of the season!” Aurelio said.

  

“Either they sign something confirming they'll back out of playing the Africa Cup of Nations.... I told them, lads, don't talk to me about Africans anymore”, Napoli President said while appearing at “Wall Street Italia” show. 

  

However, the message from the Serie A club owner sparked fury from not only known African Football players but also other African football stakeholders and sympathizers. 

 

Many took to social media to castigate Aurelio for undermining the role of the African Cup of Nations while others urged FIFA to initiate a disciplinary investigation against him.

 

The latest person to challenge Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis is Senegal’s Head Coach Aliou Cisse who asked Aurelio to go ahead and not sign African players.

  

"Clubs will never be above our flag and our national teams...and every Senegalese who plays in Europe, wherever he will be, if he is competent I will call him to defend the colors of the nation," Cisse said while talking to BBC Sport Africa.  "I have a lot of respect for (De Laurentiis) but I challenge them to try to not recruit African players.”

 

This occurs though only a few months after Khalidou Koulibaly, a former Napoli player who joined Chelsea in the English Premier League this summer, contributed to Senegal's victory in the previous tournament. Midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa also played for Cameroon. 

 

Due to their participation for their countries in the competition, which was held in January and February of last season, the pair missed six games for the Serie A club. Napoli still has three African players on its books: Nigeria forward Victor Osimhen, Cameroon midfielder André-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Algeria midfielder Adam Ounas.

In the same development, the Confederation of African Football- CAF, the African Soccer Governing body condemned the words from the Napoli President and asked UEFA to start investigating the matter.  

“CAF is appalled by the irresponsible and unacceptable remarks made by Napoli President, Mr Aurelio De Laurentiis on African players and the Africa Cup of Nations”, CAF said in a statement.

    

Added the statement: “By publicly declaring that players who sign for Napoli must sign a waiver denouncing participation in the Africa Cup of Nations as a condition of employment, De Laurentiis’ comments are likely to fall under Article 14 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations.  CAF, therefore, urges UEFA to initiate disciplinary investigation against him.”  

CAF further stated that statements are prone to jeopardizing the role played by football in bringing together and uniting people of different cultures, language groups, races, ethnic groups, and religious backgrounds:“CAF is committed to the role that football plays in Africa, Europe, North and South America, Asia, and globally of bringing together and uniting people of different cultures, language groups, races, ethnic groups, and religious backgrounds. We have no doubt that Napoli and UEFA are as committed as CAF is to these global humanitarian objectives.”

 

However, it is unclear whether this will have an impact on the transfer of African players to other European clubs. It should be noted that due to the general weakness of African club football, many top African soccer players prefer to play for European clubs due to the lucrative salaries and benefits they receive.