With an expansion to 24 teams many The Africa Cup of Nations has caused wide concern, but a top Confederation of African Football (Caf) official says the quality of the game will not suffer.
While the tournament may suffer early kinks, the African game will only get better believes Nigerian Amaju Pinnick telling BBC Sport,
“At the beginning, you will see some problems but later it will start building up to the quality people know it for.”
“Trust me – it is not going to reduce the quality.”
Last week, Caf chose to both expand the Nations Cup – by an additional eight teams – and move its timing from January/February to June/July.
“We are trying to encourage co-hosting and regionalising,” said the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president in a wide-ranging interview.
“If Nigeria and Ghana were to put up a bid for example, I would also advocate that they accommodate (neighbours) Togo and Benin. Nobody is pushing that for now but I am just giving an example of the possibility.”
In the meantime, the next Nations Cup hosts – Cameroon – must deliver a finals, in 2019, for 24 teams despite having bid for a 16-team event.
“Cameroon is a major footballing nation and I believe they are going to be able to do it,” he said. “They are very eager and excited.”
Caf will meet in Morocco later this week to begin talks on how that process will change, with the next qualifiers set for next March.
“You will now starting seeing big money for African players – massive transfers because they are now in line with the footballer calendar,” said Pinnick.
“I don’t think there is any major concern,” argued Pinnick.
“I called nine Nigeria internationals (to check) and they said it was not an issue. I also asked my marketing agent who called some big African names in the Premier League and they said the same thing.”
The argument of adverse weather – whether being too host in the North, too rainy in the West or too cold the Southern Africa – was regularly used by the previous Caf regime, under Issa Hayatou, as a reason to not move the timing.
Pinnick believes infrastructural improvements can help solve some of the issues.
“If you have a world-class pitch, you won’t bother about rain because within minutes it will drain away,” he said.
Pinnick, who says many companies have backed the expansion, does not believe the Nations Cup will increase in size again – with any potential increase likely to feature over half the teams on the continent.
“Anything can happen but I want to believe that this is where it should end.”