Karim Haggui (left) and Marco Reus
Karim Haggui (left) played 76 times for Tunisia while enjoying a decade-long career in the Bundesliga

The African Nations Championship (CHAN) should be restructured as an under-23 competition to improve standards, former Tunisia defender Karim Haggui has said.

The CHAN, which is currently is in its seventh edition, is specifically for African players who play in their own domestic leagues on the continent. The semi-finals for the tournament, involving hosts Algeria, Niger, Senegal and Madagascar, take place on Tuesday.

Algeria have received praise for the facilities in the four host cities and the turnouts in Algiers, Annaba and Oran, but Haggui, who won 76 caps for Tunisia, said that he has been left disappointed by drab matches, lack of urgency and poor intensity in some group games.

“It’s better to play CHAN with players not more than 23-years-old because there’s quality at that level and we don’t need players who are 33 years of age,” Haggui told BBC Sport Africa.

“You have to give the opportunity to the younger player to improve play at the tournament which will extend to domestic football.

“The CHAN will be more competitive and the performance too will have a great impact on the national leagues now and in the future, too.

“With due respect, having someone who is already 33 makes it extremely difficult for scouts who are here to be interested in such players.”

Stepping up

A 2004 Africa Cup of Nations winner with Tunisia, Haggui believes the CHAN tournament offers a life-changing opportunity for young footballers, with two-time defending champions Morocco providing the latest success story.

Nayef Aguerd, Achraf Dari and Jawad El Yamiq all made valuable contributions throughout the Atlas Lions’ historic run to the semi-finals at the 2022 World Cup.

Each of those players was an integral part of Morocco’s back-to-back CHAN triumphs in 2018 and 2020, helping them earn moves to European clubs West Ham United, Stade Brestois and Real Valladolid respectively.

Another product of the tournament is Tottenham Hotspur’s Mali midfielder Yves Bissouma, while other notable players that went on from CHAN to make impacts at European clubs include Leicester City’s Patson Daka, RB Salzburg’s Sekou Koita and Braga’s Al Motasim Al-Musrati.

Haggui, 39, says other young players can also make the step up if given the opportunity which they currently do no have in CHAN or the continent’s premier competition, the Africa Cup of Nations.

“CHAN is a tournament for local players so it makes sense to give chance to those who don’t regularly get a chance to play with the first team,” he added.

“At senior national team level the players come from big European clubs in Italy, Germany and England to play in the AFCON but here at CHAN, stars can emerge to make that big move.

“For a 33 year old, I am sorry the CHAN does not provide such a big opportunity.”

Haggui instead suggests the Olympic football format – an under-23 tournament with three overage players allowed per team.

‘It might be good to go with maybe two or three overage players to add (the) quality of experience to the teams. Generally, you just have to give the chance to the youth to play.”

Haggui started his career at Etoile du Sahel in his native North African country before moving to French side Strasbourg in 2004, four months after helping Tunisia to the Africa Cup of Nations success on home soil.

Two seasons in France led to a switch to the German Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen in 2006 beginning a decade-long spell in Germany including stints at Hannover, VFB Stuttgart and Fortuna Dusseldorf, before ending his career at Swiss club St. Gallen in 2018.

African Super League

After experiencing life as a professional in Africa and Europe, the former Carthage Eagle says the continent’s governing body, the African Football Confederation (Caf), should address the increasing match congestion and travel burden facing players instead of creating a new competition.

The African Super League, which is being promoted by Caf president Patrice Motsepe and pushed forward in partnership with Fifa, is expected to kick-start a new era for club football on the continent.

Motsepe says the plan, which involves the Super League being run in parallel with the Caf Champions League from August 2023 onwards, will transform the club game on the continent in both financial and sporting terms.

But Haggui is not a big fan of the new addition.

“Every two years, we add a new competition. And no one is thinking of the players. Every year they play at least 70 games. Seriously, I’m not okay with the new competition,” he said.

“The player don’t have time to play and recover. Maybe it’s good for money and publicity, but we must think about the health of the players.

“In Europe they play 50 or 60 games or more depending on the countries.

“But in Africa, we have the Champions League, AFCON, the local league and domestic cup, then this CHAN.

“I think the competition is too much. We have to be extremely careful what we do with the players.”