Manchester United are likely to encounter the same problem Liverpool face with Mohamed Salah, except this time the Red Devils wouldn’t have seen it coming.
During his first full season at Anfield in 2016/17, Liverpool defender Joël Matip faced the threat of around a month on the sidelines.
Matip had retired from international duty with Cameroon, but still intended to play for Liverpool while his country competed at the Africa Cup of Nations.
There was reportedly a possibility that FIFA would prevent the center-half from turning out for the Reds for the duration of the tournament (via The Times), but it never came to pass.
Now, six years on, Manchester United has signed another Cameroonian who made an early retirement from representing their country — André Onana.
United paid £47m to sign Onana from Inter Milan in the summer, and would have expected to have him available during AFCON at the turn of the year after the goalkeeper hung up his international jersey following a tactical dispute with manager Rigobert Song at last year’s World Cup.
However, he’s now at the center of fresh uncertainty after he was called up for his nation’s upcoming qualifier against Burundi, as reported by The Athletic.
It’s ‘unclear’ whether Onana has had a change of heart, or whether he’ll accept the call, but this could certainly have unforeseen ramifications for Man United’s season.
Cameroon is still bidding to seal its place at AFCON, but it would likely be among the favorites if it did qualify, having reached the last four in 2022.
Liverpool is already braced to lose the talismanic Mohamed Salah for the competition, which runs from January 13 to February 11 in the Ivory Coast.
Onana has been predicted to miss up to seven games — three Premier League matches (including a clash with Tottenham Hotspur), the first two rounds of the FA Cup, a League Cup semi-final second leg and potentially the first leg of a Champions League round of 16 or Europa League playoff tie.
All that depends on what happens with Onana, how Manchester United cope and how Cameroon gets on, of course, but it’s surely not an issue Erik ten Hag expected to be facing given that he signed a ‘keeper who had said his journey with the national team was at an end.
This could prove to be good news for Liverpool, which looks set to compete with Man United for a top-four spot in this season’s Premier League. At least with Salah, Jürgen Klopp always has plenty of notice over his international departures — Ben Doak will be among those hoping to step up this season.
The Red Devils have just sold support goalkeeper Dean Henderson to Crystal Palace, though Altay Bayındır is set to arrive from Fenerbahçe as a replacement (via MEN).