Gernot Rohr comes across as one football coach who thinks he knows his onions even if it is going to take forever for him to deliver a trophy. Will you blame him? No. His coaching pedigree suggests that he is not one used to podium celebrations. He doesn’t understand the hurry in delivering trophies to the teeming fans. Again, would anyone blame Rohr? No. He hasn’t been lucky to handle teams or countries with the kind of talents available to our national teams’ tacticians. And his employers Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) didn’t set very high standards for Rohr when he joined because Super Eagles was a sinking ship that needed an undertaker to rescue it. Rohr dragged the Eagles from being ‘Super Chicken’ or a big-for-nothing squad.
Credit should go to Rohr for reducing the average age of the team to between 22 and 24, giving it a very competitive edge if they play to their strength and potentials. The German also used his influence to sway a lot of Nigeria-born kids whose ages we can vouch for, unlike our locals whose ages are measured by sworn affidavits not birth certificates. This bunch of players has close to ten years to give their best to the nation with proper coaching.
Penultimate week, the news from the international media suggested that Rohr would be working with a 50-man squad. Many screamed blue murder considering the time the manager had spent rebuilding the squad. The 50-member squad sounded like a failed project given the exploits of our players in Europe which clearly showed us who our best players are. For others, it was in Rohr’s character to list 23 players with five standby players, most of who sneak into the squad when invited players sustain injuries playing for their European clubs.
Rohr may have heard the cries of his critics in the media since the world is a global village. On Tuesday, Rohr spoke with French newspaper Ouest France stating that he had drawn a 30-man squad which he hoped to submit to the NFF in the next three weeks. This provisional 30-man team would be pruned to 23, which he would announce as those to prosecute the June 6 tie against the Lone Stars of Liberia inside the late Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos from 5 pm. No prize for guessing that the remaining seven players would form Rohr’s characteristic standby team.
One would have glossed over the stories but considered it expedient to pick Rohr’s brain knowing that this is how he releases his squad list to gauge Nigerians’ comments on his intentions. The thirty-man squad looks more like it unlike the initial flyer of 50 players. But this 30-man squad shouldn’t include goalkeepers Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa. The list shouldn’t have Kenneth Omeruo, Tyronne Ebuehi, a good player but doesn’t have the strength to play the African game, Jamiu Collins, Ahmed Musa, Henry Onyekuru, Samuel Kalu, Chidozie Awaziem and Shehu Abdullahi.
I want to shock Rohr here. If he insists on the central pair of Balogun and Ekong, Nigeria will not win the Africa Cup of Nations. They are poor headers of the ball, they can’t anticipate crosses, and are tentative to their approach to most games. Over time, this writer has seen the duo beaten by good passes which either of them ought to have anticipated, making them look like amateurs that they really are. It seems to me, that Balogun and Ekong play in the same position to necessitate this flaw. They are both right-legged players, raising the poser how any one of them could function as a no.6 player. It is the reason the Eagles concede early goals.
If Rohr can’t find a left legged or a defender who uses his left foot very well, he might as well look at the local league for such a player.
The performance of Enyimba’s Anayo Iwuala in the last two AFCON qualifiers against the Squirrels of Benin Republic and the Crocodiles of Lesotho proved that Rohr was all along underrating the capacity of the NPFL stars to compete for shirts with their foreign-based compatriots.
Providence had a hand in Iwuala’s journey into the national team because he was never in Rohr’s plans for the AFCON qualifiers until some Europe based players pulled out due to coronavirus restrictions.
One would have suggested Semi Ajayi but he is prone to mistakes and doesn’t know how to neatly wrest the ball from the opposition. Ajayi’s major flaw is tackling from behind. He has good height, knows how to head the ball but he is a slow runner. I will suggest that Rohr finds somewhere in the defence Ola Aina because of his versatility. He has a good height, uses both legs, plays regularly for Fulham and that should help get him into the Eagles’ first team. Players such as Balogun and Ekong will struggle against top-class oppositions like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
The best player in the Eagles’ current defence is Zaidu Sanusi. He can be a truly world-class player with the right guidance. It is no surprise that Wolves FC of England’s scouts want to sign him for next season. I foresee a bigger future for him.
In previous Eagles teams, we know who is no.5 and who is no.6. Uche Okechukwu and Chidi Nwanu never stood on the same line while defending. Players like Taribo West instilled fear into the minds of opposition’s attackers. West understood how to partner Okechukwu at the Atlanta’96 Olympic Games largely because Okechukwu knew what to do. What we have now are players who fall to the ground when strikers run at them. Recall, how we couldn’t defend against minnows Sierra Leone and conceded four cheap goals at home to draw the match 4-4. Are we sure, Balogun and Ekong are the best choices for the centre-back position under Rohr?
We already have two tested goalkeepers in the national team, Maduka Okoye and Francis Uzoho. Both goalkeepers have age on their side. They have enough years to grow into being world-class goalkeepers. They are young and have shown a high propensity to learn. In fact, they have learned from their past mistakes. It has been easy for them to recover very fast because they are young. Kudos to Rohr for sticking with them. However, the third choice goalkeeper must come from the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
Rohr should again invite John Noble who mans the goalpost for Enyimba FC of Aba, Nigeria’s surviving club in CAF’s inter-club competition to find out if he is still in form. Rohr has no business playing our armada of foreign-based stars against the Lone Stars of Liberia in Lagos. He should at best invite 13 foreign-based players and fill the remaining 1o spots with good home-based players. The argument that he wouldn’t want to take risk which could jeopardise Nigeria’s chances of qualifying for the Qatar 2022 World Cup is weak if the opposition is the Lone Stars of Liberia, with due respect.
Allowing the three home-based players in the last two games against the Squirrels of the Benin Republic and the Crocodiles of Lesotho back to the squad such as Adekunle Adeleke, goalkeeper John Noble, and Anayo Iwuala would boost their confidence. It would further reassure the others in the domestic league that they could surpass what the trio would have achieved with a second invitation. Home-based players in the local leagues would know that they are no longer training materials for every new session before Nigeria’s international matches. This is the fillip the domestic leagues need for growth.
Nigeria has always been blessed with great forwards and the current Coach Gernot Rohr has been blessed with three goal-scorers that are totally different but can complement each other when used properly. Now, the German needs to earn his pay and make these guys fire the Super Eagles back to its glory days.