Liverpool, Cameroon and FIFA are in a bit of a disagreement and Joel Matip is caught in the middle.
As of now, Matip is out due to not playing for Cameroon in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament. FIFA rules state that if a player is called up for an international tournament that’s on the FIFA calendar and they don’t play for that team, that player cannot play for their club team for as long as that international team is playing plus five days. Unless there’s an agreement (injury, international retirement, etc.) between club and country to keep that player at their club.
The issue with Matip comes in the disagreement Liverpool has with Cameroon in that the 25-year-old center back announced his international retirement before squads were selected for the Africa Cup of Nations. In fact, Matip hasn’t even played for Cameroon since September 2015. So because of that, Liverpool believe that it would be reasonable Matip wasn’t coming back to the Cameroon National Team and should be playing for Liverpool instead of sitting on the bench and risking FIFA sanctions by playing him this month.
FIFA, knowing all along this was a possibility since squads were announced in December, hasn’t done anything regarding a ruling on if Matip should sit out for Liverpool or not. FIFA claims they are investigating but unless they move faster in their investigation than the past few weeks, there’s a good chance they won’t be finished by the time Cameroon’s run in AFCON is over and Matip can play for Liverpool anyway.
So why would Cameroon select Matip even though he hasn’t played since 2015? Matip is a talented player and even if he is retired from international play, it doesn’t stop Cameroon for choosing him. But my theory is that Cameroon had another motive. Matip is the most high-profile player to have been affected by this but Cameroon selected six others in similar situations for their 35-man squad, including West Brom’s Allan Nyom. And since they had to take 12 players off anyway to get down to the final 23, I don’t think Cameroon was expecting any of these seven players to be on the squad.
I think this was more an opportunity for Cameroon’s federation to get around a FIFA rule to get some money out of some of the richest clubs in the world and come to an “agreement” that Matip and others could stay at their club during Africa’s premier tournament. It would be a pretty clever move by Cameroon to do something like that and attempt to get some money out of some rich teams. If they aren’t, it’s up to FIFA to realize this is a possibility and pass a rule preventing a loophole of a previous rule.
Despite who is in the right and who is in the wrong, Matip isn’t playing. Matip has missed the Manchester United game this past Sunday, and assuming nothing changes regarding FIFA’s investigation, Matip will be eligible to return January 27th at the earliest. This means Matip will be out at least three more games. Matip would miss the FA Cup return leg against Plymouth Argyle, home against Swansea and the EFL Cup return leg against Southampton. If Cameroon advances past the group stage, Matip would miss a possible FA Cup game and the Chelsea game on January 31. If Cameroon advances to the semifinal, Matip would miss the Hull City game on February 4, for a total of six or seven games missed.
The blame shouldn’t be placed on either Liverpool or Cameroon. The blame should be placed on FIFA. Liverpool wants clarification on whether or not their player can play for them in some very crucial games. Cameroon, if they were serious in playing Matip, wants the best players they can for their squad. And if my theory is correct in that Cameroon is looking for money from Liverpool and other teams, Cameroon is just finding a loophole in a FIFA rule. It’s surely unethical but Cameroon wouldn’t be the only country to be doing something unethical inside FIFA. FIFA, in setting the rule in the first place and taking their sweet time in coming up with a ruling, is really making things worse. For the sake of both Liverpool and Cameroon, just make a decision, FIFA.